Six-and-a-half tips on experiencing cities like a local

By Carmen Recavarren
Posted on 19 October 2016

Hostels - Experiencing cities like a local

Want to avoid being these guys? Of course you do. Read on…

1. Read local media

If there’s local media available in your language, devour it in advance of your backpacking trip. Hit up newspaper or magazine websites and social feeds. Look at the lifestyle sections for the latest top spots for food and drink, entertainment and shopping. Check the news sections to make yourself aware of any important news stories or events.

You may not come across anything need-to-know, but reading up on what’s going on in an area puts you in the right frame of mind to really immerse yourself in it when you arrive.

2. Research, research, research

You don’t want to spend half your holiday dawdling in front of ticket machines and route maps, so research public transport networks before you go, including key lines, prices and etiquette. If you’re keen to blend in, don’t be THAT person who doesn’t have their fare ready or fumbles for their ticket at the turnstiles.

Similarly, research local fashions or clothing norms and try to pack items that go along with them. Pinterest can be a handy resource for this.

3. Stay in a residential neighborhood

If you’re determined to get into the rhythms and culture of a place, choosing a hostel in the city centre can sometimes throw you off. Think about it: while uptown Manhattan or the West End of London are attraction-packed and awesome, relatively few ordinary (i.e. not super-rich) New Yorkers or Londoners live in them.

The advantages of staying in a residential area away from tourism hotspots are two-fold: you can often find a really cheap hostel, and you’ll also get a big dose of authenticity. You’ll rub shoulders with ordinary city residents, eat in real local restaurants and cafes, and get a better sense of the place’s geography than you would by constantly hanging out in the city centre.

We’re not saying city centre and downtown hostels aren’t amazing, but don’t overlook outlying or suburban ones if you want an authentic experience.

4. Make a local friend

Sometimes language can squash this idea, but you can normally make small talk with a local at a bar or shop (again, this becomes easier in an outlying neighbourhood – in fact, locals in non-tourist areas will often be actively interested in what you’re doing there). Ask your new buddy for suggestions on what to do or where to go.

5. Stay connected

Before you leave, check to see if your phone will work where you’re going. If not, seriously consider getting a cheap temporary mobile or a SIM card so you can communicate with your group or with any local friends you make.

6. Do some ‘tactical following’

We love a guidebook, but if you want personal, up-to-date tips, plus insights into locals’ attitudes and sense of humour, follow some social media accounts from the place you're visiting. Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat are particularly handy.

Be sure to look for influencers across various sectors - food, fashion, culture - to get the full lay of the land. Local journalists are often a good starting point, as they tend to be well connected. Follow them, then browse through their followers to go even deeper!

6.5. Leave the selfie stick at home

Just trust us on this one, okay?