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Note: All travel is subject to frequently-changing governmental restrictions—please check federal, state, and local advisories before scheduling trips. 

Guidebooks have plenty of advice for what to do, see, and eat when you’re traveling, but not many help you avoid tourist traps and experience a destination the way the people who live there do. When you’re visiting a new city, there’s a lot to take in and figure out. So if you’re looking for a more authentic stay, we’ve got six tips to take you off the tourist track. 

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Stay in a neighborhood

Block of buildings along 3rd Avenue in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City NYC

Downtown areas can be glitzy, exciting, and convenient to museums and  other attractions, but they’re not always indicative of what everyday life is like for most residents. Opting instead to make a neighborhood your homebase will put you in the heart of where locals eat, play, and gather. While downtowns typically rely on big-name brands and commercial food chains, neighborhoods often feature mom-and-pop shops and independent restaurants. (This means you can directly support the community you’re visiting!). In many cities, each neighborhood will have a distinct vibe so you can research which aligns with your taste and interests.  

Ask your host for local recommendations 

Choosing a neighborhood over downtown means you’ll likely be in a vacation rental like an apartment or condo. And staying in a rental means you’ll have direct contact with a local or someone intimately familiar with the area. Your host is a great person to ask for their favorites hangouts and suggestions for activities that interest you. Being a local, they’ll also be able to tell you details that guidebooks won’t, like the reputation of a neighborhood bar or if you should get to a spot before a certain time to avoid lines. 

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Use social media to find restaurants 

Stock photo of more adventurous style of traditional Chinese food shot inside of a Chinese restaurant in the USA.

If you’ve ever sat at a restaurant while traveling only to realize everyone around you was also a tourist, chances are it was either near a point of interest or listed in every guidebook. So where do you find out where locals eat? 

One way is by researching local bloggers and social media influencers whose job it is to showcase your destination’s best food and drink. They’ll rate, review, and publish lots of photos of restaurants and cafes so you can not only see where locals are going, but what the atmosphere is like. 

When you do find yourself at a great neighborhood eatery, consider sitting at the bar. Bar seating puts you in close proximity with other diners, plus bartenders are amazing local resources.

Take public transportation 

two women sitting in a tuk tuk

Chances are residents aren’t always hopping in ride shares or cabs to commute around their hometowns. More often, they’re biking, walking, taking buses, subways, trolleys, water taxis, tuk-tuks, or rickshaws. 

Doing as the locals do is cheaper than private or tourist-geared transport and allows you to intermingle with everyday folks. You’ll overhear conversations, glimpse fashion and trends, hear music and entertainment, and get a sense of the overall outward culture. Public transportation is often referred to as the great equalizer; you’ll see people of all walks of life going about their routines. 

Meet up with a local greeter or tour guide

Beyond asking locals for recommendations, meeting up with a greeter or taking a locally run small-group specialty tour gives you the chance to experience your destination with someone who knows it best. 

Leaning on the guide’s expertise, you can relax and let them do the work while you listen and experience how it feels to be part of the destination. You’ll also grasp the insider tricks on how things are done, like how to snag a table at a busy outdoor eatery or where you’ll find the best views or lesser-known side streets. Your guide will answer questions you didn’t even know you had or point out things you might otherwise overlook.

If you can’t meet up with a local, many museums and historical societies offer self-guided walking tours on specific topics. 

Read local newspapers and magazines

Local publications feature stories of the latest public art installations, street festivals and popups, and restaurant openings all geared toward a local audience. Reading these stories will get you more in the know about what’s currently happening that you wouldn’t yet find in any guide books. 

Plus, by just skimming the headlines and human interest stories you’ll grasp a sense of what local people care about. These are great conversation starters with locals and can help you feel more connected to the destination. 

Tagged: Cheap Tips

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Allison Yates

Allison Yates

Allison is a Chicago-based writer covering travel, women and society in U.S. Midwest, Latin America, and Ibiza. Follow her on Instagram at @allisonyateswriter.
Allison Yates

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