As I write this post, I am in the midst of preparing for my upcoming trip to Europe. With summer quickly approaching in Europe and winter setting in here in Australia, more and more Australians are getting ready to escape the bitter cold for the warm embrace of Europe.
A friend of mine recently departed for her five week trip to Western Europe. Before she left we were comparing itineraries. She was shocked to find out that I will only visit three countries in my four week trip. As she then proceeded to inform me, she will be travelling to nine countries in the space of five weeks.
There is of course nothing wrong with that just as there is nothing wrong with my itinerary. It is simply a matter of choice and personal travel style.
So what is my travel style?
My travel style has evolved over the years, and each trip influences and changes my style. I would have it no other way.
When I first started travelling as an adult, I would try to cram as much as possible into my trip and would try to see all the major sites. Whereas now, I tend to travel more slowly and the focus is on learning and discovering the soul of the place that I am visiting. I still do the tourists attractions (why wouldn’t I, they are attractions for a reason). But among it all I will also do more local things.
On my last trip to Paris, we went to a street brocante (house sale along the whole street) in (Villiers-sur-Marne) on a Sunday afternoon. That is a half an hour trip from Paris but I had a grand time seeing neighbours in France interact with each other. It was taking a peek into the heart of Parisians and very different from going to an attraction.
When I travel to a place, I leave all my habits and routines at home. For example, I usually will have a cappuccino every day and I really love my cooked breakfast. When I travel, I forget all of that and will eat and drink the local way. I also try to avoid speaking English. As far as possible, I will try to communicate in the local language. It’s not necessarily pretty but the locals warm up and open up.
All of that means that I spend longer in one location. That is why I will only be visiting three countries in my upcoming trip to Europe.
So how do you travel like a local?
There are few ways to do it and like I said there are no wrong ways. I can only ever share the way I do it:
- Stay in an AirBNB (or similar) as opposed to a hotel
Over the years of travelling, I have found that I manage to integrate more into the local culture by steering away from hotels. Not only are AirBNB apartments located in residential streets, they also allow me to live the local life, for example, by having to go to the supermarket for supplies or visiting the local bakery for bread in the mornings.
- Visit a residential area
You will never know the true colours of a place until you visit the working man’s quarter. I also make it a point to visit a residential area and have a meal, go to their local supermarket and shops or just wander around.
- Eat the local food
While I would never eat unsafe food (such as the blowfish), I always make a point of eating the local way. If street food is the way that the locals dine, then I will follow suit. In the same vein, there are regional dishes that are best eaten in their place of origin.
- Make local friends/connections
One of my most vivid memories of London, is queuing up in the rain and talking to an Italian expat living in London. We were in that queue for an hour and shared stories and I gained a lot of insight in the inner workings of London and the rest of Europe at the same time.
It was a great experience and Scott and I still talk about that memory.
- Learn key phrases in the local language
I speak four languages fluently, French (my first language), English, Hindi and Creole. These four languages have different roots and as such I can usually pick up languages quite quickly.
But if I don’t know the roots of that language, such as Cantonese, then I will make sure to pick up a few words to connect with the locals.
- Have a chat with the shopkeepers and taxi/uber driver
I am terrible at small talk and usually struggle to talk to strangers but whenever I am travelling I make sure to ask shopkeepers, concierge and drivers for recommendation. They have a wealth of information and you should really tap into that.
- Wander around without aim
I cannot begin to tell you the discoveries that I have made by just wandering around. When I moved to Melbourne ten years ago as a young and naïve 19 year old, the very first thing I did was go wandering around and promptly got lost (those were the days before smartphones). But I discovered so much while I was getting lost so now I always make a point of wandering aimlessly in new locations.
Travelling is one of my passions and I hope to keep doing it for a long time. I am confident that my travel style will change as I grow but I hope to never lose the art of travelling like a local.
Do you have any tips to travel like a local? I am always on the lookout for new tips.