10 Travel Tips on How to Travel Local

How often do you say, “I want to do what the locals do,” or “I want to eat where the locals eat,” when traveling? Pretty often I bet. And I am guessing one of your favorite travel experiences involves a local or authentic experience too.  Am I right?meet plan go in new york city

Well, did you stumble on the experience or do you actively seek them? Recently I was asked to be part of a panel for the Meet, Plan, Go event  on October 16th. The event provides the resources and encouragement for Americans to take a career break. I was asked speak on the “Go Local” panel.

For me, going local was a big part of my career break, and also part of every trip I take. On  my near year long sabbatical I knew I wanted to make sure I stayed in one destination for a set amount of time and truly experience what it was like to live there, not just travel there. For me I selected Buenos Aires, and the experience and destination hold some of the fondest memories of my adventure.

on RTW in Buenos Aires

one of the few images of me in Bs As

But you can “travel like a local” on any trip. Here are a few tips to help remind you how.

1 Take the Time and Commit to it.

Time is often considered our most precious resource. Whether a long weekend or a travel sabbatical how much time you spend in a location is probably the biggest decision after where to go next. There is always so much to see, and going local is not about checking the boxes on the popular tourist attractions, it is about committing to a destination.

On my sabbatical I decided to take 2 months and call one place home. I selected Buenos Aires. I definitely missed some experiences in South America because of it, but staying put enabled me to truly dance a tango with the city.

2 Toss the Guide Book.

As a local to your neighborhood or city, how often do you use a guidebook? (only when friends come to visit?) So if you want to be local, pick and read up the local papers and publications; check the listings for activities and events in the community. I discovered many smaller events that introduced me to new friends and created the opportunity to make connections to locals.

Just recently reading the local paper in Oklahoma City started a conversation with a local that led me to a few Art Galleries and conversations with the owners. It works magic.

on top of the pirin mountains in bulgaria

I did have a friend who showed me Bulgaria

3 Do look up your friend’s cousin’s college roommate.

If you cannot find a friend who can be your tour guide, then say YES to other connections. Often times people learn about  your travel plans and say oh, I know someone who lives (or even lived there), I’ll pass along their contact details. Follow-up. Don’t let the lead die on the vine. Everyone loves a traveler, they tell interesting stories and live interesting lives. And everyone loves to show off their home town.

My European passages, visits to Hong Kong, and especially my road trip across the United States all benefited from these loose connections.  Use them they are locals.

4 Rent an Apartment.

Find a place to call home. Research before your trip does help, but don’t worry too much, it is when you walk the streets and explore neighborhoods you truly sense a place.  On my trip to Buenos Aires, I stayed at a hostel for almost two weeks until I found the right place.  I eventually called Palermo Viejo home.

an apartment in Amsterdam on the Canal

my Amsterdam apartment... a great swap.

You can also find an apartment on any trip. I stayed in an apartment for one week in Amsterdam when I did an apartment swap too.

5. Shop in the Supermarket (and Markets).

Locals don’t always eat out, they cook at home. Therefore, you must shop for food. Although I am hardly a fan of this task in New York (I use Fresh Direct ) I do know how much you can learn about a culture by spending time in the supermarket and the real (non-toursit) markets.

Whether the modern supermarket in the rural rice patties of Japan, the pre-new years food shopping chaos in Beijing or the free beer sampling in Mexico City supermarket by Dos Equios models, supermarkets help you see the local culture in action.

Also, you can try the local markets too. Great examples include the organic farmers market in Amsterdam, and the underground Market in Guatemala City.

6 Eat Everything (at least once)

I’ll admit it, I am not very understanding when people are too picky about their food on the road. To me it is the sure fastest way to saying I don’t appreciate your culture. I know people have reasons (excuses) and perhaps many are valid, but the way to understanding a culture (and becoming local) is through the cuisine. It’s history, it’s art, and it’s the way to connect, so break bread.

tacos in mazatlan

hard to go wrong with tacos in Mexico

And do try it all at least once, including the drunken shrimp and all those delicious Chinese delicacies.  Trust me, God will forgive you.

7. Spend time in Public Places.

As much as I enjoy lounging poolside or nights out in the bar, to truly become local, you must spend some time in the town center and public spaces such as the main plaza or local parks.

With my time in Latin America, I learned Sunday is family time. The squares, parks and streets filled with people. Take a stroll and be part of the community just like I did on the streets of Oaxaca.

