When I vacation, I like to immerse myself as much as possible in my destination. I know a lot of people find it hard t get into the swing of how things work when they go somewhere new, but it can be the best way to really feel where you are. If you're constantly in your home state of mind, you're never going to get the most of your destination. There's quite a difference from embracing a new place and being a traveler and trying to hit everything on your must-do list as a tourist. Doing your research before you leave can certainly help you make the leap.
|Pioneer Catholic Cemetery: St. George, UT|
Go Off the Beaten Path
I love seeing tourist attractions, even in my own city, but I don't want to fill my whole itinerary with them. I enjoy research, so I will spend quite a bit of time looking at all my options. If you aren't into that, keep space in your trip plan to go interesting places. I have asked waiters at restaurants, the renter of my Airbnb, people I've met in line, hotel staff, employees at museums and tour guides. Sometimes I ask which I should do if I could only do one of a few things, sometimes I ask where they like to eat and sometimes I just ask for tips in general. If nothing else, get out of the touristy areas and see new neighborhoods, cafes and shops.
Learn the Language
You don't have to learn everything and be completely fluent, but it helps to learn key phrases that might help you if you're out to eat, shopping or at a museum. People will be impressed you try and want to help you. You have to remember, even though much of the world can speak at least a little English, it doesn't mean you should assume they do. You're in their country, so they aren't there to make you comfortable, just as they wouldn't expect you to know their language if they came to visit America, Canada or the UK. Get a phrase book, a set of Pimsleur CDs or an app on your phone to learn things like "Please", "Thank you", "Where is the bathroom?" "How much?" and "I would like..."
|Airbnb rental in Paris|
Get a Vacation Rental
Instead of staying a in a hotel with hundreds of other tourists, stay in neighborhoods in apartments, condos and homes. Not only will you get more of a sense of what it's like to live where you visit, but you'll even feel more at home and save money, because you'll have a place that is more lived in and probably has a kitchen and possibly laundry. There's nothing better to me than coming back from a long day of sightseeing and making a snack to eat while watching a movie and doing a bit of laundry. Am I weird? Maybe, but I love feeling like I really live somewhere for a week or two. This leads me to...
Shop the Farmers' Markets and/or Grocery Stores
Because we often stay in rentals and have a kitchen, we plan to make our own breakfasts when we travel. This gives us an excuse to hit up the local grocers for necessities. We've found some unexpected things when we shop and also things we love and bring back home with us. Before we head off anywhere, I check out local markets in the area where I'll be staying or sightseeing. Getting produce that's grown nearby is always awesome, plus you can get handmade goods, foods and even an affordable meal. It's a perfect way to interact with locals and ask them questions about things they make and grow.
|Holland Park: London|
Don't Forget to Be Flexible
Not everything is going to go as planned whenever you travel, but don't let those times get you down. You might also find that someone gives you a suggestion that is too awesome to not take. Sure, maybe you were going to go to that Michelin-starred restaurant and then that famous landmark, but instead have the chance to go see some local ruins or go ice skating with new friends and try food from the nearby night market. I like to make daily schedules, so we can get to things we definitely must do, but we aren't so locked in that we can't skip things or move stuff around to do something else instead.
Dining venues near tourist attractions are going to cost more than other restaurants and are generally not that good. There are exceptions, of course, but it's always smart to wander about a little further from your sightseeing. You never know what you might find if you just walk a few blocks away. Look for restaurants that serve up local favorites and you'll save money, but also will probably find some new yummy foods. Not sure how to pick a good place? I go by two rules: If there's a line, you know it's good. Food trucks/carts = win! Some of the best foods I've had in Paris have come from a cart. Some of the worst foods I've had anywhere were because I was too hungry to do any research and ate at the first place that served something edible. This also leads me to a different tip: Always keep snacks on your person, so you don't make a bad decision based on necessity.
Ask Facebook Friends
Chances are you have some international friends on social media you may not have met in real life, but can give you great tips for your upcoming trips. I have done this several times, asking for suggestions from my friend in Vancouver BC for my 12-hour layover or sending questions about a friend's recent trip to a place I'm headed to. This can also be a good chance for you to meet up with your previously unmet friends and you can let them show you around their favorite places when you get there. Not only will it be fun, but you'll see something less touristy than you would if you just went by our guide book.
I'm fantastic at getting lost, but instead of seeing it as a curse, I use it as an opportunity. Some of the coolest things we've done are because we stumbled upon them when making a wrong turn or getting off at the incorrect stop. Just as many times as we rent cars, we rely on walking and public transportation. Going at your own pace can afford you the chance to see things you wouldn't if you took a cab and stayed on the main thoroughfares. It also lets you meet people when you have to stop and ask for directions or pop into a cute little cafe for a bite or a cup of coffee.
What are some of your best tips to being a traveler instead of a tourist?