One of the travel tips you hear most often is to try and experience every place you visit as though you were a local. The thing is, very few people actually share any tips on how to explore like a local, and oddly enough, it’s a little more difficult than you might think.
Fortunately, if you travel by RV, you have a head start.
Because you’ll be taking your bed, kitchen, and bathroom with you, RV travel allows you to truly feel at home in any given place, helping you feel comfortable no matter where you travel. That said, this is only a start. If you’re wondering how to not stand out when traveling and how to experience each destination like a local, this is the article for you.
Below we’ve outlined some of our best tips for looking like a local when traveling.
Learn About the Area Before Arriving
The first step to traveling like a local involves doing a bit of research. The idea is to know the area, avoid super busy times, and have a good understanding of the local culture before diving in. This allows you to put the map away, avoid common mistakes, relax, and it might even help you know what to order when visiting local eateries.
Choose Your Destinations Wisely
First and foremost, you’ll want to be sure to choose your destinations with care. It’s easy to end up in places that cater purely to tourists, making it nearly impossible to act like a “local.”
Another common mistake is choosing a location that puts you outside of your comfort zone. For instance, a person who enjoys slower-paced travel isn’t likely to feel at ease and look like a local in NYC.
Pick Your Travel Dates Thoughtfully
Deciding when to travel is just as important as picking your destination. You’ll want to avoid school breaks, as this is when a huge number of tourists will be coming to town and most locals will be laying low. It’s also a good idea to skip holidays unless you’re going specifically for a holiday event.
Learn Your Way Around Town
Before you ever leave home, check out a map of the place you’re visiting. Have a good understanding of how the place is laid out and which streets go where. It might also be a good idea to learn about transportation options and research how to use public transportation.
Know About the Culture Before You Arrive
Most people who are traveling by RV aren’t going to be leaving the country. That said, cultures can differ even just from one city to the next.
Find out if most people ride a bike, walk, or take the subway (or some other sort of public transportation). Learn whether you should expect a fast-paced vibe or if people tend to take things slowly, and set your pace accordingly. It can also be a good idea to learn local lingo and local favorite foods.
Know What to Pack
If you’re visiting a hot place, it makes sense to pack shorts and tank tops. That said, it’s important to keep in mind that “hot” to you may not seem so hot to the locals, and you might look completely out of place in your summertime garb. The same is true when you travel to a cooler place, and you could very well find yourself feeling very overdressed compared to the locals.
It’s a good idea to pack layers so you can always adjust what you’re wearing if you feel like you’re sticking out.
Buy Tickets in Advance to Avoid Long Lines
For the most part, locals visiting an attraction are either going to have memberships or they’re going to buy tickets in advance. Think like a local and purchase a reciprocal membership or buy your tickets in advance in order to avoid long lines.
Avoiding Tourist Traps
The next step is to do your best to avoid tourist traps. Obviously, you’re going to end up at some popular attractions during your travels. That said, avoiding kitschy gift shops and the types of silly attractions found in every big tourist destination is totally doable.
Skip the Chain Attractions
Chain attractions such as Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and LEGOLAND Discovery Centers can be fun. However, they are found all over the country, and if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.
We recommend skipping these experiences and looking for attractions that are unique to the area instead. Not only will you look more like a local, you’ll also end up having more memorable experiences.
Look for Educational Options
Some of the best unique attraction options are the educational sites such as museums, zoos, and historic sites. These kinds of places tend to differ from one place to the next, with many location-specific things tied into each individual experience. Plus, these are the kinds of places locals are more likely to check out.
Another way to experience an area like a local? Head outside. Everyone likes spending some time in the sunshine, meaning those living in a place are just as likely as tourists to go to a local park. National parks and state parks tend to be awesome places to visit, and they really let you see the natural beauty of a place, helping you to appreciate it even more.
Staying, Eating, and Participating in Local Activities
As we said before, you will almost certainly end up stopping in at some of the bigger tourist attractions such as national parks, popular theme parks, and famous museums. However, it’s also important that you make time for the kinds of things locals like to do.
Pick the Right Camping Option
Where you camp can make a huge difference. We recommend seeking out small private campgrounds, Hipcamp locations, or spots with Boondockers Welcome or Harvest Hosts.
Generally, the hosts of these types of places are more than happy to chat with you about the area and offer suggestions of things to do. Additionally, these spots are more likely to put you in a residential area, giving you a better taste of what it might be like to live in the place you’re visiting.
Slow Down and Stay a While
In addition to choosing your campsite carefully, we also highly recommend staying as long as you can. The longer you stay, the better you will get to know the area and the more comfortable you’ll feel. Not only does this mean you’ll look more like a local, it also means you’ll feel more like one, so you can know you’ve truly experienced the place.
Nobody knows a place better than the people who live there. Ask a local where to eat and what to do. They are almost always full of great suggestions, and by going where the locals go, you’ll blend right in.
Visit the Town Coffee Shop
Almost every town has a local coffee shop. This is where the community gathers and where you can learn about events in the area. Head into the coffee shop, order a drink, and sit for a while. Check the bulletin board for upcoming events in the town, ask your barista about the best places to visit, and immerse yourself in the vibe of the place.
In addition to drinking local coffee, we also highly recommend eating local food. Make a point of visiting local eateries for the entirety of your visit, taking the suggestions of locals whenever possible. This is how you’ll find amazing hidden gems that you’ll want to return to every time you’re in the area.
Attend Performances and Events
Even the smallest of small towns have events once in a while. Festivals, concerts, and car shows are fun ways to really dive into the community, even when you aren’t from a place. Be sure to attend as many community events as you can during your visit.
Of course, community is built on friendship. If you really want to experience what it’s like to be a part of the community of a place, you’ll want to make friends while you’re there. These friends will help make your trip memorable. They can act as travel guides, offer a helping hand should something go wrong, and will keep you coming back to certain locations time and time again.
For more tips and insights on local travel, check out our over 200 local travel guides from all around the country!