8 Learn the Language.

Yes, phrases help and they do show effort, but the more you learn the better. Remember locals are fluent. The key is to practice and avoid the easy temptation to speak English everywhere. And remember there is a difference between an expat experience and a local experience. I am not judging, but if you want to truly focus on the latter – study the language.

my spanish instructor in Costa Rica

one of my first spanish lessons on my RTW

I studied for a month in Costa Rica and also took lessons in Buenos Aires. Both helped me and truly changed my experience. The skills also led me to an opportunity to live and work in Mexico City.

9 Get a Local Phone Number.

My life changed the day I purchased my (local) phone in Mexico City. Before it I used email only, but having a local number and having the ability to send and receive local texts augmented my social circles. I started communicating with locals on a lower cost network.

mobile phone in mexico

#43, my phone filled up fast

Non-americans know this drill so much better and sometimes this can be as easy as a local SIM card. But if you need to purchase a cheap phone, it is worth it if you plan to stay local for a while.  Plus, most times the phone can be used in other locations with a replacement SIM card.

10 Read a book about the Destination. 

An often overlooked way is to simply read a novel about the destination. And a novel preferably from an author from the destination. See the world through the eyes of a local in his or her prose. As you read you will learn the way they view their society and also learn about its history.

the book was given to me as a gift.

I felt much more connected to Guatemala when traveling the country after reading a book written by local Mayan Shawman  called the Secrets of the Talking Jaguar

These are just ten tips on how to “go local” I am sure there are plenty more. And if you know of a few others, please add them below. Let’s make this a great resource for those individuals looking to travel and Stay Local when on the road.

Stay adventurous, Craig



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  • Suzanne Barbezat

    Great tips, Craig! I especially like #3. Clearly, a local is the best person to help you experience a place as a local, and looking up those connections, no matter how distant, always make the world seem smaller and friendlier.

    • http://www.stayadventurous.com/ craig zabransky

      YES, and I know exactly who to call when I next find myself in Oaxaca. stay adventurous, Craig

  • http://twitter.com/jettingaround Jetting Around

    I am totally on board with spending time in public spaces (poolside bar? heck no!), eating at markets, and getting to know locals. A lot of this can be accomplished on short trips too, e.g. you can go to a few restaurants, and then shop at a market and do a picnic. Great tips and have fun at the event!

    • http://www.stayadventurous.com/ craig zabransky

      love getting a few items for a “picnic” type meal… in Spain I did wine, cheese, bread, and iberico jamon often…delish. stay adventurous, Craig

  • http://www.theworldofdeej.com The World of Deej

    Great tips man…for me I always try to pick up some of the language so I at least feel like a local in my own mind. It usually doesn’t get past please, thank you, and bathroom, but it’s something….

    • http://www.stayadventurous.com/ craig zabransky

      showing an effort can make a big difference, think about it, if you show an effort to learn… they’ll give effort to help. it’s simple math. stay adventurous, Craig

  • http://twitter.com/acceleratedstal Maria

    Definitely sound advice. In SE Asia, I knew no one but asked my preferred tuk-tuk driver to take me to breakfast where no westerners go and I’d pay for his meal too. A couple of breakfasts later we were good friends and I saw more than most of the xpats who’d lived there 5+ plus years.

    • http://www.stayadventurous.com/ craig zabransky

      I find taxi (or tuk-tuk) drivers can be a wealth of information… always a good source. stay adventurous, Craig

  • http://www.facebook.com/CareerChangeExpert Maggie Mistal

    Wonderful advice Craig, especially #10. My favorite reads have been found on my travels!

    • http://www.stayadventurous.com/ craig zabransky

      Yes, I think people don’t often read from authors who lived there and wrote about… it is a great way to prepare for a trip or even take a book on the flight to the destination. it can often be a conversation starter too when locals see you reading it….stay adventurous, Craig

  • Maryann V

    Great tips. I especially like 6. It always amazed me that travelers would look for (American) restaurants that served food they can get back home. Why not try something different. Not only do you learn about the culture but you broaden your horizon with new tastes you can bring home. However, you are more adventurous than I. Although I have eaten caterpillars in Zimbabwe, drunken shrimp might be over the top for me.

    • http://www.stayadventurous.com/ craig zabransky

      Caterpillars sounds more adventurous than shrimp ;-), but it is true, the local cuisine is a great way to not just see but taste the culture and history. I am so glad my parents taught me that one.
      stay adventurous, Craig

  • Mary Ann Keisler

    Thanks for sharing these great tips!

