Holidays become unforgettable with a local travel experience. Humans are hardwired to hop on an adventure. Can you imagine a world where you’re stuck in one place for the rest of your life? It doesn’t sound like living at all. Helen Keller famously said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” In case you’ve been living under a rock and didn’t know, Helen Keller was blind, and what she said should inspire people with sight to see more of the world.
While losing yourself in a new country is amazing, make it a point that you know how to travel like a local to make the most of your visit when you are in a foreign city. How do you do it? Here are 5 practical ways to get the best local travel experience.
Refuse the usual comfort of hotels
This advice definitely comes first. In fact, if you decide to try just one of the tips on this list, this is it. Avoid hotels not only to save money but also, more importantly, to achieve local experience. You don’t normally see locals checking in hotels, right?
There are, of course, some perks when you stay at a hotel – comfort, safety, prestige and so on. Also, hotels are very near important city landmarks such as museums, train or bus stations, parks and even airports. But this is definitely not the way to go when local traveling.
To travel like a local and experience more of what a new city has to offer, consider booking your stay in hostels, Airbnb or HomeAway, where you can stay in someone’s home instead of a well-furnished hotel room.
In most cases, these spaces are located in local neighbourhoods near the local parks, markets and shops that are otherwise tucked away from the usual tourist routes.
Also, you get your own kitchen and cooking wares when in Airbnb or HomeAway spaces, allowing you to cook your own meals instead of having to eat out all the time. This gives you the freedom to choose what you eat and how much you spend on food and makes you feel at home.
Since this American company went online in 2008, Airbnb has become the first choice for many backpackers and expert travellers. This means you shouldn’t have a problem booking a space since most major cities in the world host plenty of Airbnb spaces. In Amsterdam, for instance, there are more than 18,000 homeowners who have listed their apartments, homes and even boathouses with Airbnb.
Another way to avoid hotels altogether, make friends with the locals or ask around for people who don’t mind hosting travellers for free. You might be surprised to discover that there are actually families who love entertaining foreigners.
Meet local residents and win friends. You could discover interesting neighbourhoods and local hangouts. If given the chance, don’t say no if you are invited to enjoy a home-cooked meal with a local in their home. This will allow you to taste local food and engage in a lively, unfiltered chat with homeowners.
Choose local transportation
If you wish to know how to travel like a local, get out of your room, make your way to the bus stop or train station and blend in—no need for elaborate local travel tips here. Simply start moving around like a local.
Try using the public modes of transport instead of renting a car, hailing a cab or booking an Uber right away. Taking the metro or the inner city may not be as comfortable or quick, but the experience you get is raw and authentic. Also, you can save tons of money.
Your local experience is simply more relaxed and fun when you ride as the locals do. For the Dutch, two-wheeling is a way of life. In fact, there are more bicycles than people in Amsterdam, so they say. Cycling is so popular, and there are amazing bicycle routes and paths all over the city. So how best can you tour this city? You guessed it right – on two wheels.
There are several bike rental companies around. It’s very easy to get one. Ride a bike and enjoy the freedom to go anywhere you please and the cool breeze on your face. Don’t stick to the typical sightseeing routes. While cycling, you can get to secret gardens, hidden courtyards and long-forgotten churches in the city’s coolest neighbourhoods.
Explore local neighborhoods
Palaces, old churches, sculptures, fountains, parks and fancy museums are great, but if you are serious about getting local travel experiences, try strolling and venturing into neighbourhoods off the beaten path.
Escape the flow of tourists and refuse to see only what tourists get to see. Experience something different. With the help and guidance of locals, you might want to explore the dodgiest corners of the city, the local hipster hubs or underground clubs.
There are local guides that offer alternative tours. Consider taking these services, but making sure you won’t get conned or scammed. It will definitely help if you learn the local language or at least the most common and helpful phrases and expressions.
Learn their language
Language enhances one’s travel experiences. When crossing continents and visiting a completely different country from your own, the experience could shock you in many ways. Learning the language or at least having an understanding of it can help you absorb the shock of discovering the stark cultural differences.
Before arriving in a new country, try and learn a few words and greetings. The internet has tons of sites that will teach you how to say “yes,” “no”, “excuse me”, “I’m sorry,” “thank you”, “goodbye”, “please”, “how much is this”, “I don’t understand”, “do you speak English” or “good morning” in any language around the world.
Technology and the internet have made it very easy to travel and communicate in a foreign country. Download some translation apps like Google Translate, iTranslate and TripLingo, or offline dictionaries that you can easily “flip” on your smartphone while walking on foreign streets.
Refuse to get tied down
This should be your mindset when planning to go somewhere. You can get so many local travel tips or suggestions on how to travel like a local, but only when you put on a spirit of adventure can you really have a blast.
The best local travel experiences are often a result of completely going spontaneous. When you’re too caught up on a bucket list, you could miss out on opportunities that no itinerary could possibly prepare you for. Don’t hold on too tightly to your travel plans and schedules. You might just bump into an honestly friendly local who offers to take you diving or cruising. Go for it.
Or perhaps you meet someone in the market which offers to take you to local shops where you can get the coolest souvenirs. Ditch your shopping plans and go with your new friend.
Going on a packaged tour is quite an adventure in some ways, but setting off on your own will give you more free time and flexibility to explore and experience something unique and different. Here’s an idea. Take a look at a tour package, learn about the routes and landmarks, and then go to these places on your own. This will not tie you down to a strict schedule or move along the pace of the rest of your tour mates.
Researching, planning and sightseeing on your own is quite an experience. Also, you get to save tons of money.
Go out at night
If you don’t feel completely safe doing this, then by all means, choose safety more than anything else. However, all cities take on a completely different character in the cover of night. It’s like touring a new town. If you know you are in a safe country like the Netherlands or when with a guide by locals, go out at night, see the lights and wait for the parties to begin.
When walking along De Wallen district in Amsterdam in the morning, you will definitely enjoy the museums, shops and attractive streets. In the evening, however, the place transforms into one of the sexiest places on the planet. This part of the city is actually the infamous Red Light District of Amsterdam. Now, do you see the perks of going out at night?
These are five easy-to-follow and practical ways to get the best local travel experience in foreign land. You may have watched tons of travel shows on TV and online, and wished you could go places.
You may have envied the hosts, watching them narrate their truly magical and local travel experiences. They seem to really know their way. The best bet is that they were with a local guide as they explored the city or perhaps they have been there several times before actually filming.
The good news is that you don’t have to just dream of being there. Get your own authentic local travel experience in a foreign country, and you can start right now by packing.
Do you want more travel tips? Check out our weekly posts here at Ask the Dutch Guy.