Tips to Avoid the Tourist Track
I’m still trying to explain exactly what I mean by “traveling like a local”. Here are, in my experience, the top 3 ways to do it.
1. Speak the native language as much as possible, no matter how much you suck at it. The locals will LOVE you for this. I always speak in the native language until the person I am speaking to switches to English. Most Americans don’t bother to do this, so when they do, the gesture is met with surprise and gratitude. Usually they will switch to English pretty fast, once they realize that their English is way better than your French (or whatever language it is).
When I was in France, speaking French was pretty unneccessary, since pretty much everyone over there spoke great English. But I still gave it a shot. My interactions usually went something like this:
French person: Bonjour, ca va? (How’s it going?)
Me: Bien, merci. (Good, thanks.)
French person (in English): Wow, your French is horrible! Don’t worry, I speak English. Where are you from?
Like I said, they appreciate the effort, and me starting the conversation in French would usually lead to a long, interesting conversation – in English!
2. Avoid tourist traps -go where the locals go. There are tourist bars, clubs and restaurants – and then there are the local ones. I’m from San Francisco, and whenever I walk through Union Square, I see tons of bars packed to the gills with tourists. Very few San Franciscans ever venture into any of these bars. Why? Because they’re lame, overpriced tourist traps with shitty food and drinks. Every time I walk past these bars I feel sorry for the patrons – don’t they know better? Why are they wasting time at these places when there are SO many awesome bars in San Francisco?
You didn’t pay all that money for your plane ticket just to hang out with a bunch of other Americans, did you? (If you did, you fail at traveling). If you don’t know where the locals are hanging out, ask someone who does.
The Zeitgeist – One of our more awesome bars
3. Eat whatever the locals eat. You’ll save time, effort, and money. When I was in Spain, I got sick of the typical Spanish breakfasts. Spaniards either have a small pastry and coffee (no protein!) or a slice of Tortilla De Espanola, which is a rather bland scrambled egg and potato pie – no cheese, no bacon, no vegetables, and good luck finding any hot sauce!
I finally caved and tried a couple of “American breakfasts”, a plate of fried eggs, bacon or sausage, and toast, but both times I seriously regretted it after. First of all, the American breakfasts cost almost three times as much as any Spanish breakfast. Instead of paying 3 euros for my eggs in “Tortilla de Espanola” form, I was paying 8 or 9. Plus, the Spanish version of an American breakfast sucked. They just never got it right. The eggs were always under or over cooked, the bacon was never done right, and the whole dish just seemed like it was thrown together with indifference, not cooked with love. But shame on me for expecting any better – I mean, I was in Spain, not America.