Travel has become more and more about immersing ourselves into the local culture of a given destination. Pico Iyer once said that “travel is the best way we have about rescuing the humanity of places.” In this seemingly connected era, those words ring loud in every new coffee shop we visit and with every attraction left to see on adventures that do become entirely our own.
If you’re the type of vagabond who really looks to get more out of a trip than what can be photographed on a city sights bus tour or what can be eaten at the café closest to your Airbnb, then you’re probably looking for that truly native perspective. What are the local customs? How did this neighborhood or district get its name? Where’s the best hole-in-the-wall bar or restaurant to meet people who have been here for longer than the hour that I have?
Sure — these are all good questions to ask yourself if you’re really looking for that local experience. However, every city, town and neighborhood has a culture and set of rituals that are completely unique, and it’s often difficult to adequately prepare yourself for the lifestyle that you may experience in the destination of your choosing. So before jetting off and running around in search of local gems, keep these more universal rules from Kolu in mind. You might just meet your best friend or find a place to retire someday.
Research Peak Seasons
For more reasons than one, this research is perhaps the most underrated by travelers of any kind. If you’re looking to travel immediately, select a destination based on the current season. If you have a specific destination in mind, research that location’s peak season and start making plans to travel there. Note that this may require a bit more patience in some cases.
If you’re a penny pincher, never travel during high season. This is the most expensive time to travel and ironically, it’s when tourism is at its highest in countries around the world. We recommend traveling at low (sometimes called “shoulder”) season to really appreciate your surroundings and feel comfortable as you make your way around the area you’re traveling to. If you’re just looking for a domestic rule of thumb, U.S. News reports that September is the best month to travel within the United States for a number of reasons beyond less drastic weather conditions.
Look for Lodging Outside of Densely Populated Areas
Unless you’re excited about staying in an iconic hotel or are attending a wedding party, we recommend seeking out a stay that sits outside the downtown area. Airbnb and common couchsurfing services can be great for finding these types of accommodations, but the real key is to stay away from more popular residences of any kind. They will more than likely be situated near places that mostly cater to tourists.
As one of our favorite travel bloggers Olivia Bleeker writes, “Wherever you are in the world, it always helps feeling as though you have the inside scoop of where to go, what to see, and how to get around. Airbnb has been that constant companion for me during my travels that has always provided me with the ‘insider knowledge.’”
And she’s right! Home-sharing has revolutionized the way that we learn about the area in which we’re staying. However, sometimes a recommendation to seek out lodging in a given district or neighborhood can take away from that truly local feeling … especially if every traveler to the area is getting the same recommendation because of how amazing it is. To be frank: Stay with a local, but take the road less traveled once in awhile. You won’t be sorry.
Seek Out Local Markets for Dining Recommendations
No matter the culture, food always has a way of bringing people together. On our team, one of the first things that many of us do in our own travels is seek out a local grocery store or farmer’s market, typically on the guidance and good word of our host. Not only does this visit serve as a fun activity when you have down time to explore, but it also plants you in a breeding ground for locals who know the area cuisine better than anybody else you’re bound to meet on your adventure.
If you’re not a restaurant or fine-dining type, we can also speak to the memories we’ve made shopping for ingredients to make our own dinners on vacation. Of course, this might require some more research to determine the best, most unique dishes to the area. But if you’ve already connected with locals who share your passion for getting the most out of their city, you shouldn’t have an issue pinpointing a new flavor to suit your palate.
We can’t begin to emphasize how important food can be to creating a great local adventure. Heck, take away the local aspect for a second … in a world that offers so many tasty experiences in general, why wouldn’t you focus on food?
Take Full Advantage of Social Media and Create User-Generated Content
As a team that built a mobile app connecting travelers to locals, we’re a little biased when talking about the many advantages that technology can have when traveling. Because of new apps and other advances in mobile tech, you no longer have to run around with that ambitious itinerary hoping your next stop will be everything you dreamed. Geolocation and machine learning has completely transformed the information that’s accessible to those en route.
As many seasoned photographers know, Instagram’s explore page offers a glimpse at what’s happening live via their stories feature. Snapchat recently rolled out a similar feature on their app called Snap Map which displays a heatmap of the activity going on in your proximity. By zooming in, travelers can also gain this live glimpse at what’s going down at local bars, venues, shops, and more. It’s very similar to the feature offered by Instagram, but a bit more segmented for the user’s benefit. And as always, Facebook’s recommendations feature allows you to connect to the page of a local business or tourist attraction if you’re interested in learning more about them before you make the visit.
When you’ve mapped out the local hotspots that everyone is raving about or the hidden gems that you stumbled upon, be sure to freeze some of those moments so you can share them with others back home. Read up on these photography tips before your trip so that you can create memories to look back on, because you never know when something brilliant will happen that you just have to capture. If you have more of an entrepreneurial spirit and need to fund your next trip, you can always sell these photos to brands that need more authentic, down-to-earth photos and videos.
Besides this, learn to put your phone down and allow yourself to get lost sometimes. Technology can enable incredible experiences, but the real local experience might just take place when your iPhone is docked.
Need even more travel tips for an extraordinary local experience? Follow Kolu on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube and LinkedIn for more helpful advice from modern travelers and adventure seekers. Kolu is a mobile app that matches travelers with local guides based on their mutual interests. Wondering how to use brilliant photos and videos from inspiring travel locales instead? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or sign up for a 10-day free trial. Featured photo by @fitthefeed/Instagram.