10 Ways to Live Like a Local on Vacation
“When in Rome…do as the Romans do” remains a valid vacation proverb. If you follow the lead of the locals who know the ropes, you’ll gain better insight into your destination while also making fun discoveries that you just won’t find along the well-beaten tourist path. I asked the Hilton Mom Voyage team of well-seasoned travelers, “How do you live like a local when vacationing in a new destination?” Here are their actionable tips for livin’ la vida local at your next vacation destination.
How to Travel Like a Local
1. Visit a local school
When we travel to foreign countries my kids really love to get immersed into a culture by visiting a local school! This is truly their favorite thing to do when we travel. Before we head out, I make sure classes will be in session, and if so, contact the headmaster to ask if my kids can spend a day or two in a classroom of their respective grades. It’s been a great way for the kids to make lifelong friends, experience how a typical school day in a foreign country is conducted, and start to learn a different language!
– Lara D.
2. Check out a local playground
We like to take tours during the beginning of our vacations, so we can strike up conversations with our guides about their favorite local restaurants or activities in the area. We’ve never had a bad recommendation from this route, and it’s fun to get the inside scoop from a local instead of TripAdvisor. My daughter also likes to check out the local playgrounds. She gets to meet kids from a different part of the world, and it’s almost always free!
3. Attend a local sporting event
As a soccer obsessed family, we try to visit a local soccer game when possible. It does not need to be soccer, however. Visiting any local sporting event is a great cultural experience and a fantastic way to feel the local vibe, no matter which side you are cheering for! Our kids love learning chants for the local club.
– Vera H.
4. Choose local transportation instead of taxis and Uber
When we travel, I always insist that we utilize local transportation. Often that involves using our feet to get around town, but we have taken water taxis, subways, and city taxis. You can play it “safe” and choose taxis or ride sharing services, but you will miss some of the best parts of your destination.
No matter if you are traveling to a new location within the U.S. or expanding your horizons abroad, be bold and actively engage the locals you meet on buses, in the metro, and walking down the street. These interactions will result in hidden restaurants, off-beat entertainment, and other nuggets of travel fortune!
5. Dive into the local cuisine
My favorite way to live like a local is by diving into the local cuisine. Whether it’s a hole in the wall dive, a big farmer’s market, or a new hot spot eatery, my brain, stomach and senses always equate new places with new flavors, new foods and authentic local cuisine.
One of my favorite ways to spend a few hours in a new destination is by walking through local markets, sampling local and artisan goodies like produce, cheeses, charcuterie and baked goods and before leaving, I always grab a few of our favorites to make a bit of an improvised picnic to enjoy in a local park, square, or common area.
Parks always give my kids a chance to expend all their extra accumulated energy and get some fresh air, and they give me a chance to chat with locals to find out the best places to eat our way through our current destination. It’s in these unexpected conversations that I have found some of the most incredible local food and absolutely astonishing eateries all over the world.
From to-die-for mofongo in Puerto Rico and the most succulent lardo in Italy to the most delicious aged reindeer in Finland and unforgettable alfahores in Buenos Aires, these hidden gems and others were revealed to me simply by asking locals about their favorite places in wherever it is I found myself vacationing.
While striking up a conversation with a complete stranger may be terrifying to some, the end always justifies the means to my taste buds, and while it might be a bit awkward, the reward of finding delicious local food is always worth it to me. Sometimes the conversations fall flat, or I receive recommendations to eat at some national chain restaurants you can dine at back in your hometown.
Just know that some of the best memories we have made on our vacations are those where we’re plopped on a park bench or sat lazily on the grass noshing on torn-off hunks of incredible local handcrafted bread topped with delicious chunks of locally sourced cheeses, all accompanied by local fruit and loads of laughter. So get outside, get some fresh air, and go eat your way around town.
– Amy G.
