You travel to experience a new culture, correct? Following the crowd of tourists as they go from their hotel room, to a cab, to the “must-see” destinations almost certainly ensures that you won’t experience the culture—you’ll experience a curated version of it. And after saving and spending your hard-earned money, the last thing you want to do is have regrets about what you did or didn’t see.
The best way to make the most of your trip is to have as authentic of an experience as possible. Luckily, it’s possible to see popular tourist spots and enjoy your destination like a local. Use the following tips to do exactly that on your next trip abroad.
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Don’t Bounce Around
Instead of spending just one day in each country or city you plan to visit, dedicate a few days, or even a week if possible. The more time you spend in one spot, the more you learn about the way locals live. This also gives you time to relax, rather than running from one museum to another to fit everything in one day.
My husband and I spent one week in Paris and this is where we had the most authentic experience. We got into our own little routine of living like a local: morning breakfast of chocolate croissants in our rental apartment, a walk to wherever we were off to that day, espresso at a café in the afternoon and either bought food for dinner on the way home or took the metro out to a small, quiet dinner. My memories from our time in Paris are nothing but blissful, and I believe this authentic experience has a lot to do with it.
If you can only squeeze in two days, spend one checking out the popular tourist stops and then spend the next strolling around, enjoying local parks and restaurants. Check a local event calendar to find events that day or music that night; heading to a local event ensures you’ll have a more authentic experience.
Get Hyper Local: Instead of taking a cab, always use public transportation. You’ll be able to observe locals going about their regular day and take cues from what they’re wearing and how they’re acting. I loved emulating the way women dressed in Paris; it was such a wonderful combination of casual and classy.
Learn the Lingo
Learning a whole new language may be out of the question—especially if you’re working full time, planning for the trip, and still trying to enjoy some semblance of social life. However, you don’t need to speak the language fluently before you go, just a few key phrases and slang terms can make it easier for you to blend and have an authentic experience in when you arrive to your destination.
When planning, research which language(s) are common in the area you’re traveling to. While we all know French is spoken in France, you may not know that it’s also spoken in 31 other countries, including many in Africa. It will only take a few minutes to look up the language and start practicing a few words and phrases.
Get Hyper Local: Check out this Conde Nast guide to slang in other countries so you can speak to people like a local. When my husband and I traveled through Europe, we’d always ask servers about the local slang so we could use it as we traveled around. In places like Paris, where locals are hesitant to speak English, even if they know it, this knowledge comes in handy.
Stay With Locals
AirBnB is an easy and safe way to stay with locals when traveling abroad. Instead of getting a hotel room by yourself, find a house with an open room. Many times, hosts offer to show people around if requested, and may even give a list of the restaurants and sites that locals love to frequent.
In Amsterdam, the host’s son happened to have a boat, and he offered to give us a personal canal tour (as opposed to taking one of the large—and packed—tour boats). The experience was exceptional, and one we wouldn’t have had otherwise.
If you don’t want to stay with a local, you can dine with one for a night instead. Use Bonappetour to browse for hosts in the area you’re visiting, book your “home dinner” and enjoy an authentic meal one night during your stay. Few opportunities allow for as authentic of an experience as this.
Get Hyper Local: Ask the person you’re staying with to take you out for a day and show you what they might do on a nice day off. While not all hosts will be interested in this, some will love the opportunity to show you what their hometown has to offer.