11 expert tips on how to experience a country like a local

For many of us, travel is not just about seeing a place. It’s about the physical experience of being there. Getting under its skin and understanding what it’s like to live there or grow up there. When we try to move around a place like a local we broaden our horizons and open our minds to other ways of living.

But you have to make a conscious effort to avoid the crowds and explore a place as if you aren’t a tourist. There are things you need to do in advance of your travels, as well as when you’re on the ground, so get prepared. After all, many find the planning an exciting part of the adventure.

So if you normally rush from one monument, museum and park to the next, why not challenge yourself to leave your watch and schedule behind and read on.

Before you go

1. Learn the language

You don’t need to be fluent in the local language but a few everyday words go a long way. “Hello” and “thank you” are always helpful, and “toilet” can definitely be useful. There are many free and paid apps that can help with this, such as BabbelDuolingo, or Memrise.

Having some basics will not only help you in getting around, it will also make it much easier to break the ice with locals. Most people love knowing a foreigner has made the effort. You might feel silly trying out new words or phrases, but travelling is all about leaving your comfort zone.

You could also take a language holiday if you’re planning on staying somewhere for a while. Then you can use your new skills and use it in shops and markets and immerse yourself in the local culture. ‘Not in the Guidebook’ also offer language holidays in France, Spain, Italy and Germany.

2. Fly into a regional airport

Start your trip as you mean to go on by landing in a city that’s not the capital.

Airports in smaller cities are often less stressful and cheaper to fly into, whilst giving you the chance to explore some places you may not have thought about visiting. Consider flying out of a different city to expand your route.

3. Avoid hostels

Hostels are very appealing if you’re on a budget but, apart from local staff, they tend to be full of other foreign travellers. They don’t give you many chances to experience a place and its culture. Instead, organise independent or local accommodation. They may be more expensive but you’ll go home with lots more anecdotes and memories than a run-of-the-mill hostel can offer. When searching for accommodation, look up the areas where people live day-to-day and opt for one of these local neighbourhoods. This will also help to keep costs down as they are likely to be outside of the city centre.

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