When we roll into town we want to get down ‘n’ dirty with the locals and grab a meal with no tourists in sight! As we road tripped across the deep south, we detoured to the small town of Luling, known in 1864 as the “toughest town in Texas,” now a friendly oil town known for their barbecue. We rolled into mainstreet and rolled up our sleeves digging into Luling Bar-B-Q’s famous lip-smacking ribs….mmm, mmm, good!
A highlight of our trip to Venice was sitting in quaint and tiny Birreria Forst shoulder-to-shoulder with gondoliers listening to them heartily laugh and throw back a few beers before their next shifts. We literally were the only people in the deli who did not have on striped shirts! Seeking out locals-only joints usually results in both delicious food, and even better, once-in-a-lifetime memories of the people who make these destinations unique.
– Lisa G.
6. Visit a local YMCA or recreation center
When we travel to a new city, quite often we will locate a local YMCA or recreation center. We find that these types of facilities seem to have a universal vibe so there is a nice sense of familiarity and comfort to them. This is also a great way to meet locals and learn about area events and activities and can be a great way to burn off some energy by swimming or using the fitness equipment.
You might even find that they offer educational courses or lessons for new activities, and they usually offer guest passes or daily fees that are very affordable. A YMCA can be fun way to connect as a family and mingle with local families!
7. Shop a local grocery store or market
One of our family’s favorite ways to experience local life is to visit a grocery store or a market when we travel. We seriously try to do this every time and never leave disappointed or without a great souvenir to bring back home.
We have enjoyed coffee from Colombia, KitKats from Japan, smoked paprika from Spain, and pineapple papaya preserves from French Polynesia long after our suitcases have been put away. During our foreign grocery store or market visits we have also had many fun conversations with local customers who, noticing we were obviously not local, asked us if we needed help.
– Vera H.
8. Browse a local record shop
There is something about hearing an album for the first time on vinyl that makes me happy. So happy that it shouldn’t come as a surprise to many that I always find a way to carve out time to sneak away to record shops, but I don’t have to anymore. My whole family loves it.
On our recent trip to Nashville, we had the pleasure of visiting Jack White’s record store and studio, Third Man Records. Such a cool experience. It’s curated with not only the best albums, but gifts that make it easy to blow your budget quickly.
Normally while on these “sonic highway” stops, it’s common for us to purchase music by artists native to the area, but for this particular stop, Kiddo decided to stock up on a few essential White Stripe LPs and even had the opportunity to record her own 45 direct to vinyl to become her very own country music recording artist. When it comes to the essential Nashville souvenir, you really can’t get much better than that! (Third Man Records: 623 7th Ave S, Nashville, TN 37203)
9. Get your hair styled at a local salon
A good blow out is always a treat. Get your hair styled for a night out on the town at your vacation destination, and you’ll not only feel refreshed and elegant, you’ll also have a blast seeing a new interpretation of a locally-styled you! You’ll also have time to chat with the stylist on local must-sees and dos. If you’re brave, go for a haircut. Some of my best haircuts have happened in salons far away from home!
– Amy B.
10. Enroll your kids in a local summer camp
I so look forward to summer, with time for traveling and hanging out with my kids. But summer often means some business trips, which I usually stretch and twist to get in some vacation time too.
My ideal solution for combining a summer business trip with time with my kids has been to find cool local summer camps for them while I’m in my meetings. The unexpected benefit has been feeling so much more at home in the city we’re visiting. We take local transportation to the camp, my kids hang out and make friends with local kids, and I mingle with their parents during pick up and drop off. We really feel like we know the city by the time we leave.
You may also enjoy:
- Experience Travel with All 5 Senses
- 12 Items for Your International Travel Checklist
- Day-Use State Parks for Quick and Affordable Family Outings
Hilton Mom Voyage writers receive free night certificates to use at Hilton Hotels & Resorts worldwide. To learn more, visit our About Us page.
Amy is an avid traveler and enjoys exploring the world with her two travelin’ kids, ages 5 and 13. Based in Chicago, Amy has voyaged as far…