Discover how to eschew the tourist label and live like a local when you travel. These past couple of years were filled with travel and along the way I learned multiple tips on how to vacation like a local.
With the advent of Air BnB, Classpass, Uber, and Lyft, there are so many more options to live like a local while traveling. I use these services in my daily life at home in Philly, and you better believe I use them while traveling.
Disclaimer: many of these ideas are for urban visits, but some of the tips can be adapted for other situations. When going to a small town, you're likely going to stand out no matter how you slice the cheese. Also, I'm not hating on tourist destinations. I like doing that stuff too. There's a reason it's a destination, and usually the irony is played up when I get into those situations. Bring it on Niagara Falls and Corn Palace!
* If I have a choice, I'm going to use Air BnB. Typically, this is a decision based on budgetary parameters and global reach (I stayed in an Air BnB in Bali and slept in an entire hut to myself with healthy breakfast and transportation to and from the airport included for a total of $25 US). However, when I have money to burn after becoming a super mega influencer on the social media sites, I'm still going to be an Air BnB fan because it has so many incredible properties. This option is also a plus because typically it allows you to experience the town as the townspeople might. After all, it is likely in one of the townsfolk's houses that you're crashing. Another awesome option are hostels. This is something that is gaining more popularity in the States. I'm interested in opening one. Any angel investors out there want to give me a shot? Downside... you normally have to share space. Upside.... you normally have to share space. If you're a poor sleeper and feel uncomfortable getting semi-naked in front of strangers, this isn't for you. If you're adventurous and don't care who might catch a glimpse of your caboose under a tiny towel, then this is a great way to meet new people from all across the globe!
* Make friends with people that live in different cities. This is quite possibly the best advice I could give for this post. They are the locals when you visit them in their neck of the woods. I likely never would have traveled to Minneapolis as a destination for vacation, but since my best friend lives there, I've been multiple times and I love it! Lake swimming, biking miles and miles on the Greenway, art, sculpture, great food and music, Minnehaha Falls... Minnesota has so much to offer!
Last year I also took a dream retreat vacation to Bali with people who were strangers, but quickly became fast friends from all over the globe - Calgary, Alberta; Vancouver, BC; Park City, Utah; Saudi Arabia (I'm not allowed to travel there as a single woman without a business reason to do so and a chaperone, but if they ever let up on those rules, bet your bottom dollar I'm going to visit my buddy Basma); NYC; Boise, ID; California, etc. you get the picture. It didn't hurt that this was a very vulnerable space and we all were there to work on relationship to self and others through group sessions and yoga.
Since Bali, I've met up thrice with some of the folks from this group, including a New Year's Eve long weekend in Banff in which we snow-shoed, ice skated on Lake Louise, practiced yoga, sat by the fire, and experienced a few days of a frigidly beautiful Alberta winter. I also met up with some of these gals in New York City and did a tour of Central Park, saw The Book of Mormon, had dinner at the Plaza Hotel, stopped at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and walked the Highline. We have another trip planned for Ithaca, New York for a long weekend this summer. When friends come to visit me in Philadelphia, I give them the low-down on all of Benjamin Franklin's favorite haunts... where he liked to drink, fly his kite, philosophize, and mail his letters.
* Drink the local drink and eat the local fare. In Peru, you'll want to try cuy (guinea pig) or lomo de alpaca, quinoa, pisco sours or Cusquena, coca tea.
Foods I (or my companions) had never tried before these past two years: coca tea (mate de coca) a leaf of the coca plant, which is used to make cocaine, dates, snake fruit, dragon fruit, mini bananas, falafel/shawarma, lox, suckling pig, labenah, saffron ice cream... I actually ate this in Philly when I met a Persian man, which just goes to show that you can be the local experiencing something new in your own city.
* Learn some phrases. Thank you: Saksuma. You're welcome: Saksuma Mewali (pronounced: suck soom a Moo ah lee). If you're really lucky, you will get to see a local children's dance group after you try and try again to say this phrase over and over to the most lovely people on the planet, the Balinese.
In Peru, I was all set with Spanish, but we did not know much Quechua... hello translates to: "Rimaykullayki Napaykullayki." Needless to say, it wasn't the easiest language for us to pick up, even the simplest niceties. We did learn that "laud dee moss ayay" meant, "Lady, do you want a massage?" after we heard it 50 times walking back and forth to our hostel. In Canada, I learned that a "toque" is not a drag on a marijuana cigarette, but rather a warm winter beanie hat, and is pronounced "too-k, like toot with a 'k,'" ... so cute. But seriously, learn a few phrases to appear polite. Americans can sometimes come off as entitled and awash in self-ego. Let's try to change that perception, America. I know, it's not that easy with the current political climate, but we, the people and our collective behaviors are more important to create impressions than our government may suggest.
Gracias. Saksuma Mewali. Merci. Solpayki Urpichay sonqoy. شكرا
(I don't really know Arabic, so I hope the symbol above does not say something profane ... Yikes!).
* Use local transportation. Are the locals riding a chicken bus to get to the train to get to their mo-ped and then climbing up a steep cliff to their house barefoot? This is often the most inexpensive, authentic, and adventurous way to see the country. In Bali, many of the members of our group rented scooters, the main mode of transport. In Peru, we rode a crazy local van (combi) that we sought out in a real a hole in the wall somewhere way off the beaten path. It was the adventure of a lifetime. The driver navigated twisting turns around the Andes mountains, beeping and passing on the curve. We were packed into the combi with a gaggle of Peruvians on their way to Pisac with their babies, satchels, sandals, and wares. We wound through the countryside, up and down mountains, past Saksaywaman, the whole time praying for our lives and thrilled at every turn and pass, almost peeling over a few different cliffs. All this excitement for about 5 soles. Money for the combi was much better spent than at a theme park for riding on a roller coaster.
* Go to the markets. You'll learn a ton about the culture by what they sell and how it is sold. Fresh(?) dead chicken and frogs, packs of seeds and grains, fresh fruits and vegetables. This is the real heart of living local. If you feel like bartering for a banana, go for it!
* Attend local festivals and holiday celebrations. I experienced the 4th of July in Seattle a couple years ago and rang in the New Year in Alberta Canada. Both scenarios involved some pretty impressive fireworks displays that the locals come out of the woodwork to witness.
If you know a local, ask them! make sure you're asking the right questions, though. Try new things! Get out of your comfort zone. It will make you stronger, more capable, and satiate your curiosity, if only for a brief moment.