Experiencing “the local scene” is one of my favorite things about traveling, and these days, with the internet it’s more doable than ever.
If you’re the type of person who prefers to ditch the guidebook and see the city the way the locals do, then these tricks to getting the inside scoop are for you!
Before you go…
#1. Research local guides and blogs online.
Because I’m a big fan of googling everything, typing “local guide to [destination]” is my top way to get fresh tips on a location. These days, with the wide, diverse world of the internet, you’re nearly guaranteed to find a local blogger or at least a newspaper column that covers local insights to the city. Cruising travel forums like TripAdvisor’s can be a gold mine, too. I usually also google keywords like “off the beaten path,” “hidden gem,” “unique” and “unusual” + the destination. The power you wield with a search bar is unparalleled these days.
One of my favorite finds that this tip unearthed was Salt Lake City’s public library.
#2. Ask your connections for tips.
While you might not know much beyond what the internet tells you about your destination, there’s a good chance that one of your connections does. Before you leave, ask around among your friends to see if you know anyone who’s been where you’re going. Use social media to poll your real life and virtual connections, too.
While I’m sure I would have eventually turned up Cinque Terre on my own when researching Italy, our desire to go was mostly based on repeated recommendations from friends. It’s also how I discovered NYC’s The Highline.
#3. Study up on the language, customs, and geography.
If you undertake to study up on where you’re going, it’ll be easier to make connections with locals once you arrive. And it’s amazing what learning a few simple phrases and taking note of local customs can do for how you’re perceived by the local eye. Also, depending on where you’re headed, this tip can keep you safe. Knowing the language, even just a handful of phrases, can get you out of a bind, and reading up on local laws and customs that might be different from your native ones can keep you out of trouble.
The most standout illustration for me was when we were nearly lost in Florence. We were staying in an Airbnb, and the location was far enough north that it was off the map we’d gotten in the train station. From my screenshotted directions, I knew we needed to turn on a particular street, but I wasn’t sure which way that street was. A quick conversation in Italian with a bakery owner put us on the right path.
When you get there…
#4. Sit at the bar.
When you have the chance, sit at the restaurant bar to meet other people. Often you’ll meet locals and sometimes, other tourists who you can share tips with. I also find that bartenders love to share their stories and advice. Not to mention, sitting at the bar will often get you seated and fed much more quickly.
I recently learned the value of this tip when visiting New Orleans, where I sat at the bar multiple times and had wonderful conversations with locals.
#5. Seek out less crowded locations.
While not always a win, it’s not uncommon to find hidden gems by getting off the beaten path. And even if what you find is mundane, it still makes for a more realistic look at your destination. I like to steer away from wherever the tourists congregate and take off in the opposite direction.
Sometimes, it’s even fun to get lost on purpose. I talked about this when we went to Venice, and I highly recommend taking a few wrong turns, just to see where you end up.
#6. Take a tour with a local.
Apps now exist to connect you to locals! Much like Airbnb or Uber, apps like Vayable, Shiroube, and ToursByLocals connect you to locals who gives private tours. If you’re going somewhere that you’ve never been, and you want to connect with a local for a unique experience, it seems like a cool concept! I haven’t actually tried out one of the services yet, but hope to some time soon.