9 Ways to Dig Deeper Than Your Average Tourist
Everybody wants to go off the beaten path when they travel. The problem is that when we skip town, the path we all travel likely came from the same guidebook. There’s a reason tourist areas are so heavily populated with, well, tourists. They're conveniently located near all of the sights we want to see most! So what’s a traveler to do to get beyond tourist traps? Here are a few tips for finding a more “local” experience wherever you visit.
Or your taxi driver. Or the front desk clerk at your hotel. Ask anybody who lives or works in the town you're visiting where they go when they clock out for the day. It’s most likely not a place you’ll find in your Lonely Planet guide. Not only will you get a true feel for the city’s vibe, but you’ll also be in the perfect position to meet more locals.
London’s got Time Out. Los Angeles has LA Weekly. Every major city has a guide showcasing its weekly happenings in music, culture, and sports. Find out which magazine is popular in the place you’re visiting and track it down upon arrival. It’ll be the most in-the-know publication you'll read.
Whether it’s wine tasting, gardening, hula-hooping, knitting, cooking, or book clubbing… Just about any activity you can think of is being enjoyed around the world by groups of people who found one another via Meetup.com. Search the area for your favorite pastime and get together with locals who share that passion.
It may be counter to your instincts while traveling, but don’t be afraid to have an activity-free afternoon. Read or write at a local café. Have a picnic in a nearby park. Sit still for a few hours, and watch the world go by around you. Checking off a list of sights is great, but simply soaking up the atmosphere helps you get a real sense of the city.
Locals around the world have opened up their doors, free of charge, to fellow travelers via global community CouchSurfing.org. Whether you’re looking for a futon to crash on or a private guest room to have all to yourself, the site can find it just about anywhere in the world. Most hosts like to show their guests around, share a meal, or even enjoy a night out together. How better to experience life like a local than to stay with one?
Okay, you can bring it with you. But leave it in the hotel every now and then. Wander around the same way you would if you moved to a new town: letting the sights and sounds and smells guide your way. Follow your curiosity instead of a map. Stumble upon things you wouldn’t have noticed with your nose in a book. The best stories and most unexpected connections usually happen after getting lost.
Affectionately dubbed “a drinking club with a running problem,” Hash House Harriers is a social club operating just about everywhere in the world where you can drink and run. Some groups focus more on one activity than the other (and the running part is often optional), but all of them are friendly and welcoming of visitors from far and wide. Look up the chapter near you and share an afternoon of laughs with some locals.
Lots of agencies cater to tourists wanting to volunteer abroad. However, most of the people you’ll meet through these organizations will be other tourists. Never mind the fact that the experiences tend to be very expensive. Try reaching out in your own community back home to find an authentic connection overseas. Maybe your church is affiliated with a mission in a developing country. Perhaps your local food bank is part of a global network. Any time you can be introduced to an organization directly, you’re going to have a more personal interaction and local experience.
When all else fails, the old “Anybody know anybody in (insert city here)?” social media post always conjures up some contacts. Technology has made our world increasingly small, and nowadays you’re almost guaranteed to have a second- or third-degree relationship anywhere you’re thinking about going. Friends of friends are often the best people to introduce you to a new city. Just make sure to return the favor when they come knocking in your hometown!
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Any other tips to add? Share with us in the comments.