  • http://twitter.com/L_e_a_h Leah Travels

    I think your tips are great for any length of travel. I especially love shopping in the markets. It really gives insight to the culture and people.

    • http://www.stayadventurous.com/ craig zabransky

      So agree, a day, a week, or a year… these tips help. absolutely. stay adventurous, Craig

  • http://twitter.com/ilivetotravel Raul

    Excellent tips. The one I would add which sort of is a theme with some of yours is: be open-minded. Don’t come with your cultural programming judging everything by your standards – you will find the experience more rewarding!

    • http://www.stayadventurous.com/ craig zabransky

      so true. an open mind is so key. at times, you might not agree, but being open (and not judge) is so important. stay adventurous, Craig

  • Sherry

    Excellent list! I can’t tell you how much time I spend in super markets…simply trying to figure out what the items are in the store! Hours! But I love it!

    • http://www.stayadventurous.com/ craig zabransky

      Thanks, and yes, the supermarket is such a great time, I agree. I spent hours in a supermarket in japan once, with no japanese…what a blast. stay adventurous, Craig

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  • http://travelingted.com/ Traveling Ted

    Great tips for getting the most out of a travel experience.

  • lola

    love this post! first of all, wish i could see you speak at MPG in NYC. you go, Craig! i’m thinking of hitting the Boston chapter’s meeting :) 2nd…one of my most favorite things to do when traveling is go to the local supermarket. it’s always a fun challenge.

    • http://www.stayadventurous.com/ craig zabransky

      Lola, hope you made it to MPG, it is such an inspiring event…. I loved speaking and discussing these tips this year on the Go Local panel. stay adventurous, Craig

  • Pretraveller

    Thanks for a good tips on travelling locally. I agree that some of my best experiences have occurred when I made the effort to ask a local for a recommendation – I still remember the local restaurant in Florence which we ended up returning to several times. All we did was to ask for a recommendation from the obviously local receptionist at our hotel.

    • http://www.stayadventurous.com/ craig zabransky

      I so often become the highlight of any trip… the most memorable part, I am glad you gave the effort because as you know it is SO rewarding. stay adventurous, Craig

  • CaptainandClark

    These are great tips! Traveling like a local is one of my favorite ways to go. Shopping at local super markets is definitely one of my favorite things to do.

  • http://twitter.com/lazytravelers Lazy Travelers

    great tips! also–the hubs & i will be at mpg on 10/16, so we shall see you there!

    • http://www.stayadventurous.com/ craig zabransky

      It was great to see you at MPG, hopefully you enjoyed the Go Local session. I look forward to learning more about your Asia plans… very cool. stay adventurous, Craig

  • http://twitter.com/mrsoaroundworld Ana Silva O’Reilly

    Really good trips, Craig! I think if you are going to do it, you really should do it. And what you will get out of it will be sooooooooo good!!

  • http://twitter.com/fizplaces Fiz, let’s go places

    Great advice; I really subscribe to no. 10, especially as I love reading foreign cutlural or allegorical fiction..

    • http://www.stayadventurous.com/ craig zabransky

      oh, yes. such an important one. stay adventurous, Craig

  • http://twitter.com/BritSeeingStars Britany Robinson

    I especially love the idea of #4. I’ll be heading to South America in December and I think I’ll try renting a place for awhile in Colombia.

    • http://www.stayadventurous.com/ craig zabransky

      it makes such a difference… and if you have time, don’t rush, learn the neighborhoods on the ground, it makes a huge difference. good luck y stay adventurous, Craig

  • http://www.travelrinserepeat.com/ John

    Great tips Craig. I can’t say I’ve ever been able to settle down in an international destination for a long time (yet…) but I’ve certainly been able to use a few of these strategies in places like Baton Rouge and Phoenix where I’ve spent 2-3 months working. There is so much to be learned from local newspapers, especially the alternative press. They’re my favorite source of local info, at least here in the US.

    • http://www.stayadventurous.com/ craig zabransky

      I love the “yet” nicely done there… and I always pick up the local papers… they are just packed with the local events, always great to check out.
      stay adventurous, Craig

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  • Vasanth SP

    Thank you Craig for good tips, One can get more amazing and researched tips for local travel at http://vasanthspoojari.wordpress.com/

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