Tip Number 3: Get local.
Travel like a local. Get off the beaten track. Take the path less travelled. Whichever catch phrase you choose, nothing beats getting amongst it when you are travelling.
There are so many different ways that a tourist can “get local” when they travel. Some people like to spend thirty hours crammed on a “chicken” bus in Vietnam to get those local sounds (and smells). For others, they would rather spend a few hours with a Parisian foodie on a hunt for the ultimate macaron amid a maze of passages and alleyways. For another person, getting local might be buying a bagel with cream cheese from a vendor and then spending the morning sitting in the middle of Central Park, soaking up the sunshine and watching New Yorkers out and about.
Central Park, New York
The point is this – budget doesn’t determine whether you can “get local” or not. It is about branching beyond the standard tourist experiences and trying something different. Would a local eat in a hotel restaurant for every meal? Or would they perhaps ditch the buffet breakfast one morning and instead find a little patisserie and have a croissant and an espresso? Would a local view every sight through their camera lens? Or would they take a few snaps, put the camera down, and sit back and absorb the sights, the sounds, the colours, the smells and the feel of where they are?
Sometimes the trick to getting local comes down to the choice of where to stay. A few years ago, my husband and I went to Rome. As I had been to Rome a few times before, we decided to approach our stay a little bit differently and so headed to a small town in the Lazio countryside instead. We went into Rome for the day on the train, then retreated to the town in the evening. It gave us an opportunity to not only tick all of the “must see” boxes for Rome, but also to have a countryside Italian experience as well. We visited buffalo farms and ate mozzarella straight out of the milk vats; we walked the walls of an ancient hilltop town; we dined in a family-run trattoria filled with local produce and home-made dishes – all things that we may never had experienced had we opted for the path more travelled.
Me in the Roman Countryside, Italy
You might be worried that you are going to miss out on the major tourist attractions if you spend time getting local on your trip. My tip is to plan it and to keep your itinerary balanced. Allow yourself those breathing spaces in your plans so that you can enjoy that market, or that time out in a square one summer evening and watch the locals sitting around with their guitars and their three euro bottles of Spanish plonk. Maximise your time by taking a half day or a full day sightseeing tour so that you can tick those must-sees off your list and then enjoy your free days to go somewhere different or to simply walk the streets and submerge yourself in what local offerings there may be.
So what are some of my favourite “get local” experiences? In no particular order (and because I like things in groups of six)…
- A cooking class in Italy – going to the market to buy your ingredients, then making some regional specialties before getting to taste your hard work with a bottle of vino from a nearby winery. Buonissimo!
Cooking Class, Florence
- Wearing a kimono in Japan – getting wrapped in silk by a tiny Japanese woman with deft hands is quite an experience. Top this one off by experiencing a traditional tea ceremony as well.
Being dressed in a kimono, Yatsushiro
- Walking in New York – it’s amazing what you discover in New York if you abandon the subway or the sightseeing bus and let your feet guide you. We found ourselves in the middle of the amazing San Gennaro food festival in Little Italy one year – the best cannoli ever!
On Mulberry Street, New York
- A barge ride along a canal – if you’ve never been through a lock with the water rising and falling, it is quite an experience. There are plenty of places in the UK and France where you can enjoy a day trip (or longer) along some historic canals, passing sleepy villages, vibrant pubs and beautiful countryside along the way.
Aboard a barge in the Brecon Beacons, Wales
- A morning at the markets – nothing beats fresh produce, so instead of going out for dinner one night, stop at those markets and buy lots of bits and pieces to enjoy back in your hotel room or apartment that evening. I love asking “what’s good” to the stall holder – they love to show off their best produce. Splurge a bit – it will still cost you less than dining out and you’ll really be getting local!
Mercarto Centrale, Florence
- A village visit in Africa – this is a different kind of local experience, and while it may seem to be a touristy thing to do, it is still a way to get local in a place that this is more difficult to achieve this. You see their houses, speak to villagers for an insight into their lives, see some of their customs and rituals first-hand, and contribute directly to the income and well-being of those villagers. See previous posts on the Maasai and the Samburu people for more on village visits.
Richard’s Village, Maasai Mara, Kenya
What are your favourite ways to get local?
I’d love to hear them, so please feel free to share them here or on my facebook page.
x Sonia x