Many people are satisfied merely seeing the tourist hot spots of a new city, but what about those of you who want to truly experience what it is like to live in a new area? In order to do this, you will need to carefully plan everything from your lodging choice to how you spend your spare time. After all, Parisians don’t tend to hang out at the Eiffel Tower, and Londoners don’t base their afternoon around the London Eye.
Although there is nothing wrong with exploring these popular tourist spots, you can learn so much more about the color and flavor of a city by vacationing like a local. Keep in mind that there are also numerous mental health benefits associated with going on vacation, and you can relax more effectively if you aren’t spending several hours in line at a tourist attraction.
1. Use Public Transportation
Studies have shown that most Americans prefer to drive over utilizing alternative forms of transportation, but this is likely to increase your stress levels. Instead, take a tip from the European approach and rely on public transportation whenever possible. Not only will this relieve the stress of trying to figure out how to get from point A to point B, but it will also enable you to experience different countries or major U.S. cities from the point of view of most locals.
2. Read the Local Paper Daily
There is perhaps no easier way to get to know a new area over a cup of coffee than by reading the local paper. You will find out about special events, news stories that are currently affecting residents and much more. In London, it is easy to find people who hand out free papers near many tube stations, which enables visitors to combine the paper with using public transportation.
3. Rent a Flat or Home Instead of a Hotel Room
Hotel rooms are difficult to fully relax in, and they are also typically located near major tourist attractions. In other words, if you choose this lodging option, you may never get a true feel for the city in question. A viable alternative is to book a vacation rental. Airbnb is a popular option for major cities, and there are also companies such as Carolina Designs Realty that specialize in oceanfront rentals.
The best part is that renting a home or flat in the desired area is often comparable to, or even cheaper, than a hotel room, and you get numerous added perks, including a kitchen.
4. Shop at the Nearest Grocery Store
As previously mentioned, a vacation rental will provide you with a functional kitchen. You can save money and try local vegetables and other favorites by shopping at the nearest grocery store. This also offers a good way to immerse yourself in local living. After all, everyone goes grocery shopping, so you can experience a lot of the local culture by partaking in this common activity.
5. Learn the Language and Converse with Locals
There are several ways to learn a new language well enough to actually converse in it with locals. For example, listening to podcasts will really help, as will reading and writing in the language in question. Your command of any language will improve much more quickly by living among native speakers, so conversing with the locals will not only teach you about the area but will also boost your skills.
6. Ask Locals for Restaurant and Café Suggestions
Travel books and websites may offer some good café and restaurant suggestions, but many of them are geared more toward tourists. To see how the locals dine, you will need to ask some of them for recommendations. Again, this will most likely take you outside of the typical tourist area.
It is also highly possible that you will end up learning about some places that may be lovingly referred to as a dive. Always remember that if you judge a restaurant purely on its aesthetics or location, you might miss out on one of the best meals of your life.
7. Walk through the Neighborhoods
Walking through downtown will show you many appealing aspects of a city, but it won’t usually showcase how the locals truly live. Therefore, you will need to walk through some of the neighborhoods if you want to learn more about what it is actually like to live somewhere new. As an added bonus, you are likely to find some unexpected beauty in an unassuming place. For example, some of Banksy’s work is found in or near London neighborhoods that are not near a tourist trap.
8. Have a Picnic in the Park
One of the things that truly makes each city unique is the way that greenspace is incorporated into the overall design. Locals usually go to a park to relax or exercise, which makes this another prime opportunity to observe a different culture. Additionally, having a picnic in the park is a good way to utilize local food and physically connect more to the area.
9. Spend an Afternoon Volunteering with a Local Group
Some people base their entire vacation around volunteering, but you can help others while also taking time to relax by donating one afternoon of your time. There are always local groups that need assistance, and most areas have a dedicated online resource that helps connect them with potential volunteers.
Something simple that does not require training will be the best route to explore. If you are vacationing in America, this could take the form of spending a few hours sorting food donations for Feeding America. If you’d rather spend time outside, you can ask the parks and recreation department about cleaning up debris at a nearby park. Either way, your fellow volunteers are likely to be locals who can give you a lot of insight into the area.
10. Visit Smaller Nearby Cities
It is easy to get wrapped up in the allure of visiting a major city. But did you know that it is often easier to connect with locals by going somewhere smaller? There are five affordable cities outside of Paris that fit this bill, and it is easy to find this same type of setup almost anywhere in the world. Even if you only go to a small city for a daytrip, you will still have the opportunity to observe local culture in a more intimate and accessible setting.
Vacations to faraway cities allow us to expand our minds and develop a more global conscience. When you combine this with perks such as increased productivity and better health, it makes sense to ensure that you book at least one trip per year. Your experience can also be vastly improved by taking a more localized approach.