A flying visit to Venice won’t show you how Venetians truly live. A weekend break under the Eiffel Tower won’t let you see the Parisian way of life. Eating in your hotel in Portugal for a week won’t introduce you to authentic, Portuguese cuisine cooked with a local family. And hitting the tourist traps like the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building for won’t show you the real New York City far below.
True travellers don’t just want safe hotels and long queues to validate what they do with their time in a city. They want to see the real town, city and life, even if it is hidden away down alleyways and forgotten about neighbourhoods.
Some tips as to how you can do this, wherever your travels take you….
Learn the language
Knowing the language of the locals is often the key to discovering a place’s real culture. You can converse with confidence, and not just about directions! You can crack jokes, and build up a sense of trust and friendship. If time doesn’t allow a new-found fluency, at least learn the basics. Just as you would in your home country, the locals will appreciate the effort.
Learn how to say hello, thank you, please, yes, no and goodbye. If there is a special greeting that most say, learn this too. In Marrakech, for example, people greet with the phrase Salaam. This often-used greeting in Arabic countries is a way of saying hello, but also wishing peace upon the person you are greeting. Learning small details like this will mean you are truly speaking the language.
Do a homestay, not a hotel
Authenticity comes when you stay in the home of a local couple or family. You will learn lots here. The way that families interact with each other, their daily schedule and when they eat and snack on, for example. You’ll have access to home-cooking, and be able to see traditional decor and furniture too. Far more fun than staying in a hotel, we’re sure you’ll agree. Some hosts will even give you language lessons or drive you places in exchange for language lessons from you. Just make sure you know the rules and ways of respect early on. Airbnb is a great way to stay with locals.
In China, for example, you should never eat everything on your plate. In Japan, you shouldn’t tip. And in Russia, smiling at people you don’t know is seen as inappropriate, and can be interpreted as insincere or overly intimate. Also find out the house rules. Should you take off your shoes before entering, for example.
Buy or rent a property
Love a city or town but can’t seem to get enough time there to discover its real culture. Go one better than staying in another family’s home and buy or rent your own. Look at buying just outside of the most popular area of a country. Instead of Venice, look at Treviso. Just thirty minutes on the train, it has just as much charm and charisma. However, properties here will be far cheaper and less in-demand. Similarly, if you’re buying a property in France, and love Paris, don’t buy there. Find a place you love just as much that is an hour or two away from the centre. You still have access to the things you love, but will discover a new and more authentic France as well.
Explore away from the tourist traps
There is nothing wrong with seeing the tourist spots in a country or city. Just make you also see the lesser-appreciated things. Consider this; how regularly do you go to the big tourist attraction in your hometown or country? Probably never! This will be the same in other countries. If you want to encounter locals and not tourists, step away from the tour bus and put down the sightseeing map. Go get lost in a different area and stumble across real attractions. The ruin pubs in Budapest, Hungary, are a good example of this. They have become more known about in the last ten years or so. But they’ve still maintained their authenticity, and remain popular with Hungarians.
Dine at small, family-run bistros
Want to taste locally grown food? Want to dine in restaurants decorated and dressed authentically? Want to dine alongside locals and not tourists? Then you need to search out and take the plunge at small, independent restaurants. Go for places that are packed with locals; that’s a great sign. And if you’re feeling brave, let your waitress pick you something off the menu. A quick McDonald’s if you’re in a real rush is okay for one meal, but for every other meal, find somewhere intimate and family-run.
Try one of the new apps which connect you to eating in people’s homes
Find a Local Guide
Women Travel has a list of local women guides – while you can explore yourself, using a local guide who truly knows the area can help you find those special out of the way places.