For me travel is a way to explore a life I might have lead. In Paris I imagine I’m a student walking along the Siene and soaking up great art. In Russia I hired a driver and channeled my inner czarina. You can leave your daily life behind and be anything you’d like on vacation.
One thing I long for is to feel a part of the place. I want to experience it like a native would. Being from San Francisco I know that the places we take tourists and the places we frequent ourselves are not the same. So I thought today I’d share my tips on how to be an Instant Native:
Create a base of operations – Hotels are great, but there are so many new options out there now. Rent an apartment, a cottage by the sea or even a castle. Try a home swap if you can. Even if you just get a hotel room with a kitchen it will feel more like home. Once your settled, plan day trips. It’s a great way to see things most people miss.
Plan a longer stay – Humans are creatures of habit and I find it takes at least a week to develop a routine. Find a favorite coffee shop, gelato stand or even a park bench and make it part of your daily routine to stop there and people watch.
Learn a few phrases in the language – Please, thank you and excuse me are my standards. It’s also nice to be able to say hello and goodbye. Your pronunciation may not be perfect, but I’ve always found that people are proud of their language and appreciate your interest and willingness to try and speak with them. Just remember if they drop into your language it’s best to follow.
Talk to people – These days with Twitter, TravelAdvisor and Yelp you can chat with locals before you arrive. Friends and family are also a great resource. If they’ve been where you’re going pick their brains. However, when you arrive don’t cocoon yourself. Talk to people. Locals may find it a bit weird, but we all like being knowledgeable. Too intimidating? Ask your hotel clerk or doorman for advice.
Be open – Some of my best travel memories come from the times I stumbled upon something unexpected. I love to just drive around and look for things to see or do. A few of my favorite finds ~ a castle in Ireland where the owner gave me a private tour, a tour of the catacombs beneath the Old Cathedral in Cuenca (hey sometimes you just have to ask…), a sunny hilltop restaurant in Sweden with a million dollar view, and a small Russian village in Alaska with a beautiful orthodox church.