6 Ways to Experience Your Next Destination Like a Local

Create unforgettable memories at your next travel destination by viewing it through the lens of the people who live there.

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October 11, 2019
By: Joe Sills

Live the Vida Local

What's the best way to travel like a local? How do you find hidden places that aren't featured in the guidebooks? The lonely peaks with spectacular sunsets and the plates made for local palates? There's no guaranteed recipe for success, but these travel tips have helped us experience destinations like a local more often than not.

1: Leave Your Favorite Foods at Home

Most travel writers I speak to are just as guilty of grabbing fast food on foreign shores as the rest of us. And while it’s fine to test your curiosity with a McSpider from the Golden Arches, a far better option is to try the local street food and fine dining options in your new corner of the world. If you’re a frugal traveler in a country with a favorable conversion rate — Vietnam or Argentina, for instance — this is your chance to splurge on the meal of a lifetime. If you’re accustomed to a silver platter, take your palate for a joy ride at a street vendor. In either case, the result should be an introduction to new flavors that you'll likely remember forever.

2: Pony Up for a Ride

If you're headed to a major city, book at least one day for a road trip. Call it the American spirit, but one of my most battle-tested methods for exploring a new location is to grab a set of keys and hit the highway. Almost everyone who’s been to Bucharest has strolled past the Palace of Parliament, but how many travelers have traversed the Transfăgărășan Highway through the Carpathian Mountains? Visitors to Dublin almost always visit the Guinness Brewery, but how many trek over the treacherous one-lane pass between there and the Dingle Peninsula?

3: Get Sporty

Rugby in Fiji? Cricket in India? Football in the States? Even if sports aren’t exactly your go-to pastime at home, attending a local sporting event can put you in the midst of some of your travel destination’s biggest fans. After all, sports fans tend to not only be ardent advocates of their clubs, but of the cities and regions that they represent as well. Try chatting it up with your bleacher neighbors to get recommendations for the best places to eat and best hidden entertainment options in town. Looking for a starting place? Travel Channel keeps a running list of the best soccer stadiums in Europe.

4: Opt for Outside

Have you ever found yourself at an exotic location wishing you could play like the locals? You can. Though it’s been possible to book outdoor excursions via local guides for decades, navigating that process has never been easier thanks to technology. Want to grab your own surfboard and paddle out into Australia’s Byron Bay? There’s an Airbnb Experience for that. Itching to go canyoneering in Utah? That adventure is just a few clicks away. Airbnb gets a lot of love —and a fair share of criticism — from travel writers, but its experiences add-on is a perfect hack for enjoying the same outdoor adventures locals do.

BOOK NOW: Airbnb Experiences

5: Walk it Out

Even experienced travelers sometimes make the mistake of cramming too much activity into an itinerary. On days when your schedule seems too frantic to handle, consider clearing some room and taking a long walk in your temporary home city. Some of the most surreal sights in a strange place can be seen by soaking up the streets on foot, like this wharf near the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm. As a bonus, you’ll almost always find an appealing cafe or coffee shop filled with local patrons where you can clear your head and unwind. (There was one just behind this frame.)

6: Learn About Local Libations

Some travelers spend a lifetime collecting memories of new cocktails and brews and flavors from every corner of the planet, but you don’t have to be a sommelier to make the most of local beverages. Almost every region has its own flavor. And whether you’re sipping tequila in Mexico, mixing vodka in Sweden or tasting terroir in Bordeaux, you can bet that striking up a conversation over a few ice breakers will lead to a few good, and bad, ideas for the rest of your excursion. Stuck at the hotel bar? Ask your bartender for a few of their favorite spots — and if you're in a country that tips, don't forget to be generous.

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