You Don't Have to 'Live Like a Local' to Be a Good Tourist

Public Domain. Unsplash

But you do have to get away from the busy attractions.

The consensus of late seems to be that 'live like a local' is poor advice for travellers. There's the obvious fact that you're not a local. You probably stand out like a sore thumb with your foreign clothes, mannerisms, and inability to speak the language. Oh, and you're only there for a week.

Then there is the less acknowledged fact that, once romantic ideals are pushed aside, most travellers don't want a local's life. The whole point of vacation, after all, is to escape the mundane routines that everyone experiences, regardless of where they live. So let's just be honest with ourselves and admit that being on vacation is great. It has its own unique rhythm, its own delicious idleness and spontaneity, and there's nothing wrong with that.

But that still leaves conscientious travellers scratching their heads. The whole 'live like a local' approach was a well-meaning attempt at being less of a burden on the system and more in tune with how people live. How can one manage to do that while remaining staunchly within the tourist category?

Travel writer Rosie Spinks has some good suggestions in an article for Quartzy. She urges travellers to be honest about what really appeals to them.

"Instead of trying to be a paragon of ethical, off-the-beaten path adventuring, just double down on doing your thing. If a hotel sounds more appealing to you than an Airbnb (as it increasingly does to me these days), find one that suits your taste, be it one with excellent design credentials or a sexy bar that even the locals love."

Pursue guided versions of the activities you enjoy, whether it's cooking, hiking, eating, art, or sports. Seek out opportunities to do these things in foreign cities, rather than doing what you think you should be doing, and you'll meet people, create great memories, and have fun.

Go to 'second cities,' as opposed to more famous capitals. When you opt for Lyon over Paris, Naples over Florence, Recife over Rio, you'll save money, avoid lineups, receive more reliable recommendations, and find yourself surrounded by more locals than tourists. It will help to assuage any guilt over contributing to overtourism.

Stay for longer. When you get there, resist the urge to snap a pic for Instagram and move onto the next destination. Whether it means staying in a city for the entire length of your trip, or spending a lingering meal in a single restaurant, practice staying put. Spinks writes, "Part of this approach means you have to be willing to miss out a bit — on other countries, cities, or attractions — but in my experience, missing out is when you find the good stuff."

Finally, she says not to ask traveller friends for lists of recommendations (that's overwhelming), but rather ask for a single activity that they wouldn't miss. Ask people who live there what they do on their days off.

"I find this enjoyable — both as a giver and receiver of advice — because it often elicits a great memory or story from the person you asked, rather than a rote list of things you could just as easily find on TripAdvisor."

I experienced this recently when a friend in Pasadena, California, told me exactly what she likes to do with a few free hours: "Drive down the 110, a windy old freeway built for Sunday drives. Go into downtown Los Angeles, check out Grand Central Market, eat tacos at Guisados, grab a drink at Perch at sunset." So that's what my husband and I did, and it was far better than any adventure we could've concocted on our own.

rooftop patio at Perch

© K Martinko – The rooftop patio at Perch in downtown LA