Read below for our 10 travel tips that guarantee an authentic cultural experience (whilst also saving your money)!
Are you fed up of feeling like a tourist while travelling abroad? Perhaps you're searching for a more genuine and authentic cultural experience in the place you're planning to visit next? For those of you with wanderlust seeking new adventures that diverge from the usual trips and tours advertised online, read this article below to learn how to travel like a local, not a tourist...
Oh, and want to know the best part? Not only will your experience be culturally richer and more meaningful, but you'll also be saving a lot of money at the same time... It really is a win win scenario!
1. Pack practically
Although it might seem relatively straightforward, packing your bag requires a lot more time and thought than you might think. What you bring with you on your travels is very important, so considerable planning is necessary if you want to be fully prepared. If you need some inspiration, why not take a look at our 30 Day Hand Luggage Packing List to ensure you have everything you need ahead of your trip.
Avoid attracting unwanted attention and try to blend in with the locals, especially if you want to be treated like one! As silly as it sounds, your outfit choice really can determine how you are treated in a foreign country. We suggest doing some research on your chosen destination before you get there in order to avoid any major wardrobe mishaps. Your go-to outfit back home could be completely inappropriate overseas, and in some circumstances may even restrict you from entering certain points of interest, for example Churches and other religious sites.
After all, first impressions are crucial, and your experience will be made better or worse depending on how you come across to the local people. In order to make the most out of your trip, rather than standing out and looking like that typical tourist in a bright yellow baseball cap, opt for subtle, conservative clothes that allow you to blend into the crowd. This one simple switch-up grants you the freedom to roam around and soak up the culture unnoticed, instead of being a magnet for those trying to sell you something, be it tours, souvenirs or deals at restaurants.
2. Fly wisely
Now that the bags are packed and you're looking the part, it's time to get going! We highly recommend booking any flights at least 2-3 months in advance to avoid high prices, especially at peak season. The same goes for train journeys if you plan on making long trips across borders.
For many people, flights can often end up being the biggest spend of the entire trip, so for this reason it's also one of the best opportunities to save some money if you are clever about it. Allow yourself a lot of time to really search thoroughly and methodically for the best bargain you can find. Trust us, it will be worth it in the long run when you can afford that expensive truffle pasta dish on the menu!
Don't exclusively rely on apps and online platforms to select your flights for you. While they can be very useful when you're in an unfamiliar territory, due to the cookies websites such as these use, more often than not you will see your flight rates shoot up faster than you can select your seat on the plane! If you're still having trouble finding a flight that's within your budget, perhaps have a look at other airports nearby, as you may find that if you fly somewhere a bit further away from your desired destination you can save a significant amount of money. Also, if you pack lightly as we advise above, the extra charge for a larger suitcase will also be avoided.
Have a read of the best ways to travel around Europe if that's where you're thinking of travelling to next.
3. Where to stay?
Photo credits: @oasisbackpackershostelsevilla
While there is nothing wrong with a bit of luxury every now and then, we suggest choosing to stay in a hostel or guesthouse if you are looking for a more authentic experience. It's easy to meet both local people and international guests, permitting you an insight into the local culture as well as listening to advice from fellow travellers. Hostels are the best places to stay if you really want to get a feel for the place, so why not have a browse over our selection of low-cost hostels to see if any of them may tempt you?
Speaking to people that live and work in the place you are visiting truly enables you to learn all about the best (and usually better priced) places nearby, and you might even have the opportunity to be shown around by them if they offer! This kind of experience is a lot more difficult to find when staying in a hotel or air bnb...
What's more, hostels usually offer a selection of events and activities for you to participate in while you're there, and these are (mostly) for no extra charge. Save some money, and instead of investing in expensive group tours where you risk losing a whole day stuck behind a loud family, join in and take advantage of the free walking day tours, group dinners and bar crawls that the hostel organises in order to immerse yourself in the local culture.
4. What to see once you're there?
While it's always a good idea to read articles and travel guides about the place you are travelling to beforehand so as to get a feel for exactly what you might want to see or do while you are there, we do also ask that you open yourself up to anything that might come your way once you get there.
A locals advice can often make all the difference, so why not give it a try? Make an effort and go out of your way to speak to the local people you meet along the way, and value any advice they have to give. Whether it be the waiter, the hostel receptionist or even the friendly man on the train, each of them will be more than happy to help you and provide you with any information you may need about the surrounding area.
