I’ve always been one to adapt quickly to my surroundings. This is a fitting ability for an avid traveler, since you may experience a new city of different vibes each day while on the go. However, there’s so much to know about a fresh destination and a fascinating culture to soak up, that I wanted to let you in on some personal travel hacks I discovered while trying to adapt and look as little like a tourist as possible while traveling! Here are some tips to fit in wherever you go and backpack like a local.
Know at least the basic greetings in the native language wherever you go.
This will break the ice no matter where you travel. It shows the locals that you cared enough to spend the minimal amount of time to look up “hello”, “good morning, afternoon, evening”, “how are you”, “thank you”, and “goodbye”, that most tourists surprisingly haven’t taken the time to learn. Imagine someone walking into your home or place of work, unable to speak a lick of English? Odd, huh? Be different!
Be aware of cultural norms and no-no’s.
Using a fork and knife is proper and expected in some countries…but seen as rude and unsophisticated in others! Were you berated as a child when you let out a belch at the dinner table? Be sure to do it in Taiwan and other Asian countries as a necessary compliment to the chef!
You can find plenty of fascinating infographs and articles on what to do and say or NOT to do and say depending on the culture! Be an informed backpacker and impress the locals…and stay out of a situation where you could unintentionally offend someone.
(Selfies are universally accepted…most of the time. Blarney Castle, Ireland.)
Yelp, Tripadvisor, HeyLets, etc. are your new BFF’s.
Regardless if you’re traveling alone, with a friend, or with a group, you’ll be searching for the best eats and drinks. I prefer the Yelp app to others when wanting to find the local joints, since Tripadvisor is in existence for tourists…Yelp is for all: natives and passers-through. You can filter through price range, type of food or scene you want, and check out all the recommendations geographically. I loved finding the café or restaurant with reviews in the native language of the country I was in; it was a clear signal to me that it’d be less of a tourist trap and a tried-and-true favorite of the locals.
Never stop learning.
I thought once classes were out, I could check out and stop using my brain to keep learning; not the case. But don’t fear, my fellow victim of wanderlust, for it’s the kind of learning that’s kinesthetic and experiential and lasts as memories, instead of rigid memorization that is forgotten after the final exam. And it’s the sort of learning that you pick up on when you experience a culture, its trends, and the people. You overhear a common phrase said over and over between strangers; learn from a host family how a tradition is rooted in a historical event; take a free walking tour and absorb the knowledge presented by the guide who knows their city and its secrets like they’d built it themselves.
Learning from and retaining all this information is so much more effective than any amount of textbook reading and cram studying could be. And when you speak that common phrase (once you find out what it means!), or casually bring up a historical event or hidden landmark of a city to a native, you’ve mastered the art of backpacking like a local! You’ll definitely get an appreciative smile or acknowledgement for your more advanced knowledge of the place…and you just might get a free drink out of it.;)
(I learned so much from my beautiful Italian family in Pisa, Italy!)
Hit up local events and festivals.
One of the highlights of 10 days in Ireland for me was stumbling upon the annual Cobh Port Summer Social. There were about 12 vendors with everything from homemade ice cream to handcrafted jewelry, nutella-stuffed crepes to woodcarvings. In the middle of the park was a gazebo full of young musicians and Gaelic dancers joyously jumping around in a traditional folk dance. A few of us got yanked up there and spent the next few songs stumbling along with our leads, laughing blissfully the entire time. (Partly because we knew we looked ridiculous!) But even more so, we felt connected to a local tradition with hospitable guests eager to share their customs, without pretense or expectation. I encourage you to do some research on the cities’ tourism page, ask around, or wander and find local events and festivals that can transform your time there from one of checking off a to-do/to-see list into one of true immersion and fulfillment.
Maybe your backpacking adventure is still a dream? Read up on where you should go, how to backpack like a boss on a college budget, tips for solo backpacking, book your flights and hotels, and then learn what to pack. We’ve got you covered through every step of the process.