When you are going to travel somewhere else I believe that you are going to have these two kinds of mindset. Be an original tourist, which you want to spend the vacay days of relaxing, enjoying the scenery, and visit the touristy must-to-do list. Or you can be a local traveller with a purpose to immerse with the culture and broaden your knowledge. And for those of you that knows me well, you can absolutely guess which kind of traveller that suits me. Don’t get me wrong, visiting touristy places and famous landmarks is a must. But sometimes it could be just overrated. For example, the Eiffel Tower that I visited was not as glamorous as I expected. Even though I know the history explained how hard they have built it, I was not impressed as I thought I would be. Instead, there were some places that off the beaten and filled with locals that made me feel even blessed that I have arrived here. Somehow it sparks something new in me. I feel like I was one of them. And that’s how I learn to travel like a local and decided that this is the kind of travel I am searching for.
Nonetheless, travel like a local means you have to be open minded and super flexible on everything. Every country has its own cultures that we somehow do not understand and different than ours. It also requires hard work more than just being on vacation. I warned you this: travel like a local means you need to do lots and lots of research, more than what you used to do. But I promise you, it can open your eyes to the world and you will gain a new perspective on life.
Several tips on how I usually do while I am travelling to be just like the local:
1. Stay with the locals
Staying with the locals are the best way to understand how they live. You will be amazed on how their daily life routines are the same like yours, but they have done it in a different way. I was super lucky found lots of good hosts in Couchsurfing that enable me to live like they do. The family in Inle Lake was an unforgettable memory that I had. One thing for sure; even the smallest thing they do in their daily life, that they thought was normal and usual, it was something news and amusing for me. That’s how I gather that I should feel blessed on every little thing that I do back then in Indonesia.
There were plenty of services and apps that let you stay with the locals. Air B&B is the famous one but I personally love Couchsurfing. I also know several people that like to do WWOOF which is working with the farmers in exchange for food and accommodations. If you could get a homestay opportunity, don’t lose it! You might never get a second chance in the future.
So ditch the hotel and book for something that can expand your experience!
2. Eat what they eat.
Do you really need to eat hamburger when you are travelling in Japan? Do you really have to eat pizza when you are travelling in Thailand? Think again. Those foods can be found in your own country and it’s probably tastier even better there.
My tip is to go around the block of the touristy place, and you can usually find places filled with locals. If you saw no tourist that’s even better. I had amazing time eating the Khmer food at the end of the Angkor Wat Tour with my driver, Jumbo. I remember that I usually come to the Thai restaurants that do not have any English menu and even the lady does not speak any English. So what did I do? I usually show th lady what other customers eat and use the hand signal that I want the same one. And you know the result? The food is spectacularly amazing, cheap (local price) and can fulfil my stomach!
Another tip is that always try to find a local market that is filled with the locals. Oh yes. They might look at your weirdly, but the truth they feel amaze that you wanted to try their local food. Imagine the same thing when a foreigner eats your local food and they said they like it. Won’t you feel proud? 🙂
3. Take public transportation.
Taking public transportation enable you to have a contact with the bus driver and the passengers that sit next to you. I had plenty of new friends that I have only met on the bus or train on the way. The guy that sit next to me on the train from Izmir to Ephesus tried so hard to speak English with me. We got to learn each other languages by Google translate and we still even keep in contact! I also went by public ferry boat instead of the luxury ferry for tourist crossing the Istanbul Asian part. Cheap way and totally local style!
One important tip, always researches on how the procedures are such as where can you get the tickets, where to exchange the tickets, how to stop at the station you’re going to go etc. When I have a doubt, I asked the people that were waiting for the bus or train with me and just followed along on what they do. I have met plenty of locals who could not speak English and they tried so hard to show me the way. This experience made me realise the stranger’s kindness still exists.
4. Use the tour with local people.
If you ever need to use the tour, always try to find the local ones. There were several forum groups on Couchsurfing that conduct the tour with the locals. I even went on to the Free Walking Tour when I was in Madrid (guess what? I was the only one who joins!) and I got my own private tour with a local! The Spanish guy was a college student who tries to learn English by joining this programme. I loved going around with him as he showed me so many interesting places in Madrid that I would have never known if I went by myself!
