How To Travel Internationally Like A Local

By Lloyd C | Updated June 19th, 2010

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You know what I love about international travel? Observing and analyzing the nuances that underpin a different culture, one that’s a world apart from my own.
When I look at something and think, “Hey, that’s so odd, but it’s so much better than how we do it at home, how amazing”, that’s when I know I’m really traveling.
It’s those little things that fill me with such intrigue and bemusement that I forget where I am.
But how do you find those nuances? And how do make sure they’re authentic?
The following list won’t work everywhere, but it will give you a few ideas on how to travel internationally like a local.

1. Explore Without a Map

This one is easy and often unintended. Simply walk out the door and keep turning left and right until you have no idea how to get home. You’ll have no other option than to interact with people along the way and learn the nuances of the city’s town planning and street signage.

2. Talk to Shop Keepers

Many shopkeepers aren’t paid commission and don’t really care if you buy something. Often, they’re just happy to have a chat. So when you take a walk down the street, go to a few shops and try not to be bashful. Strike up a conversation, but just be transparent if you’re only looking; they should respect you for that.

3. Connect with Local Bloggers

When you visit a new country, there are literally millions of people you can interact with. But just like home, it’s rare you’ll connect with just anyone, so how do you make your connections more targeted? Local travel bloggers of course. They’re interested in travel, they love the locale, they look at places through the same lens, and they’re accustomed to talking with strangers.

4. Attend Language Classes

The language class setting is inherently welcoming. And unlike people on the street, language teachers are paid to be nice and accommodating and free-flowing with assistance. They’ll teach you local slang, provide invaluable local intel, prepare you for local customs, and may even become a good friend. Of course, there’s the benefit of learning the language too.

5. Take a Bus to the Middle of Nowhere

You can arrive in a city and do everything possible to learn about the local culture, but unless you venture beyond the city limits, you’re restricting yourself to a sample portion of what the destination has to offer. So find a bus (they’re generally cheaper than trains), book a ticket to somewhere remote, hop aboard and just roll with bumps and breakdowns.

6. Take Solo Excursions

If you’re traveling with a partner/group, it’s important to spend time venturing by yourself. At first, you may be less comfortable not having someone to turn to, but that will quickly build your confidence with the local people. But solo excursions go even further than personal interactions; they require you to be more focused on your surroundings and take more in.

7. Get a Haircut

If there’s anything universal around the world, it’s that barbers and hairdressers love to make small talk. Back at home, small talk may drive you to tears, but abroad, it can be fodder for campfire stories and blog posts. Try to find the most authentic outlet in your area, remember to take cash in case it warrants a tip, and just relax and chat away.