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How to Live Like a Local Wherever You Travel

by Heather Carreiro May 11, 2010
On Matador’s Facebook page we asked the question: What’s your favorite tip for living like a local wherever you travel?

Here at Matador, we believe that travel should be much more than checking destinations off a list as if you’re shopping for groceries.

“Walked the Great Wall, check. Saw the Acropolis, check. Oh yeah, we did the whole Thailand, Cambodia, Laos thing.”

When I travel, I like to learn the language, ask local women where they buy their clothes, who their tailor is and what styles are in fashion. I not only like to sample local specialties, but learn how to cook them. I look for untranslatable phrases, unspoken expectations and other things that may not be readily found in the latest guide book. I find out what the locals do for entertainment, where they like to eat and what newspapers they read.

Here are some other things Matadorians recommend:

1. Gerard Ward: If there’s a language you don’t know, Google common phrases and write them down. Bring a smile, and don’t be shy about how you look. The first mistake is worrying that you look out of place. You are, but that’s not a bad thing. Drinks make new friends (and loosen the nerves too if that’s an issue). Have fun, and get ready to have a few new Facebook friends!

2. Sara Cashman: Make an effort, no matter how pained, to speak the language. People will you see you respect them, and in turn, open up to you more.

3. Kate McGinley: Ask the bartenders/chefs where they go out. They’ll never steer you wrong.

4. Daniel Nahabedian: Eat wherever they eat. You sit with them, chat, gossip and share the same meal. Food is something that connects us all.

5. Aye from GotPassport: I agree with Daniel – food, food and more food. Chatting up with local food vendors is half the fun. Try out the local unique attire (respectfully, of course) if there is one. Shop at a market where the locals hang out.

6. Elizabeth Zito:The key for me has been: plan nothing but talk to everyone. Introduce yourself to anyone you can, without hesitation but with genuine energy, and a door opens to an otherwise inacessible world. Your experience transforms from travel to immersion, and the connection left behind between both parties is substantive and lasting.

7. Moriba Jackson: Take the bus.

8. Cherie Ve Ard: Try to make connections before arriving to a new city – discussion boards, forums, being active in social media, dating sites (even if you’re not actually dating.. just be upfront about it), etc. have all yielded us local contacts for a local’s introduction to various cities.

9. Gareth Leonard: Network & build your own community. This is exactly what I have been trying to do in Buenos Aires for the past seven months.

10. Camden Luxford: Eat in the local markets, and go back to the same stall a couple of times. By day three, you’ll be greeted like an old friend.

11. Matador Associate Editor JoAnna Haugen: Get out of the touristy area.

12. Kimberly Dian Kephart: Take a day off from museums and whatnot to just walk and wander. Always be on the alert for the little surprises right in front of you. Street food. And if you have one, ask your concierge.

14. James Wood: Get a haircut! I always try to save my cuts for my travels. It takes you places only locals go, gives you a side you would not normally see. If you are traveling in the developing part of the world, it also saves you some money.

15. Keith Gill: It depends on the locality, but ask questions and learn. Visit with families. If you can, go out for a day or hours spend some time working with or traveling with people from the area.

16. Matador Trips Co-EditorCarlo Alcos: Actually live there. Stay put for a good amount of time. Travel slow. Rent a furnished flat. Observe. Connect.

17. Laura Byrne Paquet: Read local media online before you go so you can chat about local news. Know the basics in the local language – even just “please” and “thank you” will take you far. Stay in an apartment. Take public transit. Use services like or Chicago Greeters to meet local people.

18. Liesl Wiederkehr: Go to the laundromat! I’ve met some fun people, gotten great tips on places to eat, visit, shop, etc. (and where NOT to go). You have to wash clothes at some point anyway!

19. Matador Life Editor Leigh Shulman: Ask people who live there what they recommend for food, to see, to visit and to stay. Also, stay a bit out of town. It’s usually cheaper anyway. Otherwise, I agree with everyone else: food, language and couchsurfing.

Do you have any other tips for living like a local while traveling?

Community Connection

Want to learn more about living like a local while traveling? Check out 5 Reasons Why Slow Travel Beats Going on Vacation and Why Travelers Should Spend Time Instead of Money.

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