We know our readers love luxury travel experiences and exclusive, glamorous resorts, but that is not the only way to see the world.

Everyone likes to take time off and relax in a paradise of natural splendor, having every whim or need catered to by a dedicated staff. It’s an experience everyone should have at least once and probably more often than that. Yet, even if you went to Heaven itself each year in the late summer, it would become trite. People are funny. There is nothing we can’t get tired of or bored with, even if that thing is being pampered like royalty. So, if you want to mix-up your travel style and really get to know the places you visit, there is another option. Instead of being a tourist you can travel like a local.

travel like a local

What Does It Mean to “Travel Like a Local?”

Everyone knows Paris, France even if they’ve never been there. Thanks to movies and school, people see pictures and videos of this marvelous city all the time. However, if you’ve only visited Paris once or twice, you have much more in common with those who’ve only seen the city in pictures. If you’ve lived in Paris, truly lived there, you a know an entirely different city than the one the world sees. Most of the places visitors flock to are loaded with street performers and eager capitalists selling knick-knacks and souvenirs. (The word itself is even French!) Yet, if you can travel like a local, you will visit amazing places where there’s nary a miniature Eiffel Tower in sight. You know the cafés the tourists never frequent. You know where there is some quiet little corner with as much history and beauty as any in the Louvre.

Learning to travel like a local will open up an entire new world to you. Instead of just visiting the places on the postcards in real life, you immerse yourself in a place. You soak up the actual culture and not just the stuff they put on for the visitors. It’s the difference between being delighted at seeing the costumed characters that litter Times Square in New York and being disgusted. Real New Yorkers know those folks never wash those costumes and hassle hapless tourists for ten- to twenty bucks per picture. You avoid the tourist traps and see what a city is really made of, and you usually find that it’s awesome and interesting people. 

1. The World Seems Smaller and Bigger at the Same Time When You Travel Like a Local.

travel like a local

Credit: Kate Carson Photo, Flickr

From Bali to Barbados to Mumbai, a luxury resort is a luxury resort. Sure, they all offer unique features and beautiful vistas that can’t be recreated in an image. Not for real, anyway. They have an element of sameness to them, which is what luxury resort travelers expect. They want dining options, amenities, and (usually) a spa where they can get a rubdown and relax. When you travel like a local, you avoid them and even chain hotels. In fact, if you’re really serious, you can use services like AirBnB or even some hostels. There are bed-and-breakfast places, where it’s just you and the couple that lives there. They share their food and whatever laundry services they have, but other than that you are on your own.

Instead of sprawling lobbies offering bus tours and scuba trips, you are sharing an outdoor bathroom with some random family. It can be a shock to the system, and make the world feel like a very small and uncomfortable place. However, once you get past that, you’ll realize that the world is made of people just like that. The people who live in the places we visit aren’t just bellhops or tour guides or kitsch-sellers. If you travel like a local, you will actually get to meet some of them. Just be sure you’re prepared to speak (at least some) of their language.

2: Experience the Culture with No Other Agendas When You Travel Like a Local.

travel like a local

At a luxury resort, if someone shoves you to the ground, screaming at you in a language you don’t speak, you know help is on the way. As a valued guest, you have a certain expectation of how you’re going to be treated. When you travel like a local, you will find you are still treated with respect if you offer it in return. To make it outside of the areas where tourists frequent, you will need to do your homework. This doesn’t just mean learning key phrases and exchanges in the language. Though this is an absolute must. Depending on how deeply you immerse yourself in it, you might even pick it up on the trip. Yet, along with that basic level of communication, you have to pick up the culture and customs as well.

If you are visiting Qatar, there is no law that says you and your partner can’t walk down the street in just bathing suits. However, if you do, you will undoubtedly upset many of the locals in the strictly religious country. To do otherwise would be disrespectful. It’s like this in many other countries, too. Not that there are modesty rules, but rather there are cultural customs that visitors should observe out of respect. If you travel like a local, there is a very good chance you will get to put them into action. In most cases, when people in another country see a visitor trying to speak their language and fit in to their society, they are inclined to help and welcome them. You may visit a place over and over again, but this way you can really meet the people who live there.

3: Your Destinations Become a Part of You When You Travel Like a Local.

travel like a local

If you spent a month at a luxury island resort, there would certainly be enough to keep you busy that whole time. After a few years of this, you’d surely have great memories. But over time, you might start to mix them up. Was that amazing street performer at the resort in Central America or the one in Asia? When you travel like a local, you will never forget those experiences. They become a part of you. Language learned in practice is different than studies in school. It will return to you in unexpected moments. You will understand things about the places you visited most people don’t know. And the stories? They will all be unique and amazing to retell and relive. Even when things go wrong. 

You have to have a strong spirit if you are going to travel like a local. Mistakes are easy to make, and there is no affable concierge looking to bend the rules for an extra twenty in his tip. You might end up sharing a room with a pet goat or get so lost you have to spend the night in all-night café. Yet, that’s the appeal of this strange form of tourism. Make a plan, but be flexible. If mistakes happen, make the best of it. The downside to the high expectations of five-star resorts is that if they fall shy of their promise, your experience is tainted. When you travel like a local, there are no expectations. The adventure is the point, and even if you get tested to your limits, you come out the better for it.

If you want to travel like a local, what you lack in comfort and luxury you will make up for in experiences.

Good or bad, if you travel like a local your experiences will be some of the most precious you’ve had. You will see amazing, unbelievable things that you’d never see on a guided tour. The experience might be tough and uncertain at times, but those things are part of the adventure. Be careful and be smart, but don’t be afraid to have a point A and a point B with no definitive plan to get from one to the other. When you travel like a local, you aren’t just a tourist, you are a citizen of the world. You could find yourself next to a prince or a person who has very little, but is still willing to share. The world is an amazing place, and you can see it from comfort and luxury whenever you want. However, if you really want to live in it, to experience another place, travel like a local.

What do you think? Would you ever travel like a local? Tell us, along with your thoughts, reactions, and experiences in the comments below. Don’t forget to share the article on social media if you enjoyed it, so your friends can get in on the discussion.


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