How To Act Like A Local When Travelling

How To Act Like A Local When Travelling

We hear it all the time as travel advice: do what the locals do. It can give you a great experience of a new place, but if you’re in an unfamiliar location it can seem easier said than done. Thankfully, with a little preparation and some on-the-fly Google skills, it’s entirely possible to experience a city just like the locals.

Photo by Jennifer Woodard Maderazo

A quick initial point: there’s nothing wrong with “acting like a tourist”. Many well-known attractions are famous for a reason. If you’re happy with those places, we’re not judging you; just offering some advice for what to do if you’re not after that experience. The choice is yours.

While learning the language and understanding local customs is important, experiencing a city like a native is also about “going where the locals go.” What it really boils down to is ditching the travel guide, and hitting up all those “hidden gems” within a city. Let’s start with the hotel.

Stay In A Neighbourhood You’d Actually Live In

Your hotel’s location is essentially your neighbourhood for the duration of your stay, so investigate what’s on offer nearby. On a basic level, you can hit Google Maps and use Street View to get an idea of what the neighbourhood looks like. Use the search nearby function to check if there are restaurants or clubs in the vicinity.

That said, locals don’t sleep in hotels, so why should you? If you’re a little more adventurous, home-renting service Airbnb will give you a wider range of choices for areas to stay in. If your search for the perfect neighbourhood isn’t turning up much, try posting a question on Twitter or Facebook.

How To Find Amazing Things To Do

Finding the right neighbourhood is a good first step, but you still need to find your way to the best local places. Here are some suggestions.

Eat And Drink Like The Locals

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Find Local Events And Weird Landmarks

Weekly papers can be a great resource to find local events, whether it’s a special day at a local restaurant, or a hot new dance club. Most larger cities will also have an events page listing the big stuff — orchestra performances, events in public parks, or parades.

If you want to dig into the weirder side of a city, few sites are better at chronicling odd tourism spots than Atlas Obscura. The site lists bizarre restaurants, strange architecture, tiny museums, and lots more. Triposo catalogues interesting places to eat and find events You’ll find options ranging from dance lessons to art openings.

Respect Local Culture And Customs

For iOS, we like TripLingo (the Android version was recently removed as it’s getting an update) because it teaches you phrases that matter to you and that you’ll actually use. For Android, Google Translate is still one of your best options, even though it doesn’t teach you the language in context the way TripLingo does. A good collection of apps that break the language barrier are always handy to keep around.

The Ultimate Guide to Worldwide Etiquette provides a quick overview of customs, etiquette and tipping standards around the world. When all else fails, try and follow the lead of people around you.

Ask Questions To Find Everything Else

Asknative for the iPhone is one way to do this. Simply type in the city you have a question about, and ask away. Hopefully some locals will respond. Otherwise, forums for local city groups are great, and people will often offer suggestions on where to go and what to do. Even traditional travel guide forums like Fodors can be a good place to chat with people who live locally or know a city well. And simply asking a question of someone at a restaurant or bar will still go a long way.


  • Experience from Spain: you may find that the locals go to somewhere really scungy looking for their meals…it’s a bit of a front. It’s so that people like you won’t go in. The food in these places is fantastic and cheap.

    – This only applies to scungy places THAT LOCALS GO TO.

    • Given this age of hyper-sensitivity, the following comment is in no way intended to be racist.

      Just as I only go to Asian restaurants that I see Asians eating in, eating where the locals eat is a must. Not following that rule was a reason I was disappointed with France; most of the places in Paris catered to Westerners and as a result churned out food worse than what I ate in England.

  • Weirdly enough I go to places that don’t have Australians. During my travels I have found that the most loud, obnoxious, idiotic and disrespectful people are Australians. And this isn’t in popular party places like Bali and Thailand (though it is true for Thailand)

    Which is a damn shame, being an Australian.

    Perhaps I’ve had bad luck or have others found this true?

    • Sort of true. When Australians are loud and obnoxious overseas, it bothers me a lot more than other nationalities, so I notice it more. They could potentialy be less obnoxious than the other tourists, but I don’t care about them. That kind of Australian tourist is more likely to be encountered where there are a large number of Australians. i. e. if one in ten is like that, and there are a thousand Australians, that’s a lot of people who are being embarassing, so I often avoid places that are popular with Aussies.

  • I learnt this while in Vietnam. I found the best (and most enjoyable) way to see Saigon was just to just walk around. You find some amazing places doing this.
    Me and my fellow travellers found this awesome little bar where we ended up going most nights because of how cheap and full of quality it was. We all had a grand old time getting drunk with the locals, they sure do like their Saigon Green 😉

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