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The insider’s guide: how to holiday like a local

It’s fun being a tourist in a new country, but to really get under its skin, you need to experience it like a local – it’s time to learn the lingo and read up on those local customs.

How should I get from A to B?

  • Taking public transport is almost always the cheapest and most customary way to get around. Super-simple navigation app Citymapper now operates in 39 cities worldwide, from Hamburg to Sao Paolo to Seoul, and it’s a fool-proof way to look like you know your way around. If your mobile data is switched off, no biggie – plan your routes while you’re in a wifi zone and it’ll stay uploaded (take some back-up screenshots to be sure).
  • If you plan to travel long distances overland, check whether you need to book trains or coaches in advance. In many places it’s fine to just show up at the station, but in India, for example, train seats can be booked up for months ahead.
  • In southeast Asia you can support local drivers by catching a tuk-tuk, which is easily the most fun way to get around, too. Just make sure you’ve researched ballpark prices and negotiated your price before you get in.
  • In east African countries such as Rwanda and Kenya, motorbike taxis are the main mode of transport. When in Kigali, order one via the new platform SafeMoto, which has recently started employing Rwanda’s first female drivers.
  • Feeling brave? While public transport is the cheaper option, you can get to know an area better by driving around its backstreets and exploring further afield. Book a hire car before you travel and you can get around at your own leisure without having to rely on public transport timetables. Just make sure you check out the rules of the road before you set off – there are some surprising driving laws you may want to swot up on.

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Where do the locals grab a bite to eat?

  • Getting a taste for the local cuisine is one of the most immersive and immediate ways to get into a culture – but escaping tourist trap restaurants can be the biggest hurdle. As a general rule, get off the main thoroughfares when looking for a place to eat and if you’re going for street food, always head to the stand with the longest line of local punters. Yes, you’ll have to queue, but they clearly know why it’s worth the wait. Don’t know where to start? You’ll find the world’s best street food in these five destinations.
  • Alternatively, skip restaurants all together and dine with a local via Eatwith.com. Experiences vary from fine-dining supper clubs in London and dinner parties in Amsterdam, to traditional Hungarian fare cooked by a grandmother in Budapest or learning to make deep-pan pizza round someone’s condo in Chicago.
  • Another way to eat cheaply is via surplus food app Karma, which operates in Stockholm and London. Signed-up restaurants sell meals that would otherwise go in the bin at half-price, at all times of day – so it’s a great way to discover new cuisines, as well as hidden foodie gems that would otherwise pass you by.
  • If you get a self-catered apartment, take a cookery class so you know how to use local ingredients picked up from the market. In Kerala, India, homestays regularly offer drop-in classes where you can learn to make lentil-rich daal and masala dosa pancakes – plus they’ll help you perfect the technique of eating with your fingers.
  • Make sure you read up on the local customs of the place you’re visiting. For example, while tipping is imperative in New York City, it’s totally unnecessary in Barcelona – who knew?

Where can I rest my head?

  • While hotels can keep you close to the action, hostels are great for meeting backpackers too and you can get an even deeper insight into a destination at a homestay. When searching for accommodation on Skyscanner, click ‘search hotels’ and then go to ‘more filters’ at the top of the page. Change the accommodation type to ‘hostels’ and ‘guest houses’. Staying with a family can provide a completely immersive experience of local life, and can be a great way to support local economies too, especially outside of first-world travel. In southeast Turkey, you can learn about daily Kurdish life by staying in nomadic canvas tents or mud-brick houses, while in Morocco’s Tighza Valley you can adjust to the relaxed pace of life by staying with a Berber family, surrounded by the Atlas Mountains.
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  • While in most of Europe, camping outside of designated campsites is prohibited, in some Scandinavian countries – particularly Sweden and Norway – pitching a tent anywhere in the lush, wooded landscape is not only allowed, but actively encouraged. Do as the Swedes do and hike through the forests of the Uppland county, stopping to swim in each lake as it comes. Just respect the environment around you by leaving no trace. Check out our top tips for making the most of your holiday without leaving an impact on the environment – you can be an eco-traveller and still have it all.
  • To meet like-minded locals, sign up to Couchsurfing.com and sleep for free on sofas and in spare rooms all across the globe. Though it’s now a community of 14 million people, the key word is ‘community’ – so arrive with a smile, an open mind and a willingness to make friends. It’s nothing like staying in a hotel, and that’s the appeal.

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How do I get off the beaten track?

  • Everyone wants to see landmarks like the Statue of Liberty, but once that’s done, you’ll want to find some alternative spots to get some real local flavour. Head to SpottedByLocals.com for ideas – a website curated by city natives on the pulse of the latest trends. You’ll quickly learn which bar is home to Warsaw’s hottest new mixologist, or get recommendations for alternative activities, like discovering abandoned ex-Soviet bunkers in Kiev.
  • While it’s great to explore by yourself, the right kinds of guided tours can give you a real insider’s view of a city. The companies Pragulic in Prague, Shedia in Athens and Querstadtein in Berlin all employ homeless or formerly homeless citizens to show tourists around, providing a much-needed social project as well as a unique take on the destination.
  • In certain capital cities, there are hacks for visiting the famous landmarks like the locals do. For example, all public museums and galleries in Paris are free-entry on the first Sunday of every month – so you won’t even have to pay for your Mona Lisa selfie.

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