A very popular topic of way too many travel articles is how to travel like a local. Like lemmings, travel writers blindly follow the crowd. I can only guess it is a strong case of FOMO.
The problem is, at least to me, this global assumption that people want to travel like locals. WHY would someone want to travel like a local? That is the topic to be addressed.
Long ago, I read Rick Steves’ travel philosophy. Many people choose the front door treatment in Europe—stay in a large branded hotel, eat in tourist restaurants with other Americans, and visit overpriced and crowded attractions. Others prefer to stay with locals, eat at authentic places, and mingle with local residents. Rick calls the second experience seeing Europe Through the Back Door and becoming a temporary European.
On the other hand, popular points bloggers flaunt flying first class to (for example) Paris, staying in a $1,000 room for a night, and flying first class home. Did they do anything in Paris? Did they eat anything except airport, airplane, and hotel food? They certainly do not travel like a local but these articles still attract huge readership.
Based on many, many years of travel, I have definitely come to the conclusion that it is more fun to travel like a local. To me, to travel like a local means not staying and eating in places that are the same as where you live.
If you are interested in the front door experience or premium travel without any local interaction, look elsewhere.
If you want to know WHY you might want to consider traveling like a local, read on.
8 Great Reasons to Travel Like a Local
1. Saves Money
Instead of staying in an overpriced hotel, stay with local residents and save money. Whether you use Airbnb, Couchsurfing, a local housing service, or just walk up to a place with a “Room to Let” sign, locally owned and operated lodging costs less than big business chains. Such places will likely also come with kitchen facilities, so your dining expenses will also be less. My Couchsurfing host in Casablanca, Morocco negotiated the “local fare” with a taxi and took me to a local beach with mint tea served for 1 Dirham (costs 40 Dirham at hotels).
2. More Fun
Learning how European and Canadian appliances work is always interesting to me. Seeing how other people in the world live fascinates me. Leaving a foreign apartment in Rome and seeing only Italians is so cool. Staying away from the tourist crowd—most local rentals are located in residential areas—is fun for me. Shopping in foreign grocery and department stores, delis, bakeries, and butcher shops makes me happy. If these topics do not interest you and you prefer to stay in a familiar, same anywhere in the world, hotel room—go ahead.
3. Pack Less
Inevitably, I pack less when I stay in local lodging and eat at places the locals do. I do not need to dress to impress, like people staying at fancy hotels and dining at prix fixe establishments. Plus, and I love this, most local rentals (apartments, condos, houses, etc.) have washers and dryers. That is a main reason I can travel with only a carryon bag and be a happy traveler.
4. Less Stress
Piggy backing on the above three reasons, trips are less aggravating when you spend less money, have more fun, and bring less stuff. Right? OK, there might be a little stress at the beginning. It might be harder to find a residence in a foreign country than a well-known hotel. But overall, much less stress!
5. Learn More
Tourist office workers and taxi/shuttle drivers automatically point you to overpriced restaurants rather than places where locals like to go (even if you ask). It is all part of the game, to prove you are worthy of being a local. When you stay with locals, you are automatically worthy! Once you are accepted, a wealth of insider info will be yours.
6. More Satisfying
Oh, it is so easy being in a scary, unfamiliar place and settling for a safe and comfortable place. I know, I ate at McDonald’s in Amsterdam (they serve beer—wow!?), Wendy’s in Geneva, and Hard Rock Cafe in too many places. My travel philosophy has evolved. Now I am much more satisfied trying local flavors (even currywurst!) and staying with locals (even on a couch or a space on the floor). Don’t try to fool me, either. I know logos.
Typically, local food is fresher than the processed stuff at those uber-popular and familiar places. Scientific studies show that we eat less of unfamiliar foods. Want to lose weight? Travel like a local! But when the food becomes familiar then travel like a local to a new location.
Perhaps the thing I like the most about the travel like a local movement is the variety of experiences. Every house, apartment, condo, and food truck is different. Every market visit awakens the senses.
This travel like a local thing is not for everyone. Some people desire the familiar comforts of home and a catered-to experience.
I came up with these 8 reasons to travel like a local. Do you have any others?