This post was written as part of a Virgin Australia Problogger Travel Competition. Learn more here.
To truly experience a place is to pretend that you live there. Sure, you can visit all the tourist spots and follow all of the tips in the travel guide but to see how a place really functions is to live like a local.
You can get more out of travelling than you ever have before. You can leave a place with more friends and know that when you come back (even years later) they will remember you.
Here are my tips for experiencing the world like a local.
Make a home
If possible spend at least a week in one region or town. I book apartments or bed and breakfast properties with kitchenettes through Booking.com or apartments on airbnb. This is a fantastic way of immediately immersing yourself into your new home town. The hotel concierge, bed and breakfast property manager or airbnb host is likely to be your first connection to your new home and you are sure to find them an eager encyclopaedia of local information.
Give a little
Just like when you return home with gifts for your loved ones from your trip, take souvenirs from Australia and gift them to people you meet during your stay. Strangers are just friends we don’t know well enough yet so treat them as warmly as family. You will be welcomed into their lives and they will share with you more information than what you will find in a year of online research. Who doesn’t love a clip on Koala?!
Embrace the food
Do not expect to eat like you eat at home. Embrace all the new food. Eat the local food with the locals. In the south of Italy I have fallen victim to caffe in ghiaccio con latte di mandorla (a cold espresso coffee with sweetened almond milk) which I would never have tried had I continued to order my normal coffee each morning. Visit the local grocer, the butcher and wine store. Let’s just say you’re craving an Aussie leg of lamb, track one down and make it an event. I made this Italian Roast Lamb while in Italy recently. Arrange a little dinner party or Sunday lunch with new friends and share a little of your culture with them. It is amazing what excitement a pavlova dessert will bring.
Local customs become your own
Embrace local customs and routines. On a recent trip to the south of Italy I learned of the passeggiata which takes place every Sunday evening between 5pm and 7pm where all the families come into town and walk the streets. The idea is to catch up with all family members and to be seen by others, catch up, chat and then maybe head to dinner until late into the evening. Wonderful people watching! Research your location’s customs and jump right in.
Become a local fashion victim
Take the opportunity to embrace a new approach to your day-to-day fashion. Australia can have such a casual approach, which is great, but some cities allow you the opportunity to join the locals and show a different fashion image. If you want to feel like a local, do not ever embrace your inner Seinfield with white sneakers and jeans. Check Instagram images of your destination and pack using your style as a base and a few touches suited to your new home. Again, in the south of Italy, there is an expressive conservatism, elegant casual with a splash of bright lipstick for the ladies and maybe an edgy hat for the guys. A local lady wouldn’t leave the home without make up because she plans to bump into everyone she knows while doing a spot of shopping. Enjoy the change in pace and style, if it takes you.
The very purpose for much of our leisure travel is to experience another culture, explore a new environment and soak up every bit of this new place before we must return to our normal life. The very reason for travel is to be different to home. It is to escape to a new adventure, to relive our youth when we could escape into golden books of far away places. When we can leave behind the things that have become our daily grind and we can indeed search for treasures far away.
Those treasures may just be wonderful memories with family, old and new friends, but what better memories are there, as it is memories that we keep close to our hearts and minds.