While it may be tempting to continually take taxis and tourist minibuses while you travel, one of the best ways to immerse yourself in local life no matter where you are is to take public transportation. Not only will you meet people along the way, you’ll likely save a lot of money and get to explore areas of the city you’re in that you might not learn about in your guidebook. There will always be times when other modes of transport just make more sense, but for getting around to museums, markets and other attractions close to your accommodation, we say roll with the locals.
No, seriously — tuck your guidebook into your purse or travel bag, choose a neighborhood you want to explore and then just start wandering. We understand you likely want to maximize your time and cross as many must-sees off your travel list as you can, but there’s something to be said for slowing down and taking a step back. Even taking one day to explore entirely on your own can lead to some great discoveries like cafes and bars locals flock to, bustling markets you didn’t know existed or even interesting areas that are mostly free of tourists.
This applies to anywhere you go, from New York and Paris to Thailand, Mexico and everything in between. Case in point: how many New York natives do you think eat out in Times Square? We’re not saying there aren’t some great spots to dine there, but usually the more tourists there are, the more watered-down the dining experience. So aim to be more discerning and keep an eye on where the people who live there are eating. You’ll likely get a more authentic — and tastier — meal.
Whether it’s your waiter, taxi driver or someone you meet at a bar or café, be open to starting a conversation with locals to find out where they like to go, what they like to do in their downtime and where they like to eat. Ideally you’ll be able to add some interesting spots to your itinerary that you might not ever have known about otherwise. Talking to locals can also net you interesting trivia about where you’re visiting and go a long way towards enhancing your overall travel experience.
Hotels are great, but if you really want to experience life as the locals do, we suggest renting an apartment, something that just seems to get easier thanks to Airbnb.com and similar vacation rental sites. Whether you search vacation rentals by owner or would rather stay with your host (an option with many Airbnb accommodations), you’re likely to be staying in an area that’s not necessarily geared towards tourists. We did this in recently in Bangkok and though we weren’t among the crowds we were still mere minutes away from public transportation (and tons of fabulous food).
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