People ask me all the time how in the world I find out about the places I travel to. And, you’ve probably guessed that I typically don’t get my ideas from the Travel Channel or the Top 10 Cities to Visit travel guide. Sure, I’d probably enjoy *those* places if I had to be there, but I’d rather avoid the crowds and the hiked up prices. And, if you’re interested in these places, go during the off season if you can. It’s probably going to be much, much more enjoyable! Here are 6 tips on how to travel like a local.
TIP #1) If you’re an adventurer, watch a lot of nature shows and documentaries about cultures around the world. Learn about the town’s history! Just think of how many Native Indian communities and reservations there are in the United States! I mean, while you’re visiting Seattle, drive up to the very northwest tip of the Olympic Peninsula, and see for yourself. Go to the town centre in Santa Fe, New Mexico and talk with the crafters about the story behind their jewelry and art. The options are endless! Oh, and don’t forget to go the little towns’ historic cultural museums as well! If you just so happen to be in a big city, see if there’s a cultural festival happening nearby. I did this while in Dallas, Texas and enjoyed the festival more than I enjoyed whatever else I was doing there.
And, go visit the town’s local farmers’ markets! You’ll find natural soaps, breads, healthy snacks (hopefully healthy), and crafts that you couldn’t otherwise purchase – not even on Amazon! Talk to these people and learn about their community!
Nature-wise – go to the national parks’ websites and/or visitor’s centers and see what they have going on. I’ve gone on some of the coolest naturalist guided walks! One time in the Cuyahoga National Park after a guided hike, there was a solo harp concert in the little building next to where my car was parked! It was seriously amazing! Yeah, I was the youngest one there, but you can’t deny harp music isn’t beautiful.
Tip #2) Google “wellness retreats in the USA” and other adventure travel expedition packages. REI has one, and so does International Expeditions. This DOES NOT mean you have to book with them. Read their online itineraries and get ideas. Here’s an example:
Back in October 2017, I found “Ojo Caliente” Hot Springs Resort in New Mexico on Google. So, instead of staying at the resort (and spending bunches of money), I booked a hotel 1 hour north of Albuquerque and got to enjoy some of the gorgeous archaeological hiking (safe for solo travelers) in and around the Petroglyphs National Monument, went to eat at some of the cafes near the college (Rude Boy Cookies is amazing!). I even got to see a day of the hot air balloon festival. Oh, if you go to New Mexico, don’t forget to try the roasted green chili!
When it was time for me to spend the day at Ojo Caliente, I paid about $25 (not sure what the exact amount is now) for my all-day pass that included all of the natural hot spring tubs, eucalyptus steam room, and showers. I brought my own towel and lock to save a few bucks. I still had the next day to go to the local library to find out what community events were going on, and I ended up at a telescope planetarium expose in the library parking lot where they taught you all about the stars and planets through their actual telescopes. Only locals knew about this, which brings me to #3.
Tip #3) Ask the locals. This is probably THE BEST way to get the full experience. I’ve actually done trips where I have flown to a country, gotten off the plane, or even talked to the plane passengers while I was on the plane, with no plans before I drove to the airport! You wouldn’t believe the stuff that’s out there!
One time, I took the bus in Ireland and asked the lady next to me what cute towns I should visit in County Kerry that aren’t touristy. She told me about a village called Cahersiveen and her favorite cafes, coffee shops, and local crafter’s store I should visit. Oh gosh, that was the best cappuccino I’ve ever had! I did everything she suggested and couldn’t have spent my afternoon any better.
Tip #4) AirBnB. I can’t say this enough. There’s NO WAY a hotel is going to give you the local experience. Do I really need to write a blurb under this tip? Okay, I’ll do it.
I love New Bern, NC, but I also like enjoying a day on the Southern Outer Banks. Every time I go there, I stay in an AirBNB cottage in Arlington Place in Minnesott Beach (not really a beach, just a rural town) which is 8 minutes from the FREE car ferry service that takes you across the Neuse River to near Morehead City where the ferries are to get to Shackleford Banks and Cape Lookout Lighthouse! That ferry was the key to get straight to the Seafood Festival that is held in Morehead City each October! The AirBNB (you get the whole house) was luxurious and the same price for a room at a 3* hotel. Plus, it was in a gated community where they have kayaks for you to take a gentle cruise on the tributaries of the Neuse. Arlington Place also has an equipped gym, bicycles, and pool and safe place to walk and hike. AirBNBs give you the chance to explore local neighborhoods that you’d otherwise not have known existed!
*AirBNB Tip: Always read the reviews before booking.
Tip #5) I just found out about this: Atlas Obscura. How did I not know about it!? OMG! It even has an app, Field Trip, to help you find local, off-the-beaten path activities and events – even from your current location, and even while you are doing the dilly dally in your hotel room. It’s a collaborative travel platform from contributors like me and you who are looking for those non-touristy things to do! You can even challenge yourself to find out more about your own hometown.
Tip #6) Instagram plan your trip! Have you ever Googled the city you want to travel to, only to get search results based on how much someone has paid Google to advertise? I can’t stand it when I’m looking for cute little local cafes only for fast food restaurants to be listed on Google. And, I know those aren’t the only restaurants. It’s as if Google or the media blinds us to what is beneath the surface based on how much someone is paying to get in front of the line. Sorry, Google, I’m too smart for that.
So, like I said in Tip #3, figure out what the locals are saying – and this also means what they’re posting, too. Search for hashtags on Instagram related to the city, state, or country you might be traveling to, for example, #visitnc, #828isgreat, #miamirestaurants,#austineats. Customers and travelers are going to give you an authentic perspective.
Bonus Tip) Use the app, Skipplagged, to book flights. Skipplagged pulls up the cheapest flights for that moment to wherever you want to go. You’ll then book your tickets directly from the actual airline’s website. But, you have to do it fast, as the next day’s price might be higher! My round trip ticket from Raleigh-Durham (RDU) to Albuquerque, NM was $150. I just saw a roundtrip ticket from Eugene, OR to San Francisco for $100. Seriously, guys… get on this.
Up Your Ability!