I answer your questions on how “to travel like a local.”
How do you travel like a local?
Depends on the locals. But begin by getting stuck in a routine. Make most of your own meals. Commute. Complain about commuting. Don’t go to museums or attractions. (Locals only see them when they’re 12.) If you eat out, eat out at the same place your entire stay.
Is “traveling like a local” the best way to travel?
Certainly not. Locals rarely if ever have the best viewpoint of their homes. An outsider — everyone knows — is the one that can give a fresh perspective of a place. I see this happen all the time in my travels. How many times I’ve heard a local say to me “I never knew about that” in their homes. It’s because I’m researching from afar, looking at their homes as temporary playlands, my curiosity is piqued. Their’s isn’t. This happened last year when I kayaked in Melbourne — biked to an English farm — looked at penguins and big bats, many locals met had no idea this was in their town. It takes an outsider to see a place. Not any outsider, but the curious outsider with some perspective and an investigator’s eye. It’s fun.
Does that mean locals are to be avoided?
By all means, no. I don’t travel like a local. I travel like a traveler. But that works the best when I travel IN THE COMPANY OF LOCALS. That gets you out of business districts and tourist ghettos. Into neighborhoods. Watch the locals, follow them, sit by them, talk with them – -share what you know and wonder about. Often it’ll trigger something about the place they know well — so well they would never think to offer it otherwise. This happens all the time. Everyone wins. I know it to be true.
Why do travel media people always talk about “traveling like a local”?
Oh, this is a marketing thing. I looked up the phrase on the Guardian or New York Times about a year ago. Only the latter has ever used it — once — and it was as a quote from an author, talking over a decade ago. Yes, this is a marketing term. It’s kind of like in the Matrix, when Keanu Reeves has that tube in his head, and he imagines this fake world — marketing is like that a lot. Sells a perception they think will sell or trigger interest, but it isn’t actually very real. We need to remind ourselves this more, in all facets of sales and media.
Some travelers never try to “travel like a local,” or do the things you talk about here. Should they?
I wish they’d try. It’s fine if you want to go on a cruise or to Vegas for the 14th time or to a beach rental. It’s their vacation. They can do what they want. But everyone everyone everyone would benefit from trying a more immersive type of travel where they try to learn how other places work.
If you’ve never done that, how do you start?
That’s a good question. You start by taking a bus. Do you know how many people have never figured out how to ride a bus — like a bus across town? It must be a tiny percentage who ever do, particularly in the USA. To do so, you need to figure out where the stop is, what route will get you where you’re going, how to pay, can you pre-pay, do you need exact change, how do you know when to get off, do you need to transfer? Often it’s very very easy. (People will always help you if you ask.) But it can seem intimidating if you’ve never done it. So try it. In your hometown. It’s empowering, I promise you. And it gives you a full serving of the basics of how to travel, see and enjoy the world.
Just ride a bus. It’s all easy after that.
What are the best locals in the world?
The ones next to you.