5 Ways to travel like a local
Updated: May 26
When we travel, like most, we want to see the major sites of the location. When in Paris it's the Eiffel Tower, the Lourve, the Sacre Coeur, and many other famous sites like Notre Dame. In Rome, tourists flock to the Vatican, Coliseum, and the ruins scattered throughout the city. While it’s true and that locals have pride for and appreciate the sites that have put their cities on the map and given them so much cultural and historical significance, a tourist is more likely to find more tourists at those sights than locals. Obviously, locals have everyday normal lives to lead with careers, errands, and leisure time as well. Traveling like a local can give you a deeper sense of what it’s like to live in the city you are visiting. Here are 5 ways to experience your destination like a local and gain a deeper understanding of that part of the world.
1. Find a local host using Eatwith.com. We first experienced Eatwith.com in Paris last summer and fell in love with the concept. Eatwith offers a variety of experiences with a local person or family who will prepare a meal or some other particular item for you in their home. It might involve a demonstration, hands-on cooking, or a large dinner party style event and could be an entire meal or just tapas or dessert, for example. Take a look at Eatwith.com and explore your next travel destinations for a unique travel experience courtesy of Eatwith.com. While in Paris, we enjoyed a wonderful rooftop lunch with Cathy and her son who was a few years older than our oldest, Maddox. Cathy has a beautiful home situated on the top floor of her apartment building. Her large rooftop terrace has beautiful views of the city, including the Eiffel Tower in the distance. We enjoyed a lovely leisurely lunch with Cathy and her son on a warm Sunday afternoon. My two boys Maddox and Henry enjoyed this experience more than anything else during the entire trip because they loved playing with Cathy's son. Her son filled a small inflatable toy raft with water as a makeshift pool and our youngest splashed around in it in a pair her son’s borrowed shorts. Henry enjoyed splashing around on her rooftop more than anything we did that day! Our meal was served in courses and was aptly prepared with the heat in mind. Cathy served a French bread that she mentioned was commonly made for picnics. It was stuffed with olives and cheese and we all enjoyed it. She also served tapenade, sliced turnips, salad, cold roasted lamb and a wonderful cake with currants from her neighbor’s country house. The experience was immersive and a unique way to learn more about the everyday lives of the Parisians and their perspectives on the world. I know we will remember the experience for years to come; we were all appreciative of the opportunity to learn more about the French culture than we could have absorbed at a tourist attraction.
We also had a wonderful Eathwith.com experience in Rome. The experience was different this time, as it involved a hands-on pasta making class. We had a wonderful experience learning how Italians have made pasta for generations. Our host, Sandra from Cook 'N' Speak, was energetic, fun, and very informative. She was very thorough and patient with Maddox and Henry as she helped guide and teach them through the pasta making experience. We all started with large wooden cutting boards and rolling pins. She instructed us on the measurements for the ingredients, and we each began kneading our own dough until it was ready to begin rolling out. The process was labor intensive, but fun and she was there to fix our mistakes, thankfully. Sandra told us about the value of good olive oil and the superiority of Italian olive oil. I must confess that since then we have only bought high quality olive oil to cook with. She continued to speak generally about how the quality and freshness of every ingredient plays a key role in the quality of the dish. She also told us to use Italian canned whole tomatoes when making homemade sauce for pasta, which I have also implemented at home when I cook. I love that these experiences can be brought home and implemented in my own kitchen. When I cook with my Italian Olive Oil and canned tomatoes, I am reminded of the wonderful time spent in Sandra’s Roman Kitchen with my family. Click here to find out more about Sandra!
We felt very much like we were enjoying the city and living the like locals when we viewed Paris from the terrace of a private Parisian home and from Sandra's kitchen. We could not help but feel more connected to the everyday life of Paris and Rome from the experiences we shared with Cathy and Sandra and the personalized unique perspectives they had to offer.
2. Withlocals.com is another great service we have grown to love. Our favorite tour is the food tasting tour. Withlocals offers a variety of tours suited to different audiences. For example, you can find a food tasting tour designed for families with kids that might involve one or two adult beverages, as well as others designed around bar hopping or wine tastings. Withlocals offers a variety of tours including everything from introductory tours of the main sights to professional photography sessions at local attractions. I love Witlocals because in both Rome and Paris, our guides took us to local spots we would have never discovered otherwise and provided a unique perspective on everyday life in each place.
Our guide in Rome, Matteo, told us of his own experiences as a young boy growing up in Rome where he frequented some of the same establishments with his father as a young boy. I also enjoyed the fact that we had the tour guide all to ourselves, as opposed to being in a large group of strangers. All of the food we tasted on the tour was very excellent and it was obvious that many of the places were local favorites as opposed to tourist traps. You may have heard when traveling to avoid flashy restaurants with menus in three languages on large squares, we found this to be true on our tours. The establishments we were taken to were often small and on side streets. The prices were generally lower and the food was higher in quality. Restaurants located on a main square are designed for tourists and are generally of lower quality and come with a higher price tag.
3. Stay in a vacation rental like an Airbnb. When we traveled to Paris, we stayed in a small one bedroom apartment in the Bastille area. It was up a winding staircase 3 or 4 floors up.
The one bedroom one bathroom apartment was small and included a kitchen, eating area, and a sleeper sofa in the living room. The apartment did not have air conditioning, but it worked out ok for the most part because even though it was in the high 80s during the day, it cooled to the 60s at night, and we left the windows open. We were also not so bothered by the lack of hot water which was hot only sporadically. Perhaps you are thinking that this does not sound like a fun idea. We felt like real Parisians and it was interesting to see what kind of apartments local residents lived in. The building seemed to be a couple of hundred years old or so, but that is just a guess. I imagined all of the lives lived there over the centuries and enjoyed the fact that we could live like Parisians for a week in the apartment. We asked our host with Eatwith.com and our tour guide from Withlocals.com about air conditioning in Paris. We live in Florida, so not having it is nearly inconceivable to us. Cathy, our host from Eatwith.com, told us that Parisians do not like to hear the noise of AC units when they walk down the streets in Paris and also commented that it is rarely so hot that it feels necessary.
4. Take More Time- This tip might be more of a goal than a tip for some of you. Naturally, as you have more time in a location, you will feel more at home there, more like a local. If you have the opportunity, take a month or a few weeks and stay in one spot or stay in place for a week versus trying to cram 2 or 3 cities into a week. When you take this approach, you can see the sights more leisurely and make the trip more relaxing. You might also find yourself frequenting the same patisserie on the corner more than once and get into a sort of regular rhythm like a local.
You will have more of an opportunity to shop for groceries and cook in your own kitchen. Find a cookbook and try your hand at making a local favorite, with ingredients native to the area and in season. Shop at Farmer's Markets, specialty shops, and local food stores. Soak up the local culture more by taking a morning stroll thru a produce market for fresh produce for a salad or local side dish, then head to the fishmonger or butcher shop, followed a trip to the fromagerie (cheese shop), wine shop and patisserie (pastry shop) and prepare a local favorite in your own kitchen.
5. Ask a local. We have had the best experiences with local people in our travels. Take the time to learn some common phrases in the local language before you travel. Pimsleur offers great language programs, which are perfect to listen to during your commute. The Duolingo app is also a great resource for building vocabulary. When you arrive, you will find that locals are more apt to help you once they see that you have made an effort to understand some basic phrases of the native language. Ask your Uber driver for restaurant recommendations or another friendly local resident, perhaps a mother with her children at a neighborhood park for recommendations for restaurants that are kid friendly or local favorites.
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