Travelling is one of the most enriching experiences anyone can have. You get to meet new people, experience a unique culture, see places that you probably haven’t even dreamed of, taste flavours that are totally out of this world, and immerse yourself in totally new experiences.
But not all tourists know how to make the most out of their travels. Some miss important life-changing moments because they’re too busy looking at complicated maps or reading hard to follow guidebooks.
As any experienced traveller would tell you, the secret to the most rewarding travel experience is to explore your travel destination like a local. How exactly do you do that? Here’s how.
Try to speak the local language
Learning to say basic but important phrases in the local language will go a long way in making your trip memorable, fun and hassle-free. It’s also a good first step to establishing a genuine connection with the locals. You can go the traditional way by getting a pocket-sized phrasebook or by downloading a translation app. Relevant phrases to keep in mind include basic greetings, numbers, and directions.
In Thailand, for example, knowing the phrases sawatdee kah (hello), khob khun kah (thank you), mai (yes), mai chai (no), and nee Tao Rai (how much?) will help you greatly throughout your trip.
Put the camera down and look around you
In the age of social media, it’s understandable if your first instinct is to grab your smartphone or a camera when you see something interesting. But having a “shoot first” attitude could cause you to miss the nuance that made that “something” interesting in the first place. Besides, you don’t want your memory of your trip to be you squinting at the small screen of your phone or camera, do you?
When travelling to beautiful places like Amsterdam, for instance, you should go ahead, take the obligatory picture and video for posterity, but make sure you put down the gadgets and actually smell the tulips, take in that beautiful sunset and the scenery before you, and just be in the moment.
Skip the fancy hotels and sleep at a homestay
There’s nothing more local than living like one. While hotels are convenient, a homestay or local bed and breakfast would be more suitable choices if you’re looking for a more authentic local living experience. Hosts often have the best tips for the great places to visit, fun things to do and delectable food to eat.
In Vietnam, for example, staying with a local family in the Vietnamese countryside will give you a valuable glimpse of the traditional way of life.
Prepare an itinerary but be flexible
Having an itinerary allows you to organize your trip and maximize the limited time you have, but rigid plans sometimes cause you to miss out on fun and unexpected experiences. So, it’s vital that you leave some wiggle room in your travel plans for random surprises.
When travelling to popular destinations like Paris, it is wise to join skip-the-line tours or get Hop on Hop off passes if you want to cover more ground during your trip but do not forget to allot a day or two for spontaneous side trips as well.
Don’t limit yourself to popular attractions
Visiting top-rated attractions is a must, but don’t make them your only destinations. Explore random cafés, roam the neighbourhood of your homestay, or wander the countryside whenever you can. Experienced travellers swear that many of their best and most memorable experiences were had simply by popping into local markets, stores, and street corners.
Avoid global fast-food chains at all cost
When you’re in a foreign country, do yourself a favor and eat local. Research the local cuisine in advance and sample it when you get the chance. Get tips from locals on what dishes to try and where best to get them. If you see locals lining up at a specific hawker or food stall, you can be sure that what they are offering are must-tries.
Joining a cooking class is also a great idea. In Siem Reap, visitors sign up for cooking classes where they learn to prepare classic Cambodian dishes. These cooking classes are not only fun and informative, they will also teach you how to whip up a complete Cambodian meal using traditional cooking methods.
Go with the local flow
Hang out with the locals, talk to them, and ask them questions. Observe their way of life. See where they are going, notice what they are eating, drinking, and buying. As you spend your days with them, you’ll get a deeper understanding and appreciation of what local life is, and that’s when you can truly say that you’ve had a genuine local experience.
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By: Brendelyn Balaga