While it’s true that you’ll always be a tourist if you’re visiting a place—especially for the first time—that doesn’t mean you have to fall into the common traps (overpriced meals, expensive sightseeing offerings, cheap souvenirs) that many an unassuming traveler does.
Now, of course, whether you’re in a new city or a dreamy beach town, there are undoubtedly new foods and restaurants to try, natural wonders to explore, museums to conquer, etc. And you should make the most of your trip by doing so. But, learning to explore your temporary home like a local will ensure you leave it with fond memories—and more money in your bank account.
Below, travel pros offer their best advice for doing just that. Keep scrolling for their top 6 tips.
1. Opt for a house swap or home rental
I love a gorgeous morning in a hotel room photo op just as much as the next gal—even better if it comes with a dreamy whirlpool! But Meg Jerrard of Mapping Megan swears that by checking into a vacation rental spot, like an Airbnb or HomeAway, you’ll truly experience what “life” is like in that place. “You’re unlikely to find a rich local experience by staying in an international hotel,” she says. Willing to channel your inner Cameron Diaz? House swapping á la The Holiday is a real option worth investigating too, she says. Websites like Love Home Swap and Guest to Guest make it easy.
2. Visit the local markets—and cook for yourself at least once
Gawking at and indulging in all the local eats is without-a-doubt one of the best things about being on vacation. However, tabling a couple of restaurant reservations and committing to making a meal or two on your own (should you have your own kitchen, see tip number one) is essential if you want to channel your inner local. That’s because cooking means shopping, and you’ll find the really good stuff at the small, local markets, says Christy Woodrow of Ordinary Traveler. “I love scouring foreign markets for interesting food items that I wouldn’t find at home,” she says.
3. Take public transportation
It can feel a tad intimidating, sure, but hopping on local transpo whether it be bus, subway, or boat, can be a game-changer when it comes to your finances—and your experience. Skipping cabs is a perfect opportunity to meet locals, says Woodrow. “From taking a guagua [AKA bus] in the Dominican Republic to taking the regional train in Europe, I’ve had some of my most memorable experiences while trying to navigate public transportation,” she says. “It’s easy to start a conversation, which can lead to a local giving you tips about the best restaurants and bars to someone actually inviting you to stay in their home (something that actually happened to me in Madrid).” Wow!
4. Prioritize “me time”
Whether you’re vacay-ing with a gaggle of girlfriends, hitting the slopes with your BFF, or going at the whole wanderlust thing alone—make sure to throw some “me time” on your to-do list. Giving back to yourself is a major part of taking a trip in the first place, and navigating a new place by yourself can be a total self-love moment. “If you’re traveling alone, you’re in luck,” says Jon Pollock, founder of Ciao Andiamo. “Even if it’s just for a few hours, it gives you the chance to take cues from regulars.”
5. Learn the language essentials
If yours isn’t the primary language of the place you’re visiting, do yourself a favor and learn some must-know words in the native tongue. Spend 20 minutes before heading out in the morning repeating common phrases like please, thank you, hello, how are you, and anything else you could see yourself using frequently. (Another glass of red, please, perhaps?) “If you’re traveling internationally, it’s a perfect opportunity to stop using your regular lingo and start testing out your language skills,” says Pollock.
6. Get active outdoors
You’ve packed your favorite leggings, now put them to good use. And while trying the hip, new boutique studio in town is a pro-move for sure, taking your fitness practice outdoors will help you explore a new place in one of the best ways possible. “There are always plenty of options for getting the adrenaline rush you need while traveling, from mountain climbing to parachuting,” says Jerrard. “Even better if you’re willing to ask around for local sports clubs. There are usually weekly outings for a fraction of the cost of a package tour, and with the benefit of sharing the experience with members of the actual community.” Who knows, maybe you’ll leave town with an Instagram feed full of dreamy photos—plus, a new pen pal.
For more ways to up your healthy travel IQ: Here’s what to do if you get sick on the road. And this is the first thing you should do when you get off a plane, according to wellness experts.
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