It’s understandable that when you travel to a new place, you don’t want to skip the main attractions. At least, I am not one to miss all the touristy stuff. I don’t mind being labeled a tourist, because hey, I am one! But from my days on the road, I have also gathered a list of other things I wouldn’t want to miss while traveling; after I am done taking selfies in front of the city’s landmarks.
Visit the Market
“If you want the prime authentic experience of a new place, you must go to the market!”
For a long time, I kept shouting this advice to anyone who would listen. Why? Because it’s a fact, people. You get to see how the locals interact, learn the traditional norms, and score local delicacies eatto or take home with you. There is no sugar coating on the market. It’s the real shitdeal. Visiting a local market is like being able to view the city’s open-heart surgery from behind glass doors (refer to any episode of Grey’s Anatomy). The market is a city’s core. At times it includes the fishy smells, price haggling aunties, and crumpled bills of the local currency. A Market visit is not for the faint hearted, but believe me the reward is well worth it. Also, with all those colors, it’s a golden photo op! Bring your camera and snap away. Just make sure you buy something from a shop where you took twenty pictures.
Eat the traditional breakfast food
Every country has its own delicacy food, which usually has been mentioned a gazillion times in the media, be it Pad Thai in Thailand, or Schnitzel in Austria. Most probably you will encounter these foods, even without trying, when you travel. I suggest you try the lesser known dishes, or what is generally considered breakfast food, like Appam in Kerala, or Khmer Bor Bor porridge in Cambodia.
Those are some things you might miss if you stay in the International hotel chains, where you are served either Continental or English breakfast. Eat an English breakfast when you visit England, otherwise skip it, and head out to the nearby local restaurant for some good old traditional breakfast.
Hit up the drugstore
Do you know where to get the “gold” when you visit a new place? It’s the drugstore. It’s where I shamelessly stock up on my souvenirs in many countries, from the Paris Pharmacy to Japan Lawson, because who wouldn’t want a snail face mask, or a green tea KitKat. Your friends will respect you more for getting them Argan oil or bees wax hand cream than a weird trinket that will just collect dust on their table. This is also the best time for you to try the local products, which is why I never bring toiletries when I travel, I stock up on soap, shampoo, face wash, tissues, and candies from the local stores. If I really like something, I will bring another pack home, or else I will just leave it there.
Stay in an AirBnB
You know what else I dislike about chained hotels, other than the breakfast? Everything! It’s the most boring way to spend precious traveling hours. If I craved similarity, I would have stayed in my parents’ house, instead of paying half of my salary for a plane ticket. The solution? Airbnb, or if you are on a budget, Couchsurfing.
You get to live and experience everything as a local, you can do anything there you would at a hotel and much more, except maybe stalk your neighbor. Instead of skyscrapers, you get to wake up to the view of dusty old buildings; instead of limited room service options, you can choose whatever you want from the convenience store downstairs. It takes your travel to another world, doesn’t it?
Meet your local friends
Speaking of locals, yes, I am still on the same topic. Try to befriend one or a few. Seeing a new place with a local friend (paid tour guide doesn’t count) is a whole different experience. You get to skip the unnecessary parts with the added satisfaction of knowing that even the locals don’t like them, and instead, get to go the hole in the wall places. The reason I love Hong Kong so much is because of Dara, a friend of a friend, who was nice enough to take me to all the not on the map places. Another way is to hit up your social media accounts and ask people; bloggers, Insta queens, and other travel lovers to hang out with you at your new destination. If your online personality doesn’t come across as too crazy, and they are free, they might want to spend some time with you. Let them lead the way, and be sure to return the favor someday.
Mingle with the after office hours crowd
If you don’t have any local friends, make some. Or at least mingle with them after office hours, because some of them, at least the fun ones, usually hang out in places, which mostly won’t be tourist places, but still might be really happening. You can get seriously good food and drinks if you keep your radar up. Google it or use your foursquare for starters.
I remember a small bar in Roppongi where the yuppies hang out. Them with their suits, and me with my silliness, but still the atmosphere was great. There were even a couple of acceptance nods! If they welcome you, it might help you in the romance department as well.
Say Hello to strangers
Finally, something, which is completely the opposite of what locals typically do: befriend the strangers you meet on the road. Your fellow travelers, the barrister, and the people you go touring with. The world is filled with amazing people, admittedly, some are creepy, so just weed them out, and be friends with the rest. It can be a simple hello, or a short lunch in between your travels; you never know what will become of it. I honestly can say my life has become richer from the people I met on the road.
Take a peek outside after midnight
You know how your own city looks at 3 PM and 3 AM, but do you know how the city you visit looks like after hours?
How’s the sky, who is in the crowd, and what is the vibe? This might be a little weird, it definitely takes extra effort, but if you can, you should see how the place you travel to, which you paid an arm and a leg to see, looks late night at or at dawn, especially if you are visiting for more than a few days. Trust me, it’s a whole different feeling, a 2 for the price of 1 experience. I walked around Phi Phi Island, the party island of Thailand at dawn, when the sellers or boat guys were not there yet. It’s like I was in a different world all together.
Try (the equivalent of) the local beer
If I had a bottle for each time I heard someone say they want to try the local beer while traveling, I’d still be drunk right now. Okay, that’s a little exaggeration. My point is, I have heard it enough that I feel like shushing them, shushing them bad. But today, I am here to tell you that yes; you really should try the local beer, because most of them are amazeballs; it’s just, don’t stop there. You should also try the local drink or snacks. Drinking Soju on a particularly cold night in Korea was good, but it was nothing compared to the delicious pumpkin tea latte I had the next morning, that helped to nurse the hangover.
If you must visit Starbucks for an afternoon fix, don’t order your normal triple grande, hot decaf triple five-pump vanilla non-fat, no foam whipped cream, extra hot extra caramel upside down caramel macchiato (that is an actual drink available there) but instead, choose their local version, like peach blossom tea latte in China. Let me tell you, it was a life changing moment for me. Try the microwavable food, chips, even bottled milk. The easiest place to find it? The neighborhood supermarket, my friend.
See how I started at the market and ended up back at the market too? Sneaky, eh? Wait, that’s not the end. My two words of travel advice are to GO LOCAL. Don’t miss out on living like a local when you get the chance while you are traveling. You are still allowed to see the top ten must visit places, even Instagram the clichéd tourist picture, but after that, go hang out with the locals. Who knows, if you are lucky, it might be the start of a lifetime friendship, a holiday romance, or an epic story of that time when you almost got killed by the crazy psycho you met on the road.