What If I Don’t Want To Live Like A Local When I Travel?

by joeheg

I’ve often heard the refrain “It’s so touristy there” when talking about a location. It’s usually said by someone who insists that the only way to travel is to “live like a local.” The more I think about it, the more I don’t understand what people have against those who act like tourists when they travel.

If someone’s never been to New York City before and is only going to be there for three days, what’s wrong with looking at Times Square or Rockefeller Center? Do we expect people to not visit the sights that brought them to a city in the first place? That would be like going to the Grand Canyon and never looking at it, or not seeing the Eiffel Tower when visiting Paris.


When we went to New Orleans, we went to Jackson Square, stood in line for beignets at Cafe du Monde, went on a riverboat ride and visited Preservation Hall to listen to some jazz. All of those things would be considered “touristy” but it didn’t make them any less fun.

Honestly, I’m not even sure what traveling like a local means. Do I have to stay at an Airbnb 45 minutes outside the city and take the bus everywhere, shop at the nearby supermarket and cook all my meals in my apartment? I could have just stayed at home if I wanted to do that. People don’t want to act like locals when they’re on vacation. What some people want is to “feel like a local.” This idealized vision of acting like you live there by checking out a local coffeehouse or bar and spending time going for a walk in the park.

Is this actually what locals do? Who knows, but it’s what we’d like to think they do. It’s more likely they do exactly what we do when at home. Go to work, come home, eat dinner and then surf the net or watch Netflix and go to bed, to repeat over and over, while all the time planning and dreaming about their next vacation.

Part of the point of traveling is getting away from your routine. Traveling to see these iconic places you’ve only seen in pictures or videos before. Sure, they’re crowded with throngs of people who had the same idea you did but you can’t help that.

The only thing I can say is while it’s OK to be a tourist, try not to act too much like a tourist. That means if you’re visiting Manhattan, don’t make a dead stop to look at a map while walking on a busy sidewalk, and whatever you do, don’t eat at a chain restaurant you have in your hometown like Olive Garden or Applebees

However, if you’re traveling outside your home country, stopping by a major chain is acceptable. 7-Elevens in Japan are crazy awesome and McDonald’s has different menus around the world – we even got a taste of when they brought the worldwide favorites menu items to the US for a limited time.


Final Thoughts

I guess I’m trying to say not not let anyone tell you how to travel. Do the things that make you happy and don’t listen to anyone saying you’re doing it wrong. Sure, it pays to do some planning in advance so you don’t spend all day looking for what to do or finding out when visiting Paris that the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays (true story). Getting away from the major tourist areas for at least a bit will help you get a little more of the local vibe but don’t stress over that you’re not acting like a local, because you’re not. You’re on vacation.

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DaninMCI October 2, 2019 - 7:20 pm

Amen. As valuable as people like Rick Steves or others are. They always want to push the “blend in like a local ” advice. That’s fine except most people can’t really do that anyway. It’s not like the locals will think you’re actually a local so you are only fooling some tourist and yourself. People will believe anything they see on the internet these days.

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2btravelLea August 21, 2022 - 7:43 pm

Totally agree. I have a relatively brief time in a specific area and am typically going to prioritize seeing the things the area is famous for. I barely cook at home, why on earth would I want to have to do that on vacation? But walking through a grocery store or food market in another country can be very interesting in and of itself.

derek August 22, 2022 - 2:08 pm

I take the “live like a local” as experiencing the good and/or unusual aspects of a local’s life. For example, eating a local specialty dish instead of American fast food. I do realize that McDonald’s has subtle foreign differences so that qualifies if one is interested. I must say that I once enjoyed a nice French restaurant in Paris where the tableclothes were white newsprint and where the waiter wrote the order on the newsprint so that he would know who ordered what. An American couple working in Paris took me there. Maybe they thought the food was good and authentic?

David October 10, 2023 - 3:36 pm

I do like the idea of blending in, to a point. Certainly it’s not a good idea — or a good look, usually — to stand out. I do tend to avoid supporting businesses run by multinational corporations. The world is getting too homogenized, and part of the blame falls on corporations trying to spread the same businesses to as many places as possible, all in the name of profit, without considering local and cultural impacts.

Cookie October 10, 2023 - 9:23 pm

Totally agree. Do the touristy things because that’s why you’re there, but also do the local-ly things, like eating in out of the way restaurants and trying authentic foods from that place. Don’t ever limit yourself to someone else’s ideal vacation. It’s your time, your money, your experience. Do what YOU want.

Pascal October 13, 2023 - 3:15 am

I live half and half in Paris, close to the Eiffel Tower and Sitges, a small resort near Barcelona : of course I feel privileged as…yes, I often try a new restaurant ( preferably a cheap one) or walk along the sea: your vision of locals is quite depressing , maybe because your own routine is mind-numbing ?
On the other hand, I am always surprised to see tourists eating snails or onion soup as if we do that everyday ! Especially with café au lait!

Natale October 13, 2023 - 5:05 am

Agree! But on the other hand, hotels all over the world have the exact same breakfast menu… not following season or local breakfast traditions. Ok, in Asia it is different, you always find an Asian breakfast option. But what I mean is, you always have bacon, sausages, eggs, omelettes and fruits (and always the same fruits – melon, apple, banana, pineapple…) and this is boring! Where are the seasonal and local fruits (ok, I don’t want durian in my hotel). One of the few exceptions I saw was in Spain… in some hotel chains, especially the Spanish ones (NH Hotels for instance), they had “pan con tomate” a staple in Spanish breakfast menu (a special bun, with ground tomatoes, olive oil and sea salt).


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