Updated: Mar 27
By Skyler Rutkowski
Traveling is about more than seeing the sights, checking off a city on your bucket list, or visiting the top 10 tourist attractions in a given area.
Traveling is about immersing yourself in a new culture, appreciating differences, discovering new parts of yourself, and learning about different people in the world. I’m not saying not to check out the tourist attractions (they are tourist attractions for a reason!); I’m simply saying do more and get more out of it. You’ll find the experience much more satisfying.
Here are some easy tips for exploring instead of touring.
Skip the Hotel, Don’t Seclude Yourself!
Hotels can often be isolating, and if you’re after adventure-- isolation isn’t what you want. Try Hostels or Airbnbs instead. They give you a chance to connect with other travelers and locals, to gain insight about events and activities in the area. Most Hostels such as ones found on Hostelworld have an itinerary for local attractions not found on google. They also often have employees with a lot of insight about the area (because they are usually locals!).
Friendly Airbnb hosts are usually ready and willing to share information with you about the activities they like to participate in around the area. They can usually help you navigate local transportation, provide information about reasonable fees for certain activities (gotta love haggling), and they will often tell you all the instagramable and must-see spots. If you’re sharing the Airbnb with the host, they may even volunteer to show you around.
No better way to live like a local than to learn from a local.
Try the Local Cuisine, Avoid Chain Restaurants
The small local bodegas or warangs around town are where you’ll find the best food. You might not know what the food is, maybe you can’t even read the menu, but those little restaurants are usually filled with locals and regulars. Local cuisine is part of most cultures, so even if you’re on the picky side, venture out of your comfort zone and try something new. You might even find a new favorite food. If you do, try to find a recipe and make it for yourself with some friends back home. Food can be a fun cultural sharing experience.
The best part of these little bodegas (besides amazing food) is how friendly people are. They’ll help you with the menu, tell you their favorite items, and chances are you’ll eventually run into someone willing to tell you all about the area.
It’s like having a tour guide, but free!
Lonely Planet is Your Best Friend
The Lonely Planet website is made for travelers wanting to explore and experience culture, not just go on tours. It has travel tips, destinations, and guides that you won’t always find in your google searches because it’s filled with local hot-spots. Lonely Planet will usually tell you little tidbits about the area, and even give you suggestions on the type of clothes you should be wearing. When inserting yourself into a new culture, little nuances are key.
Reading Lonely Planet or other personal blogs written by locals in the area you’re heading to is a great way to prepare for a trip and get the most out of it.
Travel Solo, Even If Just For a Few Hours
Traveling solo (when safe) is a must do for everyone!
There’s no better way to force yourself out of your comfort zone than by not having a hand to hold. You will have to figure out language barriers, you will have to ask for directions, and you’ll absolutely have to meet new people.
Meeting one new friendly person can turn an average day into an adventure of a lifetime! Even if you’re traveling with friends, take a few hours of your trip to make sure you get to see the area through your own eyes without any distractions.
Talk to Strangers (Don’t Tell Your Parents I Said So!)
Yes, of course, be careful about talking to strangers. Trust your gut.
But overall, there’s no better way to get to truly explore an area than by talking to the people who live there. There’s no way to live like a local without knowing a local or two. Locals know the best dive bars, the fun events taking place any given week, which holidays are on the horizon, cultural nuances, and they know what they love the most about where they live. If you’re lucky, they’ll share that with you. That’s something you can’t get from a generic travel itinerary.
Overall, step out of your comfort zone! The most memorable parts of your trip will often be the ones that aren’t pretty enough for Instagram. Talk to people, learn something new, definitely learn to say “thank you” and “hello” in the languages spoken there, and get out and explore. It’ll make your trip life changing. Promise.
Skyler is an International Relations grad student living in Nairobi, Kenya, originally from Buffalo, NY. She’s a Virtual Assistant, blog writer, and the non-fiction editor of the literary magazine Variety Pack. And she’s in love with traveling!
How to connect with Skyler:
Facebook business page @sjrdigital
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