Nobody wants to spend their whole vacation surrounded by tourists. With the rise of Instagram tourism, it seems like it’s getting harder and harder to get away from the crowds – even in places that used to be hidden gems. Should it really be so hard to travel like a local?
Getting off the beaten path benefits everyone; you’ll have a better time and your hard earned tourist dollar goes to people that deserve it and might not get it otherwise.
In this post I’m going to share five simple things you can do, no matter whether you’re in crowded Barcelona or up-and-comer Puglia, to travel like a local.
How to Travel Like A Local
1. Become a regular, somewhere.
How good is it when your barista remembers your coffee order? Or when they smile at you just a little bit brighter than everyone else? Becoming a temporary regular is my go-to way to travel like a local.
In Vernazza, we found a place with great coffee and cornettos and went there every day. On the first day the owner was friendly. On the second day she was pleased to see us. And by the third day we were pretty much family – she went out of her way to look after us while they were really busy.
Going back to the same place gives you the chance to make connections, even if you don’t talk. It’s also a great way to people watch and find the daily rhythm and habits of locals. We just loved watching the Italian mama have her coffee on the windowsill each morning, not-so-subtly watching what was going on below.
Breakfast is the easiest meal to find a regular spot – you don’t really get sick of it, and you still have ample time to try new things for lunch and dinner. Plus, when you find a breakky spot with great coffee, you don’t want to let it go!
2. Do what you do at home.
When we travel, most of us feel like we need to become a totally different person. Instead, I find it more enjoyable to become a better version of the person you are at home. Unless you really love museums, don’t spend all day trekking around trying to see every single one!
If you love walking or hiking, find somewhere to do that close by. If you love nothing more than picking up the paper and reading it over a coffee, imagine how relaxing it’d be to do that in Italy. You might not be able to read it, but hey!
Personally, I’m a foodie, so going to the farmers markets or taking a cooking class are some of my favourite things to do when I travel. Brad loves live sport and video games – so when we were in Bologna we got tickets to watch Bologna FC, and one of our favourite things to do in Tokyo is to go to a gaming arcade.
I’m not saying do exactly what you do at home – break free from bad habits and broaden your horizons – but if there’s some little thing you really love doing, do it while you’re away. It’s a great way to connect with locals who like the same thing.
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3. Walk, and get lost.
You’re heard this before, huh? Have you actually done it? This is popular advice, because it’s actually good advice.
Think about it like this: how often do you zip around in taxis at home?
If you’re always going directly from A to B, there’s no room at all to find the little treasures in between. You’ll often find some incredible things when you get lost.
Hate eating around heaps of tourists? Wander down that street that nobody else has. Worst case you’ve wasted 2 minutes. But maybe you’ll find a cute little restaurant that barely sees tourists, and enjoy the best meal of your trip.
4. Ask a local where they go.
My favourite way to find hidden gems, other than stumbling onto them, is by asking someone “where would you take your partner/friends/family if you were going out for dinner on the weekend?” or “what do you like to do on Saturdays?”
Ask your receptionist. Your AirBnb host. The friendly lady who works at the wine bar.
Most people are happy to share their lives with you, and by asking about somewhere they’d actually go (rather than somewhere they think you should go) you’ll likely get recommended an amazing place.
We found some amazing places in Italy just by asking. One woman at a wine bar in Montepulciano recommended us three restaurants we absolutely loved (including the Pici cacio e pepe that I’m still dreaming of) and Ylenia from Cook in Puglia recommended a beach near Gallipoli that we still can’t believe isn’t in French Polynesia.
5. Go slow.
It’s really hard to travel like a local when you’re zipping around trying to cram everything in.
As soon as you slow down you’ve got a much greater chance of getting lost, finding a hidden gem and settling in to life around you.