Trading Tourist-Traps for Treasures: Tips for Travelling like a Local

Boat on lake surrounded by pine trees and mountains
Charlotte Deville


With 79% of Gen-Z and Millennials agreeing that they would love to partake in a day in the life of locals in the destination they are visiting, there is a greater hunger than ever to ditch the beaten path for a more authentic experience. From pre-trip research to advice for once you’ve landed, here is how to ensure your trip is aligned with the resident reality as much as possible.

  1. ‘Word of Mouth’

With 47% of Gen-Z and Millennial travellers admitting they are influenced by recommendations from family and friends when choosing travel destinations, this is evidently a valuable short-cut for advice. Speaking with those who have visited your destination allows you to learn their highlights and mistakes. Most obviously though, engaging with residents once you have arrived is undeniably the best way to tailor your trip towards their reality. It is these people who we aspire to live like whilst travelling, so take advantage of speaking with taxi-drivers, waiters, and friendly faces on the street for the most credible guidance on local favourites – whether it’s places to visit, things to do, or recommendations for where and what to eat and drink.

  1. Pre-trip research using social media and apps

Social media is a popular source to gain a wider variety of opinions, with 66% of Gen-Z and Millennial travellers claiming they gather most of their travel inspiration regarding what and where to eat from social media.

‘Instagrammable’ hotspots also receive their share of criticism on social media to help us avoid over-spending on an under-whelming experience

Tiktoks, Instagram reels, and blogs offer vast quantities of advice, opinions, and tips from a variety of people who have experienced the same destination in different ways. People do not hold back from sharing their raw reviews, and the visual element of their content aids us in deciding whether a place or experience is truly authentic to the local culture, or a mainstream tourist-trap. Although ‘Instagrammable’, on-trend hotspots are often hyped on social-media, these especially receive their share of criticism to help us avoid over-spending on an under-whelming experience that many complete ‘for show’ rather than to truly experience the destination they are in.

Much social-media content is directed at our exact goal of travelling like a local. Some useful search terms, hashtags, and accounts to find this advice include:

  • ‘an Insider’s guide to…’
  • ‘Hidden gems in…’
  • ‘Rating restaurants in…’
  • ‘a locals guide to…’
  • ‘Travelling like a local in…’
  • io on tiktok

Additionally, the app Spotted by Locals contains travel guides for 82 cities, curated from insider tips by locals who speak the native language. With the compelling tagline “[s]ay goodbye to tourist traps and hello to authentic experiences”, and a commitment to sustainable travel, this seems to be the perfect platform for the modern traveller. Tips within the app are frequently updated, and users can save their favourites to an in-app list. The app is useful once you have arrived too, as in-app navigation services can detect and guide you to recommended places nearby.

  1. Familiarise yourself with cultural customs, traditions, and language

To truly travel like a local, an understanding of their culture is essential. Pre-trip research should explore:

  • Local dishes and delicacies
  • Religious and cultural practices, beliefs, and celebrations
  • Guidelines surrounding what is considered (dis)respectful
  • Traditional style and fashion
  • The native language
  • A basic understanding of the destination’s history

Gathering this information will guide trip-planning in the right direction, by making travellers aware of the locations, styles, preferences, beliefs, and customs that hold significance to the local population. Noteworthy examples include the clothing guidelines in Muslim countries, the delicacy of Belgian endives, and the Hindu festivals of Diwali and Holi. Understanding which dishes to order, goods to buy, how to behave and dress appropriately, which activities and rituals are important to get involved in, and how to communicate with locals is the key to mimicking their reality.

Practicing local language essentials before your trip will be worthwhile to allow you to communicate with residents. Apps such as Duolingo, which contains over 40 languages, or Drops, which commits users to only 5 minutes of learning per day, are accessible and effective tools. Researching colloquial dialects and phrases used by locals is also important, as these are not always grammatically correct and are, therefore, less likely to be taught in educational sources.

  1. Accommodation

Immersing yourself in a host family’s lifestyle and routines is an unparalled way to ensure an authentic, traditional experience

Another way to distance from the habits of a typical tourist is to avoid the hospitality of a hotel. Staying in an AirBnB gives travellers greater freedom to immerse themselves in local life, rather than the tourist community found among hotel guests. For longer-term travellers, staying with a host-family presents an even better option to live the local lifestyle. AirBnB hosts and host families are great examples of ‘Word of Mouth’ sources of advice, whilst immersing yourself in the host families’ lifestyle and learning about their experiences and routines is an unparalleled way to ensure an authentic, traditional experience.

  1. Transport

Using local transport methods is another way to embrace the native lifestyle. For example, this might involve riding bikes through Amsterdam or using the SkyTrain or tuk-tuks in Bangkok. Metro, tram, and bus services also provide the opportunity to interact with and learn from the locals.

Strolling through your destination is highly recommended. Walking ensures a continuous connection with the street culture and local population, making it easier to discover hidden gems. For example, you may decide on a dinner restaurant by simply passing by, reading menus, and detecting which spots are most populated and therefore prefered by the locals.

  1. Spontaneity / constructing an a-typical tourist itinerary

Whilst it is important to pre-book tickets for sell-out activities, it is equally vital to remain spontaneous by avoiding a strict schedule or draining your time and funds on typical tourist attractions.

To cultivate a locally authentic experience, it is better to prioritise visiting places such as markets, which offer local delicacies and produce and the opportunity to exercise one’s language skills in interaction with the local community. Spending time in smaller, quaint neighbourhoods, such as Trastevere in Rome, or the hill-top commune of Eze along the French Riviera, is another way to stray from the well-trodden path, discover hidden-gems, and ultimately experience the true essence of the destination’s local culture, customs, and offerings in the absence of tourist crowds and traps.

A final addition to an a-typical tourist itinerary is to take your hobbies with you. For example, packing your running shoes, golf clubs, tennis rackets, or yoga mat could lead you towards local businesses and leisure spots such as sports clubs, classes, and running routes which would unlikely be listed as a ‘top 10 tourist attraction’ in the place you are visiting. Furthermore, embracing the typical hobbies enjoyed by locals, such as surfing in Australia or tai-chi classes in China, offers another avenue for culturally authentic enjoyment.

So, wherever your next trip may take you, keep these tips in mind, stray from the beaten path, and seek the treasures beyond the tourist-traps by living life the local way!

Charlotte Deville

Featured image courtesy of Luca Bravo via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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