Off the Beaten Path – 10 Tips to Travel Like a Local
I’ve been on the road traveling since 2011. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned during my time exploring around the world, it’s to do my best to travel off the beaten path.
But if there’s one question I always receive, it’s how do you do it?
Besides the fact of turning my travel blogging hobby into a career, a bit of advice that I cannot stress enough is to simply go with the flow and relax.
I see so many people give in to hiring travel agents. The go off booking reservations here, rushing to go see this and that, and before you know it, your vacations is over and you’re stuck back in the cubicle at the office.
Take some time to get a hold of yourself. Traveling is much more than rushing to go see everything in your guidebook. Sure it’s super cool to go visit Southeast Asia, but was it really worth flying all the way to Thailand, paying an arm and a leg just to get scammed, do your sightseeing, then make your way back home in a matter of a 2 weeks?
Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but you get the point – you need to make the most out of your vacation.
When I was working on a cruise ship in Hawaii, one of the best days I remembered was just taking a day to relax and do nothing. Seriously, here were my primary activities:
Wake up and enjoy a bloody mary w/ breakfast at the local pub.
Go Snorkeling at the beach, then take a nap in my hammock.
Wake up, snorkeled, then napped some more.
Eat dinner at the local pub I visited for breakfast.
Call it a day and resume to my room.
Seem boring? Well it wasn’t! It was relaxing…seriously. There’s nothing like going on vacation with nothing to do but to go with the flow. So, without further ado, here are few quick suggestions on what you can do to get off the beaten path and enjoy your destination, on your own terms, just like a local.
Get off the beaten path & travel like a local…
1.) Talk to the locals
Amazingly, very few people do this simply because they’re afraid that something bad might happen. Let me tell you this, 99.9% of the people that you’re going to run into are not ‘bad people. I believe many backpackers will agree with me when I say that the whole “everyone is untrustworthy and will rob you” concept is a misconception that we Americans grew up around.
Cut off the television, step out the door, get on the computer, and do your own research. Talk to people that actually live in an area that you’re interested in visiting and find out what it’s really like. You’ll be surprised at what natural wonders you could uncover.
2.) Stay at a hostel. Better yet, CouchSurf at a locals house.
Another great way to get away from the tourist traps would be to stay at a hostel or go CouchSurfing. Try to veer away from the hotels. They are overpriced and stuck right in the middle of downtown, where things are going to be most expensive. When staying at a hostel you will have the opportunity to talk with like minded individuals who are doing the same thing you’re doing.
Does the idea of staying at a strangers house seem dangerous? Contrary to popular belief, it’s not. Thanks to CouchSurfing, you can now safely contact locals who live in a certain area to show you around town and take you in to their loving homes.
3.) Eat at a local joint with new & unusual foods
Eating at a local pub or restaurant can open up all kinds of opportunities to live life like a local and meet new people. When arriving to the eatery, ask the server what the locals favorite dish is so you can get a taste for their food.
Additionally, you can simply invite someone to come and have lunch with you. It’s not that hard and the worse answer that you can get is a no. When I was hiking around Kauai, I stopped by a small Philippino shack ordered some local favorite that looked kind of scary and had a seat while I was eating the surprisingly delicious meal.
A few minutes later, a lovely Japanese couple came walking by and I noticed they were looking for a place to sit. Rough on my japanese (meaning I don’t know any), I motioned for them to come sit with me. After about an hour and a variety of hand movements later, we had a very interesting conversation, but it was one that I will remember for years to come!
4.) Browse at local shops, markets, & stores.
Similar to eating at a new establishment, go into a new store, market, or shop when searching for souvenirs. It’s well known that in many areas, you have your souvenir stands but if you simply walk a street or two over, prices will vary greatly and you will find a whole new assortment of goodies.
Additionally, you can meet many people and get their input on what they would buy to put in their homes.
5.) Get out of you comfort zone
Many people think that leaving your comfort zone means doing something dangerous. This isn’t necessarily true. Of course some common sense wouldn’t hurt, but when you’re out and about in a new country, try doing something you wouldn’t usually do. Consider walking up to someone and starting a conversation.
You don’t have to speak the same language as they do (of course it does make things easier) but you could invite them to dinner using your hands. You’ll be surprised at how well you can hold a conversation without saying a single word. On the other hand (no pun intended), if you wanted to really step out of the box and go shark diving off the coast of Africa, you could do that too.
6.) Pick up a map
I know many people that wouldn’t dare drive, hike, or walk somewhere without their GPS. If you are one of those people, then try making a change. Sure the GPS system is handy when getting from point A to point B, but what about all those places in between that you pass right by? The next time you go on a trip, consider picking up a map, finding a back road that leads to where you want to go, and just start driving in the general direction of your final destination.
Seem scary? Afraid of getting lost? That’s the whole point!
I once read that in order for you to find yourself, you must get lost…or something like that. The point is, don’t be afraid to start heading in one general direction because who knows what you’ll find. Go with the flow and in the end everything will be alright.
7.) Get a hammock
Veering towards the more laid back side, you don’t see many tourist now a days just taking a nap in a hammock so I thought this was worth putting up. It conveys my message to RELAX!
8.) Take a walk
Yes it’s as easy as it sounds. Grab your pack, find a road, and start walking. If you see something that intrigues you, go investigate. If you seem a little freaked out, that’s okay but don’t mistake it as your sixth sense because you want to use some common sense on this one.
To the left you have a road covered in silky red rose petals with a cool breeze and a pleasant scent of fresh baked cookies in the air while on the right there’s an old worn out cobblestone path with weeping willow trees screeching against the cold wind. Okay bad example, but obviously you would want to take the road to the left. Use common sense and everything will be alright.
9.) Teach English at a local school
When traveling, I know of many people who have actually done this but when you visit a new culture, what better way to investigate it than to visit one of the schools?
Walk up to a school and ask if they have some sort of volunteer program. All you have to do is explain to them your native tongue (in my case english) and ask if you could help out for a day or two in showing a class how to speak new words. It could be quite an experience. Better yet, if you have the time and are willing to do so, actually go down to a foreign country and teach english at one of the schools. I know of many people who do this and they absolutely love it!
10.) Think outside the box.
Combining most of what I wrote above, it all comes down to thinking outside the box. Around every corner, behind every door, and within every soul there is a new adventure waiting to be discovered.
Now get out there, step out of your comfort zone and explore the world around you because you never know what could lie around the next corner!
What are your tips for traveling off the beaten path like a local?