Occasionally I grapple with the negatives of tourism. A recent trip to Canggu, Bali, though amazing, reminded me that many people travel without locals or their lifestyles in mind. For some people their aim is to visit a country and behave the same way they would in their own country. It's baffling to me, someone who lives to explore different cultures and local ways of life. Isn’t that one of the most fascinating things about travel?
As a digital nomad you have the wonderful privilege and opportunity to travel the world like a local. But what exactly does the term “travel like a local” mean? Why should you try to travel in this way? And what is a good way to balance your own lifestyle with that of the people you are interacting with? With those questions in mind here are my thoughts on how to travel like a local when you’re a digital nomad.
What does traveling like a local mean?
Sometimes when traveling it’s just so important to take a step back from all the experiences you may have and see the destination for what it is. The life of locals and how they interact with a geographical space is what makes travel so fascinating. One of the ways you can be more meaningful when you travel is to live more like someone who is from or lives in that place. This can come to encompass a whole array of norms and activities. Traveling like a local essentially boils down to the idea of doing what the people do. Would the average local take the bus or a taxi? If the answer is the bus, acknowledge that it might take you a little longer to reach your destination but embrace the local life of a morning bus commute. Eat what locals eat, dine where locals dine. If you are brave enough try to eat and dine with the locals, try and engage in a way that will open up more opportunities for you to meet locals.
In terms of food, don’t just head to that fancy establishment made famous on TikTok, try and ask a local what their favorite restaurant is and eat there. Anyone who has spent time in Vietnam will know that the best restaurants are not fancy restaurants, rather any place where you sit on a plastic stool, they will always wind up serving the most delicious authentic food.
It is always best to embrace all the cultural challenges and difficulties you could face whilst being in a new environment. Yes, there is often a language barrier, but grab a phrase book before you travel or get on Google Translate and figure out a few short, helpful phrases. If you are visiting the souks of Marrakech, be armed with some Arabic phrases which will let you haggle like a local. Just knowing how to say, “thank you”, “please”, or “good morning” will help you feel more immersed in local culture.
Traveling like a local also means staying where locals would stay, or as close to this reality as possible. Don’t book a high end hotel, instead search for an Airbnb or homestay that will allow you to stay in locals’ homes. If that’s not possible then try and book accommodation in local neighborhoods rather along main tourist streets.
Another bonus of staying in AirBnB or local stays instead of hotels is that you won’t have to share the Wifi with others. Fast internet is a staple requirement for most digital nomads.
You may also consider the time of year that you visit a specific destination. Some areas of Greece for example are overrun with tourists during the peak summer months, so, if you want those local experiences, you can instead visit in the off-peak season. Having less tourists around means more interaction with locals and more ability to see the authentic side of Greek life. Also isn’t it just the worst when you travel to a destination only to step outside and hear a litany of American accents? As a digital nomad you should be quite flexible so picking and choosing your destinations based on this factor shouldn’t be too much of an inconvenience.
But why travel like a local?
Let’s face it, this might not be an authentic reason for traveling like a local, but it will alleviate some pressure on your bank account. You will save money on accommodation, transport and eating!
When digital nomadism becomes your life, you have to also come to terms with the fact that each destination you travel to isn’t a generic vacation destination for you anymore. These are places where you are going to live. Living like a local is a great way to stay healthier as you make food choices that are more aligned with your regular diet. There’s none of that beach body workout so you can indulge on your two week vacation, traveling is your life now, it’s good to stay on track and keep healthy.
Besides, isn’t traveling like a local just fun and filled with culture? Finding the ins and outs of people’s cultures, what makes them tick and why they are connected to the place you are visiting is just exciting.
Though we may choose to ignore it a little more often than we should, we all know the impacts traveling has on the environment. But traveling like a local life is a good way of reducing your carbon footprint whilst living a digital nomad life. No participating in mass consumerism, excessive consumption and supporting local businesses is something you can do to reduce your impact, however small it may feel.
Balance is best
With the aforementioned reasons in mind, it is still really important that you get what you want and need out of a digital nomad destination. You can effectively create a great balance between local experiences and other excursions and opportunities. Whilst living in local accommodation you can still see those top tourist attractions, after all that’s what probably lured you there in the first place. If there’s a top restaurant you want to visit you shouldn’t feel guilty if you want to try it. Making the most out of your time in a country is essential in providing a happy work life balance. And traveling as a digital nomad specifically is all about balance, as is life.