It’s only been two months since I was last living out of a suitcase, but the travel bug is already starting to nibble again! In the past few years I have had the opportunity to travel to 14 different countries across 4 different continents and I am always anxious to add to that list. I’m enthralled with travel because being in another country strips you of typical comforts and allows you to learn and grow tremendously without the typical limitations we usually put on ourselves. However, this isn’t the way all people choose to travel–and that’s fine. But if you want to see the world, be challenged and infinitely rewarded with an authentic travel experience whether traveling with a group or on your own, these are my tips for you!
1.) Make the Choice: Predictability OR Authenticity
Before you leave, pause and decide what kind of travel experience you want. You can travel in comfort by staying in nice hotels, following prescribed travel itineraries to only visit the main attractions, and only seeking the people, foods, and shops that reflect the culture you are familiar with.
You can travel comfortably and still have a great time OR you can choose to embrace a new context by simply immersing yourself in that culture and not paying for a cultural experience wrapped up in an easy to understand package. The next few points illuminate how travel this alternative way…
2.) Take Time To Orient Yourself
Upon arrival in a new city, take some time to orient yourself with the area by taking a free walking tour through a company like SANDMANs (they offer free 3-4 hour walking tours in multiple cities across Europe). I have done this on my first days in Paris, Prague and Hamburg and it was a great way to immerse myself in the area’s history, while getting a clear idea of the city’s layout.
No matter where you go in the world, use this link as a resource to find free walking tours in whatever city you visit!
3.) Whenever possible: WALK!
Walking not only helps you work off all the delicious food you’ll likely be trying, it’s also a great way to see hidden treasures you might otherwise zoom by. If the distance is too far to walk, opt for the local public transportation, whether that is bus, tram, subway, or train. Ask locals and hear their suggestions and follow their lead to traverse the city like a local (which often means opting to walk seemingly-long distances).
4.) Skip the Hotels
Staying in hotels in tourist-heavy locations can be PRICEY! However, my favorite travel secret is staying in local apartments or houses through companies like Airbnb or FlipKey because 1.) you can typically save a ton of money, 2.) you really get to feel what it’s like to live in the city you’re visiting and 3.) you gain instant access to a local from the area.
When my friend and I traveled with Airbnb we consistently had incredible experiences because we got to spend hours talking with our hosts and always left feeling like family rather than just strangers.
5.) Tune Into the Local Music Scene
Go online and google any concerts or festivals in town and if something strikes your interest, get some tickets! Then while exploring, keep your eyes open for concert posters and ask around to hear what music venues the locals frequent. I’ve found that the free walking tour guides are a great resource for finding a city’s music scene. Use the time you have with them to pick their brain for events and venues to check out!
By following this rule, my friend and I discovered 1.) an underground jazz club in an old wine cellar full of Parisians and musicians who kept joining the stage and improvising well into the night, 2.) a concert in a ship-turned-music-venue on the banks of the Vltava river in Prague, and 3.) we crashed an event for local musicians in another underground venue (literally) with tons of young artists and even a string quartet!
6.) Slow Down — Be Okay With Not Having a Plan
As Americans we are all about maximizing our time, but I would argue that some of the most meaningful memories happen when we slow down. So take a breather and clear your schedule for a day or afternoon. This could mean going to a park to read, sitting in a cafe to journal and people watch, or spending an afternoon exploring an art gallery. However you can best slow down, take that time and watch how your experience changes for the better.
7.) Eat Like A Local
Go out for maybe one or two meals if you want to experience the area’s cuisine, but don’t be afraid to cook on your own! Make some friends, cook a meal with them, or simply buy something from a market or food stand and have a picnic.
8.) Choose to Get Lost
Take a look at the map of whatever city you’re in, ask some locals to pick out their favorite areas and then get yourself lost in that part of the city. Take the road less travelled–LITERALLY. Don’t be afraid to break away from the crowd and walk down quiet streets and down some alleyways to get to a part of the city you might have never have discovered. Or if you’re a runner, try setting a marker on your phone as your start point and then simply run for 30 minutes and see where you end up.
When my friend and I were traveling in Paris we made it our mission to do this. We spent hours walking in a general direction, intentionally losing ourselves in the quiet streets of Paris. After a few hours we suddenly we found ourselves turning the corner and staring hundreds of feet up at the Eiffel Tower that seemed to materialize out of nowhere.
9.) Make Time to Have CONVERSATIONS with Locals
We often say, “Oh yeah, talk to the locals when you travel!,” but people often only take this advice as far as exchanging social niceties with someone at a bus stop or in line at a bakery. This kind of talk is easy, but shallow. If you want to really get an inside scoop on the culture you’re in, I challenge you to sit down for an hour or two (or more!) to ask significant questions, try learning the language, and hear the story of that person and the country they live in. Invest in relationships with locals, because those are the memories you will treasure for years to come.
10.) Throw Away Your Limitations — Try Something New Every Day
This is a challenge you can take however far you want. Challenge yourself to try something new every day while traveling. This can be something small like trying a local dish you would have never have otherwise tasted, or it can be something big like learning a traditional dance and then dancing your heart out or deciding to try paragliding or skydiving.
You never know what opportunities will present themselves while you explore, so don’t be afraid to say YES to something new and exciting!
You have your tips, now get out in the world and start exploring! I challenge you, dear reader, to make the choice to travel authentically–be bold, be patient, and most importantly… be ready for the adventure of a lifetime!