Traveling is one of my favorite hobbies. Whether I’m jetting off to Europe or exploring a new city within the United States, I love indulging in new foods, exploring breathtaking sites, and connecting with new people. Travel comes with so many amazing experiences, but one that’s not so great? Feeling like an out-of-place tourist. Of course, I am by definition a tourist when I travel, but I don’t want everyone to know that just by looking at me. From my own travels—and thanks to my adventurous older sister—I’ve learned a few travel tips for blending in that have made my trips exponentially better. Here’s how to stop feeling like a tourist and start living like a local whenever you travel:
1. Do your research, but leave room to be spontaneous.
Before I travel anywhere, I always do some research on where to stay, what to do, where to eat, and of course, where to get the best coffee. The key to researching your destination is to think like a local rather than a tourist. Ditch the travel guidebooks and head to social media for some local recommendations. Scope out local influencers and check the latest posts from different locations to see what’s popular on a day-to-day basis. This will help inspire your packing list, itinerary, and budget for your trip.
2. Stay off the beaten path.
Hotels are incredibly convenient, but most hotel chains are the same everywhere you go. When booking your travel, look instead to locally owned inns, Airbnb or VRBO stays, hostels, or even room shares if you’re staying a while. When you find a place you’re interested in, look up the business or neighborhood on TikTok or Instagram to see real pictures from past trips.
3. Don’t leave your hobbies at home.
This tip is especially for all of us who love to travel solo. At your destination, find somewhere you can take part in your favorite hobby. Sign up for a painting class or fitness class, explore a local bookshop, or just grab a beer at a local brewery. This opens you up to meeting locals who you already know share a common interest with you. You might just score some new connections or unique recommendations for food, drinks, and things to do—and maybe even get the inside scoop on the best secret spots.
4. Avoid tourist traps.
I’ve visited plenty of cliché places in my travels: Broadway, Times Square, the Bean, the Hollywood Strip, the Eiffel Tower—the list goes on. These are wonderful sites to check off your bucket list, but they’re definitely not places where locals spend their time. Think of the places you frequent in your own city—like art galleries, small boutiques, farmers’ markets, or hiking trails—and look into local options at your destination. You’ll get to experience something you love through a whole new lens.
5. Eat where the locals eat.
If a restaurant has a line around the block, there’s a chance it’s really tasty, or maybe it’s just listed #1 on Yelp for must-try restaurants in the city. For the most delicious, authentic food, look for restaurants full of locals instead of the ones most referenced on travel guides. Not sure where to start? Ask your Airbnb host or an acquaintance, check tags on social media, or simply explore! Some of the best restaurants I’ve tried over the years have been small, family-owned restaurants that definitely were not listed on travel sites (but deserve to be).
6. Use public transit.
There’s no better way to see a city the way the locals do than by taking public transit. Most major cities have robust subway or bus systems that can take you almost anywhere around town. If you’re looking for a different mode of transportation, try renting a bike. Bike rentals are everywhere these days and will give you a whole new perspective on the city. Not only will you save a lot of money by opting for public transit, but you’ll also see a lot more of the city, and you might stumble across a hidden gem along the way!
7. Be mindful of local fashions.
Of course, you want to look good while you travel, and letting your personal style shine is always a good thing. But depending on where you’re traveling, you should be conscious of the local fashions. For example, most Europeans don’t wear athleisure when out and about, and you won’t find many locals in South America wearing shorts unless they’re at the beach. Wherever you’re headed, make sure to dress respectfully, and err on the side of more conservative if you’re worried about sticking out.
8. Brush up on common phrases.
If you’re traveling to another country where English is not the first-spoken language, speaking exclusively in English is a surefire way to stand out as a tourist. Personally, I’m a big Duolingo fan (not to brag, but I have a 300-day streak going on right now). It’s a great way to brush up on useful phrases and quickly familiarize yourself with a new language. You don’t need to become fluent, but taking your language skills a step further than a simple “hello” or “thank you” can make all the difference.