Thursday, February 6, 2014

5 Ways to Travel like a Local

When they say 'travel like a local' - what do they exactly mean and why should one really travel like a local ...  

Here's how and why we (the husband, our daughter and I) try to get a 'local flavor' during all our travels.

The WHY is simple -

  • Traveling like a local gets you as close as you can to the local culture, mannerisms and way of life. 
  • Especially when you are traveling with kids, it helps you give your kids a flavor of how life is outside their home city and you wont believe how much fun they have in doing this. 
  • And of course the larger mass of tourists aren’t doing this, so at least here - you won't be one amongst a herd of tourists trying to get a selfie in front of a monument or in a queue to buy audio guides.

And now that I've mentioned the WHY, here's my take on the 'HOW':

5 ways to get a 'Local Experience' when you travel:

1.       Stay at a Home-stay

Home stays are the best way to see and perhaps even live a ‘day in the life’ of a local. Most often serve you food cooked in the home kitchen by the home owners or their domestic help – that’s food as authentic as it can get. 
You can strike a conversation with the home owner’s family (if they are open to – which they are in most cases) and their domestic help – and get insights into life in that place. 
If you are traveling with infants and have special food needs, home stays often give you the flexibility to get meals of your choice or warm up that glass of milk yourself in the kitchen.

The only caveat here is to look for home stays that are truly home stays (preferably with owners living in or around that house). Hotels camouflaged as home stays (and there are plenty) defeat the purpose. 

The cosy & tastefully done up living room of Kemal & Barbara's Pension (Guesthouse) - our home for a week in Goreme, Turkey
A traditional homestay we stayed at in Bekal, North Kerala, India

2.       Visit a Local Vegetable or Fish Market

Take time out to visit a local (non-touristy) vegetable market, fish market or maybe a weekend market. There is nothing touristy about it & you wont really get souvenirs here – but its fun to see locals buying (and haggling) fish or fresh produce of vegetable & fruits. We enjoy a weekend market the most – everything from vegetables to clothes to dairy products & toiletries sold in bulk – it’s a colorful feast for your eyes.  At a weekend market in Selcuk, Turkey, our daughter enjoyed seeing a variety of fish or fruits (that she hadn’t seen back home) while we struck up a conversation with local vendors.

A local market in Hanoi
A local fish market in Selcuk, Turkey

A lady selling spices & dry fish at a market near Darbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal

3.       Eat at a Local Restaurant

The best way to try authentic local food in any place you travel to is to eat where there are no tourists and only locals eating. The food at these places is the most authentic and usually the tastiest (usually.. ;-)). The only caveat here is that - unlike touristy restaurants where the staff is often adept in some form English – staff in these local restaurants often don’t speak English (or the commonly used Hindi when traveling in India).
In this case, it helps to look up translations of the food menu on the internet (honestly this exercise is also fun). Once at small local restaurant in one of the by-lanes in Hong Kong, the staff spoke only Cantonese. Fortunately, as a home work, we had carried a handwritten list given by a friend containing 20 different local dishes written in Cantonese and their English equivalent – this way, we would just point out to what we wanted (and we knew what that meant in English).

A local restaurant serving Shawarmas & Snacks on a highway between Ajman & Umm Al Quwain, UAE

Fajau-Pav (Red beans cooked in coconut gravy & bread): popular as lunch with locals at this Goan eatery in Mulgaon - a village near Thivim in North Goa
Rice paper sheets being made for the vietnamese rolls at a street joint off Hanoi, Vietnam
A road side eatery serving meals to locals near Khajjiar in Himachal, India

4.       Travel by the most local transport

Enjoy a ride in a transport that locals use to travel. Mass transport (trains, trams, buses) are even better than individual transport like tuk-tuks/ auto-rickshaws  – as this way, not only do you experience traveling the local way, but often also get a chance to strike a conversation with locals on their daily commute. Kids also enjoy that ride in the tram or  tuk tuk… and of course this is also cheaper on the wallet. The only caveat when traveling with kids is if you re taking an overcrowded vehicle (bus/ rickshaw/ train) – this can be claustrophobic for children – in this case, ensure your child has enough breathing & movement space, else not worth the ride.

An auto rickshaw in Dhaka, Bangladesh - manouvered thru traffic to swiftly get me to my hotel (as an Indian from Mumbai, I am so used to these!)

The Himachal State Transport Bus we took from Pathankot to Dalhousie in North India - very good condition, very clean, great people!
The less fancy but loads of fun boat ride on an Abra - from Deira to Bur Dubai in Dubai

5.       Visit a Local Park

Head out to a completely non touristy (and usually residential) area of the town you are in and visit a park where local children play at a playpen and people take their evening stroll. Especially when traveling with kids.. Kids enjoy their time at the park (in any new place – a slide or swing is still as much fun!). And while your kids mix around with local kids in the play area, you can take a quiet break and watch on from a park bench while catching up with other parents. Of course there are some things that you do back home that you will still end up doing here – being a referee between your kids and others on who will use the swing first :-)

At the play-area of a local park in Sharjah

At Uskudar, Istanbul - my daughter on a see-saw playing with Turkish kids at the local park

Share your ideas & comments on how you get a local experience when you travel... 


  1. Great post Deepti. Staying at homestays adds a lot to the travel experience. The best way I immerse myself in local culture is by talking. I talk to locals in coffee shops, queues, markets...anywhere. I ask for their favourite thing about the city and 9 times out of 10 it works out better than a guide book!

    1. Thanks for your notes Ankita... Indeed homestays add a lot to the whole experience ... and great thought on asking locals about their favorite thing about the city ...

      Another fun experience is to pick up supplies from small local grocery stores & supermarkets.. sounds crazy but we find it very interesting to see unique local brands & products sold ... our daughter loves it to ;-)

      Happy Travels!