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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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.
Get more responsible travel tips by reading my posts on sustainable travel.
1. 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.
2. 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. When we visit London with kids, we rely on public transportation to get around the city.
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 cities have cheaper alternatives to taxis like motorcycles in Jakarta or auto rickshaws in Delhi, so if you’re feeling adventurous there are a few options for you.
3. 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. In Bali, we took a Bali night market tour and got to experience local life in Bali.
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!
4. 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.
5. 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. Additionally, since we often do slow travel, we have more time to spend leisurely afternoons at the park, rather than trying to pack in a bunch of activities into a day.
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.
Read about the seven lessons we’ve learned from traveling internationally with kids.
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!
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