In popular holiday and travel destinations around the world, it can be challenging to see the “real” side of the location for tourists who want this experience. This is mainly because you will likely be surrounded by other tourists, probably many of whom will come from your own country. And another reason is that these locations are geared up to give tourists a watered down version of the local culture. So, when you are looking for an authentic dish in your destination, you might struggle to find it among all the tourist food options.
However, no matter where you are in the world and for how long, there are things you can do to make sure you get a better insight into the local culture. You just need to know where to go, who to speak with and where to stay. Here are some of the best ways that you can have an authentic experience when travelling or on holiday in another country.
Talk to the locals
What could be a better source of history, facts, customs and present day info on your destination than the people who live there. The biggest problem with this, however, is that there may be a language barrier. If you are curious about the locals and wish to engage them in some friendly banter, before you head off on your adventure learn a few phrases so that you can strike up a conversation.
Most of the time the locals will be very pleased that someone is taking a keen interest in their culture and hometown and so they’ll be happy to chat with you. However, even with a few phrases under your belt, the language barrier may make it too difficult, or you may have the misfortune of trying to conversate with a very grumpy local!
If you are a bit hesitant when talking to locals, a more comfortable idea might be to listen up for locals who work in restaurants or shops, for example, who speak good English. Talking to these people will mean you won’t have to worry about anything getting lost in translation. Instead, you can focus on learning more about the area, culture and traditions.
Choose to stay in authentic accommodation
If you arrange to stay in a big hotel chain or hostel in the heart of your location, it will be full of other travellers like you. There are many other, more authentic, accommodation options you could consider. For example, you could choose to stay in a farmhouse or château that are typical in France and will provide you with more historical insight into your destination. Or, you could stay in a small B&B or get involved in international couchsurfing. In both of these examples, you will be staying in the home of a local and so you are bound to get a more authentic experience by talking to and simply observing your host.
Walk around and get a little lost
There will probably be a number of important sights and attractions you want to see while you are in your destination. But once you have worked your way through your “must-see” list, it is a good idea to give yourself a day or two just to walk around your destination, with no particular agenda.
Walking around and getting a little lost is a great way to see a different, less tourist facing, side to your destination. Even just looking at the streets and doing some people watching allows you to see what this place is really like. As you wander off the beaten track, you’ll stumble upon shops, bars, cafes, churches and many other sights that are full of locals rather than tourists. As you stroll around, perhaps stop at a little local restaurant for an authentic bite to eat.
Don’t be too glued to your map while exploring the real side of the city, town or village. Allow yourself to follow whatever sparks your interest in front of you. If you get a little lost, who cares? You have your map on you when you need to get your bearings.
Check out the local itinerary
Another great way to see the real side of your holiday or travel destination is to check out if there are any events happening that you could go along to. Such events might include festivals of all kinds, concerts, markets etc.,
By attending a local event like this, you will get to see some of the traditions and customs of the culture you are visiting as well as its history and personality. When I was in Lucca in Tuscany recently, I heard about a local mediaeval parade that happened on an annual basis within the walls of this city. I was lucky enough to be visiting at the time the event was happening, and I am so glad that I went along. The costumed procession of flag throwers, drummers and much more was so much fun and gave me a deeper understanding of this city’s rich history.
You can find out about these events by looking at the local community noticeboards while you are at the destination, asking the locals or by searching for details online.
Go on a guided tour
My final idea for how you can get to know your holiday or travel destination better is to sign up for a guided tour by a local. Most cities around the world will have businesses that operate tours lead by locals. You can go as part of a large or small group.
This is a great idea because your guide is not only a local but will speak fluent English so you can ask him or her all of your burning questions about the destination.
On the downside, this can be an expensive way to see the “real” side of the location. However, you can shop around and perhaps try a little bargaining in order to bring this expense within your travel budget.
I hope that this information will help you to have an authentic experience during your next travel or holiday abroad.