By all means don't think that you need to see and do absolutely everything that is recommended to you, as by trying to fit too many activities into a short period of time you run the risk of missing out on some unique opportunities. Sometimes the best way to familiarise yourself with a city is to leave the maps and phones behind and go at it on your own. Exploring a new place by yourself can be very rewarding, especially if you are brave enough to stray from the path every now and again...
5. Getting around
When visiting a new place getting around can be quite tricky, and often quite expensive if you're in a major tourist destination. This tip applies to travelling to and from places within your chosen destination, as well as further afield if you're planning on exploring several different cities all in one go (as is the case with many travellers nowadays). Wave goodbye to taxis, and say hello to car sharing! We can't stress the advantages of car sharing enough, as not only do you save a LOT of money and instantly reduce your carbon footprint, you also get to chat to and get to know many different people along the way.
Introducing BlaBlaCar - the best way to get around if you want to travel like a local... or more specifically, with one! The idea is simple, you search for a ride by selecting your start and finish locations as well as the day and time you want to travel, and the app connects you to locals who happen to be making a similar if not identical journey to you! The drivers provide information about price, car model and seat availability, so you can pick and choose the journey that best suits you. Pretty cool right?
In case you didn't already know about this fantastic app, it's for sure the best option for you if you want to get from one place to the next while simultaneously getting to know more about the culture of the place you're travelling to (or from). Check out our advice on travelling from place to place with BlaBlaCar so you'll be well prepared and ready to get going as soon as your plane touches down on the runway.
6. Where to eat and drink?
When it comes to trying the local cuisine, we would advise you to do your research beforehand. While it's nice to not have a rigid plan when on holiday, when it comes to food it's always best to plan where you want to go and make a reservation a few days in advance if you don't want to be disappointed.
Check online reviews and make sure the places you go to are owned and run by people from the area. To avoid stumbling into a tourist trap, make sure that there are no pictures of the food stuck up on the windows or in the menus. The same applies for if they provide menus in many different languages, as these are both signs that the restaurant is designed for tourists, and therefore probably charging high prices for low quality food.
Alternatively, if you really want to live like the locals do, it's not necessary to eat out for every meal! Why not follow their lead and have a look around some of the local grocery stores. Pick up some fresh fruit, veg and other ingredients you may need to cook yourself a lovely meal in the hostel kitchen. Not only do you save a lot of money, but you also get to choose exactly what you want to eat. The combination of home comforts and fresh local produce doesn't get much better!
7. Speaking the local lingo!
Speaking the language of the place you're visiting is a must if you want to guarantee a more authentic experience. Just watch what happens when you make an effort to learn some basic phrases in the language... it's much more likely that you'll receive a warmer reception from the local people.
Not only will they be more friendly, they will also be a lot more obliged to help you and, if you're lucky, let you in on some secrets about the area. We suggest investing in one of those mini travel-sized dictionaries you can find in the airport and have a flick through it on the plane. Even just a simple 'Hello' with the correct pronunciation in the right language can go a long way!
8. Minding your money
This tip (we hope) is quite an obvious one! One of the most important things about travelling smart is making sure you get the best exchange rates for different currencies whilst abroad. Please don't make the mistake of turning up without having taken out any money beforehand and being charged an extortionate transaction fee by the ATM machine in the airport.
Search around for the best rates online, and the steps you need to take in order to secure them. We suggest ordering a prepaid currency card online such as Caxton FX. It arrives promptly in the post free of charge, and once you load some money onto it you can use it in most places whilst abroad without having to worry about being charged a transaction fee.
Try to avoid taking out money on your credit or debit card when in a foreign country, but if you're desperate then make sure to inform your bank that you're abroad to avoid your card being blocked (yes, this does happen to many people)!
9. Respect the local culture
If you respect the local people and their culture, then we can assure you that you'll most certainly reap the rewards! If you are patient and spend time listening to them and their advice, they will willingly return the favour.
Being narrow-minded whilst travelling abroad won't get you very far, and you'll definitely miss out on amazing new experiences. Don't go to Macdonalds or Starbucks just because they're familiar! Instead, have faith in the people, try the street food, and allow yourself to be truly immersed in the local lifestyle. It's ok to feel unsure and on edge, but once you become acquainted with the culture its an easy ride from there on out.
10. Be spontaneous!
Last but not least, be spontaneous! Let yourself be guided by the power of adventure, discovery and new opportunities. At the end of the day, travelling is all about enjoyment, so in short, let your hair down and have fun! Meet new people, learn new languages, see new places... if you trust in where you are and who you're with, who knows where the day (or night) might take you...
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