Whether you’re a seasoned world explorer or not, it’s surprisingly simple to travel like one. The key doesn’t lie in hush-hush secret spots passed on by word of mouth, but rather in intuitive everyday behaviors that will help you experience the cultures and countries in full. What does this mean exactly? It means ditching the paved road for the dirt track, writing a journal of your adventure, and turning it into a scrapbook with all your treasures and ticket stubs along the way.
Traveling is so much more than just visiting the touristy highlights. While the must-see attractions are always fun, be sure to find the time for some of the little-known or less documented spots too. It’s time to put your explorer’s cap on and get curious. Keen to transition from tourist to traveler? Read on and take note of all the things to do when traveling that’ll make your trip even better.
Get Tips from Locals
It can be all too tempting to stay within the confines of your resort or only hit the top tourist sites in your plans. While keeping your safety in mind, challenge yourself to do something—anything!—that requires a little bit of digging. Try talking to locals, asking your concierge for off-the-beaten-path recommendations, or starting your pre-trip research early.
Take Public Transportation
There’s really no better way to get a feel for the full scope of a city than by taking public transportation. Buses especially help you grasp neighborhoods. Just be sure to keep your eyes peeled, bring a map, and be aware of your personal belongings at all times.
Go to Local Markets and Shops
Put down the souvenir refrigerator magnet and slowly back away. Traveling is the perfect opportunity to scoop up some truly special items that will serve as mementos of your adventures. So hit the market and buy something you’ll cherish for years (i.e., not the made-for-tourists stuff).
Record Your Memories
Keep a diary. Take photos. Recap your days with your travel mates. Afford yourself every ability to look back on this trip and remember the most wondrous of details, big and small. Just be sure not to spend too much time on Instagram. You’ll miss out on the adventures you wanted to remember in the first place!
Research Top Restaurants
We love Yelp. It’s a lifesaver when exploring a new place. But the real gems—or at least the truly authentic ones—may evade you if you only dine by way of five-star ratings. While you’re chatting up the locals, ask them what their favorite neighborhood restaurant is. If you’re adventurous, follow their recommendation without a Google search (gasp!)—though we won’t judge you if you do for peace of mind.
Take a Day Trip
If your trip involves one destination city, make a point to arrange for a day trip to a nearby city or town. Often the most popular tourist destinations—though popular for a reason—overshadow some equally worthy yet smaller nearby locales you may regret missing.
Be Respectful of Local Customs
Don’t give legs to the “ugly American” stereotype. Before your trip, read up on essential phrases so you’re not clueless upon arrival. If you missed the study period, pick up a pocket dictionary at the airport and try it out—most locals will appreciate your effort, even if you’re struggling.
Spend an entire day with no set plans aside from exploring a neighborhood intimately. Go by foot or rent a bike so you have optimal mobility. Plus, you can stop and go as you please. Don’t set time constraints, and allow yourself to amble about from morning until evening. You’ll be feeling like a local in no time.
Check Out the Night Life
Whether or not you’re a night owl, a different energy settles over a city when the sun sets. Depending on the particular flavor of where you’re visiting, the nightlife might consist of live music in bars, huge, pulsing clubs, or candlelit cafés with plenty of wine to go around. Get dressed up and dive into whatever fun awaits.
Put the Maps Away
With smartphone GPS systems never far away, the age-old threat of losing your way has been all but erased. Sure, that may save you some frustrating or stressful moments, but so long as you have nowhere to be in a timely matter—and you’re not putting yourself in danger—getting lost is a great way to become familiar with a place and stumble upon unexpected things. Forgo your maps for one afternoon, and get lost.
Get Outside Your Comfort Zone
Eat something new. Try something that makes you scared. Resist the temptation to plan, plan, plan. Whatever your comfort zone is, push yourself outside of it—even if it’s just an inch or two. A truly great and memorable trip will teach you something about yourself—and may even change you a bit. The only way to do that is to shake things up.
Now that you know how to transform from a tourist to a traveler, get inspired by these beautiful destinations.
This post was originally published on December 16, 2016, and has since been updated by Hadley Mendelsohn.