Planning the logistics of a vacation is stressful enough, but what happens to your anxiety when the question of authenticity enters the mix? With a few alternative tricks up your sleeve, you can experience your destination through the eyes of a local resident and enrich your holiday with the authentic exploration of a different culture.
Stray off the beaten path
When you’re in an unfamiliar place, it’s tempting to stick to the tried and true, whether that means eating at a chain restaurant or snagging a barstool at whatever watering hole currently ranks #1 on Trip Advisor. Even though that might still grant you a good meal, these sites are likely to be filled with tourists like you rather than residents of your destination.
For a truly authentic dining experience, steer clear of restaurants near major squares and top tourist attractions. Quieter side streets and residential neighborhoods will harbor more locally-frequented joints. If you’re in a non-English speaking country, try to find a place without an English menu. You may have more difficulty ordering, but you can be sure you’re getting the real deal.
Likewise, when looking for late night fun, don’t just rely on a guidebook’s recommendation for a specific bar or dance club. Instead, seek out information on general neighborhoods known for their nightlife and choose a specific hotspot when you arrive. Take a stroll down the street and see which venues look busy, particularly with local clientele.
Don’t stay at a hotel
Can you guess where you’ll never find a resident of any given town? A hotel. While hotel staff may be helpful in guiding your vacation plans, you can get even closer to locals by booking alternative accommodations.
Residents of cities around the world rent out their apartments and homes on Airbnb, while free lodgings with locals can be found on Couchsurfing or one of the many housesitting websites on the market.
All of these choices will place you in the heart and soul of your destination and while you shouldn’t expect your host to act as a de facto tour guide, oftentimes they will be happy to give you advice on local hotspots or to introduce you to friends. For even more fun, offer to treat them to dinner at their favorite restaurant or drinks at a neighborhood bar.
Share a meal or a favorite hobby
Feeling a little squeamish about crashing on a stranger’s couch? While Couchsurfing is perfectly safe, you can still stay at a more traditional hotel or hostel and connect to locals elsewhere, particularly at dinnertime.
There are a variety of meal sharing websites on the web where travelers and residents alike can log in and meet new friends to join for dinner. Mealsharing.com and Eatwith.com are just two of the options on the market. It’s a great way to both meet locals and treat yourself to a home cooked meal – a luxury on the road.
If you’ve already got your dining plans sorted, join Meetup.com. Hundreds of local clubs organize themselves on this social media site and you can easily connect with residents who share your interests, whether that means sitting in on a board game night, weighing in at a local book club, or tagging along on a day hike with a consortium of nature lovers.
Stretch your social media network
Getting close to a local culture is really about the initial hurdle. Once you’ve met one resident, it becomes easy to meet more as you get introduced to circles of friends. Get friendly with other travelers, as well – you never know what doors you’ll open.
Keep in touch with your new friends on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites so you can keep track of your rapidly growing network. When the time comes for a new trip, you can rely on friends from across the globe to give you advice on what to do and perhaps even introduce you to their friends and family in other corners of the world.
The internet is a powerful tool in flattening our world and with a little common sense and an open mind, you can make your travels even more enriching with authentic local experiences.