How to Travel Like a Local: 17 Essential Tips From Travel Pros

Eating authentically, drinking at local bars, shopping at markets and more: These fervent travelers shared insights on how they travel like a local.

Traveling like a local has, and will, always be in style. Curiosity pushes travelers from one location to the next, dreaming of more adventures and more immersive experiences. 

"Experiential travel" gained momentum steadily for the last decade as travelers became more-connected, well-read and well-traveled. While traveling like a local sounds dreamy, knowing how to get that experience takes practice, research and time. If you’re searching for more during your travels, here are 17 tips to get you started. 

1) Talk to strangers.

"Striking up conversation with complete strangers is necessary," said Mickela Mallozzi, host of PBS Show Bare Feet. "Talk to your bartender when you enter a local watering hole, speak to your coffee shop waitress, ask your taxi driver questions on where he or she likes to eat, and so on."

2) Spend the most on your passions.

"Find what it is that’s important to you," said Teri Johnson, creator of lifestyle-travel blog Travelista Teri. "Foodies want to go to Michelin-starred restaurants and seek out James Beard award-winning chefs. Find that thing that you love and spend the most money on it. For me, I love hotels. It depends what your priority is. Find out what 'luxury' means to you and plan and spend accordingly."

3) Travel on the weekdays if possible.

"Think about traveling during the week," said Sarah Gavin, Expedia vice president of communications. "Something like a Tuesday or Wednesday. You can avoid a lot of attractions and that gives you a chance to breathe and talk to people."

4) Go at your own pace.

“Each traveler can incorporate local perspective and experiences in their travels,” said Caz Makepeace, creator of Y Travel Blog. “It can be simply visiting a local market, or wandering down an alleyway and trying a new restaurant. Start small until your confidence grows and your fear lessens. Then you can embrace some of the more adventurous local experiences. Some people do naturally tend to gravitate toward a deeper experience. I find they are usually the more open people and have an adventurous nature and a greater comfort level.”

5) Establish a routine at your destination.

"Number one thing is wherever I travel to I create a ritual," said Samantha Brown, Travel Channel host. "Usually it’s a coffee shop I can begin my day at, it’s a local place, never a chain. I get to see where the locals are and that’s one way of being in the local space. It gets me out right in the beginning of the day. I go to that place every day and relax. I talk to people. The clerks start to notice me. Every single day at the exact same time. It’s relaxing and you actually open yourself to the locals."

6) Your weekly routine might help you find locals organically.

"People wherever they go, wherever they are in the world, they go to church," said Brown. "In the cities that people are visiting, if they’re active they find an exercise class. Everyone’s part of a club because of the internet’s ability to group. Find a group of people that are interested in what you're interested in."

7) Plan to walk as much as possible.

"I do my best to walk everywhere," said Samantha Schlemm, blogger of Rambling About Rambling. "Walking frees you to explore and get lost a little. When you take a cab or Uber you get where you’re going in the most direct route. When you walk, you slow down and have time to look around; you find side streets and stores you would have never noticed or been able to peer into before." 

8) You don't have to go off the grid.

"You don’t necessarily need to go so far off the beaten path to be where the locals are," said Brown, Travel Channel host. "Like the Champs-Élysées. If you go to the parallel streets or two streets over, that's where the more local shops are. Locals don’t use the main streets but the outside of that area. They’re not inundated with tourists. It's easier to strike up a conversation there and the locals are more conversive. If you talk to a shopkeeper who’s a local you can ask advice. Those secondary streets that run right along the main thoroughfares are really where the locals are."

9) Visit the tourist attractions, but like a local.

"The iconic sites are important and worth visiting, but instead of visiting it like a tourist would, consider how you can visit it like a local would," said Makepeace, of Y Travel Blog. "So, in Paris, grab a bottle of wine and some picnic food from the supermarket and sit under the Eiffel Tower. In Australia, avoid Bondi Beach and find out what are the favorite beaches of the locals—there are so many more hidden beauties that only the locals know of."

10) Buy local groceries.

"For us, one of the best ways to get a feel for a new city is by spending time in the fresh markets and engaging with its vendors and street food merchants," said Audrey Scott, co-creator of Uncornered Market. "If a city has a really famous market like La Boqueria in Barcelona, consider going to a smaller place like Mercat de Santa Caterina in Barcelona. Additionally, research the schedule for weekly markets in the area as often these attract locals who are going about and doing their regular food shopping."

11) Buy those groceries early.

"For local experiences I head to morning markets to sample what is on offer and observe people shopping for their daily food." said Jodi Ettenberg, blogger of Legal Nomads. "You can glean a lot from the cadence of a morning bustle, and it's a great way to kickstart my time in a destination I've never experienced before."

12) Do your research.

"I always kind of research and know what I want to do, what I want to accomplish and what the local culture is like," said Lee Abamontee, the youngest American to have visited every country in the world. "Do a little more research and go to bars and cafes that locals go to."

13) Be open-minded.

"I think the best thing to do is to expect the unexpected, be open-minded and curious and finally trust the local people," said Gloria Molin, CEO of Trips4Real. "Doing this, you will be far more likely to immerse yourself in the local culture and have some amazing adventures that will be both interesting and fulfilling, but also that you’ll always remember." 

14) Film thoughtfully, and with respect.

"Placing a large DSLR or mirrorless camera into someone's face is a bit intimidating for sure," said Nadine Sykora, vlogger of Hey Nadine. "That’s why I try and get vlogs with smaller cameras or iPhones. It’s not about camera and footage first, it’s about organic experiences and sometimes that might involve not capturing content. And that might involve telling a story afterwards. Be nice, be respectful. Those go along way."

15) Don't eschew guided tours.

"The nice thing about travel is you can dive in as deep as you want," said Expedia's Gavin. "Tours can really blend those groups—adventurous and not so adventurous—with the security to know that you’re being taken care of by a local to try something local."

16) Business trip? You can still travel like a local.

"I love working in Madrid because you work until noon and then have lunch for fours hours," Gavin said. "Then there's always finding great dinners at night. I was just in Tokyo and we had this amazing nine-course meal and then went to a robot show. It was this crazy, cool thing that you could only imagine doing in Tokyo." 

17) Traveling like a local isn't for everyone.

It’s definitely not for everybody. It’s for the more curious and the more culturally excited," said  Travelista Teri's Johnson. "Some people go to a resort, stay at the resort and then go back to the airport and that’s fine. Sometimes you just really need to decompress. It depends on the frame of mind, the purpose of your travel."

Jamie Jackson
About the author

Executive Digital Editor for WhereTraveler

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