Traveling to a new corner of the world is one of the most exciting, exhilarating experiences we can think of! We’re big fans of immersion when on the road: blending in, going with the flow, and seeing and doing things as the locals do when possible. It’s a mindset you need to embrace, and it can really add to your vacation.
Here are some of our top tips for traveling like a local, no matter where in the world you are.
1. Do Your Homework And Plan Ahead
Want to fade into the background? Make sure you do a bit of research before you arrive at your destination. Know a few words and phrases in the local language, be familiar with the culture and customs, and have an idea of what you’d like to see each day. This will give you a sense of direction and purpose -- especially if it’s your first time visiting a city or country. You’ll have the confidence you need to power through each day like a pro.
2. Keep It Neutral
When packing your bags, leave gear featuring your favorite team’s logo at home, as well as anything else that screams “I’m not from here!” Keeping your vacation wardrobe neutral, comfortable, and practical is a good bet. Don’t bother with excessive jewelry, either. A few simple, classic pieces are all you’ll need and will make you less of a target for thieves. A long scarf is a terrific accessory to consider bringing along: In a snap, it can double as a shoulder drape or head covering. When in doubt, bring black. It’s the easiest color to mix and match, and chances are it’s what everyone else will be wearing as well.
3. Be Confident Enough To Move Along
Every city in the world has its share of scammers and aggressive salespeople who use high-pressure tactics to take advantage of tourists. Keep in mind: Aside from basic courtesy, you don’t owe anyone anything. When you’re in a crowded area such as a bazaar or market, put on your game face (I always keep my sunglasses on as well) and keep moving. Nod your head from side to side if you’re not interested in an item. And don’t feel the need to engage: The locals don’t, and you shouldn’t either.
4. Don’t Lug Around Your Guidebook
Look, we love our guidebooks. A good one is worth its weight in gold when you’re visiting a place for the very first time. It’ll help keep you on track and will ensure you don’t overlook any major sights. But if you don’t want to look like a tourist, keep it stashed away. Read it on the plane on the way over, or at night in your hotel room when you’re planning the next day’s activities. If you absolutely must refer to it while you’re out and about, do so during coffee breaks or lunch, not while you’re walking down the street. Wandering around, paging through your travel book, and trying to figure out which way to go will tell everyone around you that you’re a tourist.
5. Use Public Transportation
Sure, it’s easier on your travel budget, but using a city’s public transportation is also a great way to get to know the area like a local. We’ve taken the Metro in Paris, Budapest, and Istanbul; minded the gap in London’s Underground; explored Vienna via U-Bahn; and taken a far cheaper version of a gondola ride on the vaporetto in Venice. These modes of transportation are convenient, efficient, and will get you to the major sights with less walking and guesswork. If you’re lucky, the underground stops and stations might even provide delightful little surprises that give you insight into a place’s culture, including buskers singing and playing music or small stands cooking up traditional foods. Taking the bus or subway also offers a great chance to people-watch. It’s a win in our book!
6. Dig In To Regional Dishes
Vacation is the time to forget about your hometown favorites and embrace the cuisine scene where you are. Ordering a basic burger and fries while abroad means missing out on the chance to try something amazing, and it will single you out as a tourist. Exercise caution if you’re in a country with less strict standards of sanitation, but insofar as possible, commit to trying new foods when you travel, including regional specialties. Sometimes, the strangest-looking dishes can be the most delicious. I remember hesitantly ordering a bowl of spaghetti al nero di seppia (squid ink noodles) while in Venice, and it was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever tasted. Take a chance, and stretch those taste buds! More often than not, you won’t be disappointed.
7. Keep Your Expectations In Check
We all become accustomed to certain things in our lives: creature comforts, conveniences, and routines. Your daily latte might have to be back-burnered if there isn’t a Starbucks on every corner in the country you’re visiting. Your hotel room might be tiny, foreign customs will be on full display, and folks might not have a lot of patience if you can’t speak their language. Shrug it off, be flexible, embrace the different, and remember: No place is perfect! This mindset will set you up to handle disappointments with grace -- and keep you receptive to the fantastic experiences that usually only locals have.
8. Show Respect
We’ve saved the most important tip for last. Make sure you show a heartfelt and sincere respect for the people, places, and culture of the country you’ll be visiting. Do a basic Google search on cultural faux pas before you go so that you don’t inadvertently offend anyone while you’re out and about. Express gratitude, say please and thank you in the local language, and follow the local tipping customs. Above all, remember: You are a guest. Treat others as you’d want to be treated. You’ll blend in beautifully with a bit of common courtesy!