Five Tips For Traveling Like A Local In A New City

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Trying to get to know a new city and traveling like a local can be somewhat intimidating. Especially if you are in a foreign country. Not only do you have an unfamiliar lay of the land to contend with, but you also have to deal with an unfamiliar system of doing things, as well as an unfamiliar culture.

Often times, you have to operate in a language that is not your own. Compounding that is the fact that you have to lead your kids through all these uncertainties. Some places are easy to navigate, while others are difficult, even for natives of that city.

This post was updated on December 11, 2019.


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A man and boy walking past a wall with plants hanging on the wall, traveling like a local
Walking through side streets like Yogyakarta (August 2019)

Tips for traveling like a local

With all of these obstacles, it’s easy to just stick to the tourist areas and blow your travel budget on overpriced restaurants and taxis. But fear not! Trying to get to know a new city doesn’t have to be so scary.

With just a few tips under your belt, you can be well on your way to traveling like a local in a new city. Here are my favorite ways to explore a new city with your kids.

A man and child walking through a night market in Indonesia, traveling like a local
Walking through a night market in Indonesia (October 2019)

Walk around while you’re traveling like a local

My favorite thing to do to get me traveling like a local is to walk around. At the very least, it helps me familiarize myself to my immediate vicinity. Most guidebooks will have basic maps of the city, and once you’ve oriented yourself to where your hotel is, it’s easy to venture out from there.

One of the things you’ll need, though, is a pair comfortable shoes. Walking around in trendy heels can get painful, FAST! In warm climates, I like walking in my Chacos Women’s Athletic Sandals. And in cooler climates, my Dansko Mary Janes keep my feet warm and comfortable, while still being somewhat stylish.

A girl and boy walks a dog though a park in Lyon, while traveling like a local
Taking a walk through a park in Lyon, France (July 2019)

Take public transportation to different parts of the city

If you want to start traveling like a local, then get used to taking public transportation. Some places are a little easier than others to figure out the public transportation. In Singapore and Thailand, the public transportation system was pretty self explanatory, much like in most of North America and Europe. Even the Mexico City subway is easy to navigate!

But when I’m in places like Manila, I have a harder time figuring out what buses go where. Additionally there are countries I’ve visited in Africa that are also a bit tricky to figure out. Some countries have cheaper alternatives to taxis like motos in Togo or auto rickshaws in India, so if you’re feeling adventurous there are a few options for you.

Our kids riding the bus in Rome (June 2019)

Visit the public market

I always think that a traditional market reveals the heartbeat of a city. At a market, you can see trade and commerce taking place, sample local foods, and observe the sights and smells of the city. I love walking through public markets when I’m trying to get to know a new city. Some of my favorite markets are Granville Island in Vancouver, Canada and Soweto Market in Lusaka, Zambia.

Each market is distinct in its own way. But there’s also something universal about the bustle of a busy city market. And nothing gets you feeling like you’re traveling like a local than a trip to a local market!

A father and son walking through a public produce market in Guanajuato, Mexico, traveling like a local
Walking through the market in Guanajuato, Mexico (December 2018)

Ask a local for tips for traveling like a local

The best way to start traveling like a local, in my opinion, is to talk to the locals. Ask a local for recommendations of their favorite spots! Sometimes, when we’re in a new city, we like to ask strangers for their recommendations of places to eat.

This serves two purposes: it gives us a chance to meet someone new, and it gives us an insider’s glimpse of what’s good in town. When we were in Hanoi, Vietnam, for instance, we asked locals for their suggestions of places to eat. Their recommendations really helped us discovers so many different types of food in Hanoi.

Walking through La Fortuna, Costa Rica (March 2019)

Visit a public park

A good way of building in down time to a busy day of sight-seeing, and get to know a new city at the same time, is spending an afternoon at a public park. Since we travel with our kids, we do this quite often when we’re visiting new cities.

Some cities, like New York City, have parks all over the place. In other cities, like Jakarta, public parks are hard to come by. In Jakarta, though, there are play areas at the malls that the kids can play at for a nominal fee, and this gives them a chance to blow off some steam and play with other kids their age.

Playing at the park in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (November 2018)

Making travel fun by traveling like a local

Being in a brand new city can seem intimidating and scary, but it doesn’t mean that you should stick to just your hotel and the tourist spots. Travel is all about exploration, and trying to get to know a new city gives you the best excuse to explore. So the next time you find yourself in the unknown, take these tips and go forth on your own adventure. Who knows what you might discover.

Do you like traveling like a local when you’re in a new city? Share your favorite tips on how you do that with your family in the comments!

Five Tips For Traveling Like A Local In A New City | The Wandering Daughter

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2 Responses

  1. I’m all about taking public transportation to get a feel and layout of a city. Great idea with the markets too; we usually just stumble into them but actually seeking then out is smart.

    1. Thanks, Rob! One of our favorite past times, actually, is just taking a subway or metro line from one end to the other, and just observing the changes in scenery. We did this a lot when we were in DC.

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