Traveling and getting out of your normal routine has been on everyone’s mind for quite some time. Whether you’re sightseeing a new country or a new city, there are a few ways to travel like a local, some of which may be obvious but some have skipped your radar if your style has always been to see as much as you can in a short amount of time. Let’s try something new for a change and travel like a local with the following five tips:
Visit/spend time with a local or book a rental from a local host
No matter how many travel blogs or sites you browse in preparation for your trip, there will always be more information available from someone who actually lives there. You may not realize how long you’ll wait it traffic if you take a certain road. Where is the best breakfast place that serves pancakes? Can you get a discount when paying in cash from the vendor/tour guide? Your local friend or rental host should be able to answer questions that pertain to only you and your itinerary. Don’t have one? Ask your host and I’m sure they’ll be happy to assist in making your trip extra special. Don’t forget that they are hoping for 5 star review from you AND may be more in tune with the latest cancellations or openings in town. Locals also tend to shop locally, which is another great environmentally-friendly tip to keep in mind.
My favorite memory from traveling is walking around with my friend Leo in Hong Kong, getting street food, Chinese medicinal herbs, and stopping by a restaurant for a nightcap. This place served us SNAKE SOUP and dozens or hundreds of live snakes were still alive and around us in boxes, waiting for their time in the soup pot. I don’t think I could ever arrange to eat at a place like this on my own or walk into this restaurant as a wandering traveler and order a bowl.
Wearing and eating snake, never in my wildest dreams did this 23 year old thought that life would bring her here.
Stay longer at your destination
Weekend or even week-long trips are thrilling and spontaneous, but they hardly allow you any time to settle in, relax and take in the place to its fullest. I recommend staying at a single location for at least two weeks, ideally a month or longer in order to feel like a local. You can create a routine of your favorite breakfast place or drinks at a local pub. Seeing the same faces day in and day out or night after night, you will probably draw interest from the locals, which can help you befriend someone and get some great recommendations as per tip #1.
Staying longer at a destination also allows you to experience different types of weather, in case the beginning of your trip was rained out or too humid to enjoy the outdoors. Once on a two week trip in Jeju island, we experienced very strong and cold winds during our first day of hiking. The following days were full of mild temperatures and “perfect spring weather,” which we wouldn’t have appreciated if all we had to remember were two or three days of “crappy” weather.
Also, staying longer can help you find a pretty sweet accommodation discount. During the same Jeju trip, our Airbnb rental ended up being only $25/night as opposed to $72/night if we booked for a shorter stay.
By staying longer in a single place, you can also establish a relationship with your host, which can help you get more helpful tips or work in your favor if you plan on returning to the same location in the future. Once in Hoi An, Vietnam, we stayed at one pension for over a month and became such good friends with the owners that we enjoyed not one but a couple of free meals from their on-premises restaurant. They also invited us to celebrate Chinese New Year with their family. Finally, they were very helpful during the following year, when I had problems with my Vietnamese Visa.
Making friends in Hoi An
Find a slow way to get around
Remember tip #2 and stay longer if you can, because getting around won’t feel like such a rush if you have more time during your trip. Sure, Uber and Lyft, and taxis are such convenient ways. They can also be stressful when your Taiwanese driver doesn’t understand your directions in English or Chinese. Or when you’re getting stressed out over how much Japanese Taxis cost ($3-6 just for the first 2 km!) or if your driver is taking you in a longer/more expensive way (hello, Thailand!).
Another way to transport yourself while on vacation is to take public transport, which is a great way to support the local economy, but can still be quite stressful. Do I pay the driver when I first get on the bus (South Korea) or pass on my money to complete strangers, to pass on to the driver when I’m nearing my stop (Ukraine)? Are the fares all-inclusive or do I have to pay per stop (hello, Japan)?
