General Travel

How to Travel Like a Local: 9 Tips to Have More Local Experience

Sometimes we travel simply because we want to take a break from our routine life; and sometimes we travel to know more about the place and the people. It is completely okay to be a tourist; but if you want to be a traveler and explorer, you have to learn to travel like a local.

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

And when you start seeing and experiencing places the way locals do, you get a whole new perspective.

Of course, the easiest way is to have a local friend who will show you around and take you to places not mentioned in the guide books, but are local favourites. Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely to have a local friend at every place we visit.

So, worry not! Here I am sharing 9 ways that have helped me to travel like a local and allowed me to have more enriching local experiences.

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Hoi An, Vietnam - Being a local at the vibrant night market.
Hoi An, Vietnam – Being a local at the vibrant night market.
1. Ditch hotels and stay in homestay

When we travel, almost half of our time is spent at the place where we are staying. So, how about staying with a local? But, how to stay with a local if you don’t have any friend in that city? You stay in a homestay. A homestay is a place where you stay with a host family in their home. You can select a homestay depending upon your budget and your travel goals.

For example, you can stay with tribals in Chhattisgarh to know more about them and to experience their lifestyle closely. Or you can stay in one of the refurbished havelis in Rajasthan to get a peek into the rich history and culture of the royal families there.

Travel like a local: Staying in a homestay at Ta Van, Sa Pa, Vietnam.
Travel like a local: Staying in a homestay at Ta Van, Sa Pa, Vietnam.
2. Ditch private cabs and use public transport

The majority of local population of any given place do not travel in private cabs; they are simply not affordable to most of the people. Local people travel in public transport and if you want a glimpse into their daily life, do what they do; travel with them in their mode of transportation.

For example, one of the best places to experience the energy of Mumbai is to travel in a local train; if you are a first time visitor, it will be an experience of your lifetime; there is a reason why local trains are called lifelines of Mumbai.

Travel like a local: Using public transport in Vietnam.
Travel like a local: Using public transport in Vietnam.
3. Eat local food at local eateries

One of the significant aspects of traveling like a local is relishing local delicacies. And the best place to do that is not a high-end restaurant, but a road side small eatery.

Do some research or simply ask around and you might end up having the best local street food; and if you are lucky, you might end you sharing that food with a local person while having endless conversations.

Travel like a local: Relishing street food (grilled ripen banana) in Bangkok, Thailand.
Travel like a local: Relishing street food (Grilled Ripened Banana) in Bangkok, Thailand.
4. Talk to local people

Isn’t this obvious? But then why is it so difficult to do? People (definitely me) tend to shy away from talking to strangers. However, with time and more traveling, I have become comfortable in talking to local people.

When I say “talk,” I mean real conversations (asking someone road directions doesn’t count). Talk to shopkeepers; talk to servers at eateries or food joints; talk to people while commuting in public transport; the opportunities are endless. They will tell you much more than your guide book.

Making friends in Kuala Lumpur purely based on my gut feeling!
Travel like a local: Diwali evening turned memorable as I started talking to a local who soon became a good friend at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
5. Visit local market and old city

Almost all big cities have two parts – one old and one new. But you will get the true vibe of the city only when you visit the old part of the city. So, don’t miss that famous local market in the old city. It is at these places that the real heart of the city can be found as they showcase the old-world charm.

For example, if you want to experience true Delhi, you can’t miss a stroll, some shopping and street food at Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi.

Travel like a local: Exploring the street art in the by-lanes of the old George Town, Penang, Malaysia.
Travel like a local: Exploring the street art in the by-lanes of the old George Town, Penang, Malaysia.
6. Attend a local festival

Try to plan your trip around a local festival so that you can witness the local rituals and ceremonies and be part of the local festivities.

For example, the best time to experience Bengali culture, spirituality, religion and food is during Durga pooja. If you want to see the Maharashtrian culture in all its glory, visit Mumbai during Ganapati festival.

Travel like a local: Attending a local tribal festival, Phagun Mandai, at Dantewada, Chhattisgarh.
Travel like a local: Attending a local tribal festival, Phagun Mandai, at Dantewada, Chhattisgarh.
7. Learn a local art or skill

Be a little more than just a tourist ticking off all touristy places. Learn a local art form or skill. If you like cooking, look for one-day cooking classes where you will get to learn how to cook the local food. Go and watch a local play in a theatre or a local movie in a single-screen.

Trust me, experiences like these will make you more aware about the city and its people.

Travel like a local: Learnt how to prepare the famous delicacy, Fresh Spring Rolls, in Vietnam.
Travel like a local: Learnt how to prepare the famous delicacy, Fresh Spring Rolls, in Vietnam.
8. Dress like a local

Be a Roman in Rome. Instead of standing out in your usual attire, try to blend in by wearing clothes that locals wear.

This shows that you respect their culture and putting in effort to know more about them. This gesture itself sometimes acts as an ice breaker between you and a local. Don’t you love it when a foreigner wears a saree!

Looking like a local in a century old garden at Pyin Oo Lwin, Myanmar
Travel like a local: Looking like a local by applying Tanakha on my face in a century old garden at Pyin Oo Lwin, Myanmar.
9. Learn local language

You don’t need to learn the entire language. You only need to learn the basics; the most used and important words.

Just by greeting people in their local language can change their entire attitude towards you. They become more warm and welcoming when they see someone trying to learn their language.

With time I learnt to enjoy sunsets with my own company. Pic - Enjoying a lovely sunset at Bali, Indonesia.
Travel like a local: Learning “Hello” and “Thank you” in local language goes a long way. Pic – Enjoying a lovely sunset at Bali, Indonesia.

Read also: 7 Reasons why you should travel solo

Have you travelled like a local? What is your best memory of a local experience? Share in the comments below.

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