Don’t we all love to visit a new city or country? But sometimes we might look like we were just dropped there from our hometown. To prepare yourself to “fit into the local culture” a bit more and stay safe, Dr. Cacinda Maloney of PointsandTravel.com, offers helpful tips—from seeking out locally owned restaurants and drinking the local brew to volunteering or staying in a neighborhood away from the tourist strip. Her expert advice will guide you on how NOT to be a tourist in a new city… even though you are one!
Stay in hotels outside of the tourist zone
The first tip I have is to stay out of the tourist zone, that cluster of hotels where people typically stay. Instead, do a bit of research and find out about areas that are more local and less saturated with tourists. You may even want to book a neighborhood vacation rental on Travelocity to truly feel like a local. While these areas might be a bit less central to some major attractions, staying outside tourist hubs will give you a chance to interact with some locals either at a neighborhood bar or café, or while they’re out walking their dogs, waiting for the bus or taking their kids to school.
Eat off the beaten track
If it’s time to eat and you are in the tourist zone, go a few streets back from the main tourist artery. Typically, you will get better local food, a better value and have a more personalized experience. Along with this, you may just find out that the popular drink in a country may be something you have never even heard of and the waiter may entice you to order it. Restaurants two or three streets back from the main tourist area are often glad to have you eat in their restaurant and are more likely to offer a personalized experience compared to the super busy waiters on the main drag. Also, for US destinations, if you’re willing to venture even farther out, it pays to check apps like Yelp and Zomato to find out which restaurants locals rate highly. Or look to an interactive app like Roaming Hunger if you’re up for chasing down the city’s top food trucks.
Buy local handmade products
Another thing you can do is buy locally hand-made items directly from their makers. I mean, don’t we all have plenty of refrigerator magnets and key rings with the names of where we just visited? There are even places where you can make things that you can bring home with you, such as creating your own brand of perfume or making your own label of wine or beer. Aren’t these more original than another tea towel for your kitchen? The photo above is of a famous type of limestone found in Croatia; I bought a cross for my husband. Apparently this limestone is what the White House in the USA is made from! Who knew?
Blend in better
Of course it’s good to be yourself, but when visiting a new city or country it pays to blend in. Instead of wearing your flashiest pair of red jeans and matching bright blue jacket, go for the more neutral colors of black, dark blue, or brown. But if people are wearing bright colors or silks in the region, do that instead. Always be aware of how others dress in the region. This keeps you from looking like a target to those who notice that you stand out in a crowd. They can typically spot you from a mile away when they see you coming. So tone it down: This includes your voice volume as well.
Volunteer at a charity
Another way to get to know a destination is is to volunteer at a local charity, whether it’s a building a home for Habitat for Humanity or volunteering to hold babies in a hospital. Connecting with a reputable organization and working alongside local people may help you see that everything is not always as it seems when you visit such amazing places. And even though you go there to enjoy your holiday, there are plenty of people who live below the poverty line that you may never have otherwise come in contact with.
Be nice… It goes a long way!
One last tip: Make an effort to learn a few key phrases like “hello,” “goodbye,” “thank you,” “excuse me,” and “where is the bathroom?” These simple phrases will get you a long way with the locals when they realize you are trying, especially if you are smiling! There are even apps out there like Drops or Memrise that teach vocabulary for dozens of languages through fun visual exercises! Pocket Talk can even translate in real-time.
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