Another experience that I had was in Paris when I decided to try the Paris Greeters website. I found this service in one of my favourite travel blogs (see why you should do plenty of research?), and turns out I had an amazing day with a Parisian lady who knows her neighbourhood. She showed me the secret places in Parc Montsouris that were off the beaten track!
5. Learn their language and local customs.
Get used to knowing how to say “Thank You”, “Hello”, “Sorry” in their local language. I often say this whenever I was in the shop buying things, get on the public transportation, or even order some food in the restaurants. One experience I had was when I tried to say ‘Thank You” for the first time when I was in Hanoi, my accents were terrible but they tried so hard to show me how they pronounced it. I even had amazing time chatting with them! The locals will appreciate you more when you try to speak their language.
Get to know their local customs of the places you’re going. Indonesian tend to shake hands to greet people, British likes to drink in the bar for hanging out, Italian likes to kiss on both cheeks when say Hi, and there are plenty more of different customs each country has. I had a great time getting to know how the Burmese pray in Shwedagon Pagoda and befriended with a local who showed us the Yangon city. Get to the local, understand their custom, be familiar with it and apply it during your journey.
6. Don’t hang out with people like yourself.
When I was living in the UK, I tend to try to find new friends from different countries. Don’t get me wrong I love hanging out with the Indonesian as well (I miss talking in my own languages!), but the point of you going abroad is to expand your network. Meet new people. Learn foreign culture. Broaden knowledge. I could get anything about Indonesia if I were back home, but travelling to Africa, oh man.. that is once in a lifetime and I do not want to spend it with the Indonesian people again!
So get out of your hostel, stop browsing your social media, and start talking with the other foreign travellers and local on the street!
7. Dress like them (Or at least blend in).
Do not think that when you move to a tropical country, you can wear a tank top and short pants as you like. Burmese people, men or women, likes to wear sarong wherever they are. Moroccan people does not get used to women using short clothes. And there were plenty other examples about the dress codes that diverse in each country. Again, you have to do more research about this, or even if you did not know about it, try to blend in with what they use to see.
My ultimate tip about this, especially for the women, always bring cardigan and sarong wherever you go. I had plenty of times forbidden entering a temple just because I wear short pants and tank top. These two items saved the day. Or even if the local wore something unusual, get to the shop and purchase them. I remember that I and Arma wore the yellowish-white cream, named Thanaka, on our face in Bagan Myanmar just to look like the locals. By using the same kind of dress code with the local can also avoid scams and tourist trap.
8. Take a break: Pay attention to the locals daily life.
The reason why I like travelling for a long time is to immersed with their daily life. My routine in every city that I visited is to take a break on the park in the afternoon. You will be amazed on how many local people gather around in the park and just relax, hang out with friends, or do a workout. One of the best park I fell in love with is the Hoan Kim Lake in Hanoi, Vietnam and in Vientiane where the locals likes to do Aerobic (which similar with the Indonesian) every afternoon near the Mekhong River. Couldn’t find any park? Just stay longer in the cafe or restaurant and watch the people surround you. It kinda reminds you that people’s daily life are usually the same across the countries. It’s just a matter of what kind of things that they do.
9. Visit during low season.
Low season is the best to inhale the culture and local life. When I was in Chefchaouen I came during the low season where there were fewer tourists. I had a good time enjoying the city with fewer people trying to do selfies everywhere. And that’s the best way to take a break and watch the local lives. I went to the Moustache Brothers show, which is the local show of the Burmese in Mandalay during low season. It was pretty much not crowded and so we could even interact with the performers! And again, this requires research on which months that suits the best to visit the place.
10. Just get lost. Be aimless.
The most important schedule that I would never miss! Clear up your schedule and walk towards the street unknowingly where to go. I had plenty of unexpected experiences and new things that I didn’t know before. Hengitsbury Head in Bournemouth was an expected trip and I love every bit of it. I got lost several times in the blue city of Chefchaouen but instead, I encountered many new things. I stumbled upon untouristy places many times and met nice locals who would chat and connect with me.
I know how it feels being an organised person who would like to have everything plan, especially when you are doing solo travel for the first time. Remember, be an open minded person and adaptible to anything that life has to offer. I assure you, when you already get used to lost by yourself, you will never feel worries anymore, because you know that at the end of the day you would have gained new local experiences! 🙂
Now, are you ready to travel like a local?
© 2017 Writing & Images copyright of Marina Utami.