“Travel like a local” is a motto I often hear to define a way of traveling different from mass tourism.
Tourists move in large groups, follow guidebooks, have a dense schedule from dawn to dusk, stand in queue for museums, guided tours, organized trips; they have meals in restaurants serving local cuisine elaborated for fearful tastes.
Those who travel like a local are bold, get lost in the city, explore, trust their instinct, ask locals for advice. The word “guidebook” is almost unknown to them.
But is “traveling like a local” a more authentic way of traveling or is it only a chliché? Here are some thoughts.
Locals don’t always know the place they live.
Locals are supposed to know a place better than you can do in just a few days. That is true, but how they know it? Is what they look for in the place they live what you look for? I often discovered incredible spots upon advice from a local but I found them by chance as well, or because it was in a guidebook or a blog: places that locals did not care about but that were an essential experience of my trip.
Guidebooks are useful.
The Internet, travel blogs, magazines, Facebook pages, websites. Information is everywhere, but I usually carry a printed guidebook with me. It doesn’t need power or batteries, it’s indexed, it holds information about relevant locations (if they are on a guide there is a reason). On guidebooks, I often find spots that, despite being described in a few lines, they prove to be attractive.
Planning is essential.
I love to get lost in the places I visit, but I (almost) always plan my trips. Without planning, chances are I keep thinking about “where am I going now?” rather than enjoying the place where I am. A travel plan is a suggestion, not a commitment. Many of my more intense travel experiences come from detours from a planned route.
Sights are not always so important.
How many times have I been in Amsterdam? A lot. How many times have I visited the Van Gogh Museum? Never. It has always been on my list but when it came the moment, there was something different that attracted me. Do I regret it? No. The Van Gogh Museum is still on my list, and maybe one day I’ll visit it. Or maybe not. But I’ve always had great experiences in Amsterdam.
You have to stay open to any travel experience.
Travel is a ceaseless discovery. In the past, I would have never imagined I would discover a terrific place on a guided tour; I would take an open-top bus and enjoy it; I would eat my best Tom Yum on the quay of a smelly canal rather than in a stylish restaurant.
To sum up: I like to travel like a tourist, travel like a local, read guidebooks, meet people, plan, follow my instinct. All these things make traveling a unique experience for me.