My father showing off his cycling skills in Thailand
My favorite way to travel while in a foreign country is either by a bicycle or on foot. In some bike-able cities, bikes come included with your accommodation (hello, Hoi An). In some places, you’re better off to hire a guide to help you sightsee in a safer and more manageable way (hello, San Francisco). If biking is not your cup of tea, I bet walking is, plus its FREE! I also love to walk when I travel, all the while counting my steps with a handy app or pedometer-watch. Recently, my husband and I clocked in 30,000 steps (recommended daily is 10,000) while walking around Jeju and it felt tiring but great! Walking helps you to see the wildflowers that are growing on the side of the road, to hear then see a pheasant fly from one field to the next, to spot a small deer walking quietly through the woods, to pet a wandering dog that appears to be lost, to take your time to enjoy the view, to take a path that looks less traveled than the rest, to stop by a cafe that is tucked in the end of a small street, to take off your shoes and feel the sand/grass under your feet.
Use the local language
One of the first Korean words that someone taught me was to ask for discount and pay in cash (thanks tip #1). When shopping and ordering food, you get to practice what you learned and make the locals happy by using their mother tongue. They too spend a lot of time practicing English in order to accommodate and communicate with their customers, but how funny would it be if you spoke their language and poorly at that. As a language learner, it’s always refreshing to know that languages are not easy for others and it takes time to acquire the vocabulary AND also the pronunciation. You may even put a smile on their face when your intonation is more feminine vs masculine or you mispronounce one word for another. Best part is that you tried and you may get that discount after all 😛
Discover your own gems
As a constant trip planner, I once felt like a fish out of water in Okinawa. My husband, co-worker and I took a spur-of-the-moment trip to visit another friend who was stationed there, and being the only girl in the group I didn’t want to bring any expectations or plans that the others wouldn’t approve of. So, I made 0 research attempts and just let our “local guide” do all the planning for us.
While we did see Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium (which used to be the world’s largest and is one of the grandest MUST SEE places on the island), we also walked around the neighborhoods to see how the others lived. We visited a local Breakfast Cafe, where a lot of the locals and soldiers got their morning fixes. We went to the grocery store to make some homemade Tuna Poke bowls, which were incredible by the way! There were also other things in our DIY itinerary, but I must say they all didn’t disappoint and were spontaneous because I wasn’t in charge.
A movie theater, where the show is alive and dangerous!
You can also incorporate some spontaneity into your trips by asking your partner to plan your itinerary for you or a single day/single afternoon’s itinerary would also feel unexpected and fun!
Walking around (from tip #4) also helps you to guide your sense of smell towards a bakery, your sense of vision to a cafe specializing in Sweet Potato Lattes, your sense of touch to pick fruit at a local farm, or your sense of hearing to an empty beach where all your other senses come to life simultaneously.
Extra Tip: Local Apps
Once, traveling around Ukraine, I had a hard time orientating myself on the Google Maps App that I already had on my phone. After chatting with a few friends about local transport, I discovered that locals use a different Map App, which had a better interface and more information about local trams and trolleybuses, which are less popular but more inexpensive than buses and taxis.
Another popular App category that you may have the need for when traveling is a Food Delivery App. Here in Korea, there are at least a handful of Food Apps that you can choose from, so doing your research or asking around on local forums or Facebook groups could save you some time and inconvenience when at your destination.
One of my favorite light and healthy meals/snacks – Vietnamese Spring Rolls
Since our travel has been recently limited, I know that we’re all looking forward to traveling to resume. In the near or far future, don’t forget to vary your trips, incorporating new elements, novel activities, or ideas to make each and every trip extra special and memorable (tips from a local host can help you there). If you’re always a walker, next time rent a Segway to get around the city quicker. If you’re a nature observer, book a trip to a big city and enjoy museums, shows, and entertainment that it packs within it. If you travel with three suitcases, pack a single backpack with just bare essentials and see how much lighter it is to travel or pick up your needs from a local shop (who says that a new Mexican hat can’t be your souvenir too).
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