How to Vacation Like A Local

I don't know about you, but when I travel, it's always my goal to experience a place the way the locals do. It's far more fun to try to immerse yourself in the culture, rather than simply camping out at the hotel the entire time. My personal preference is always to get beyond the busy tourist attractions to see the real heart of an area. I love finding a charming restaurant that serves the best local foods, discovering a breathtaking hike or view, and wandering through an outdoor market or festival. The most wonderful travel adventures have most often come from the places that are more authentic than commercial. How do you make sure you're living like a local when you travel? A simple trick I like to use is to think about engaging the 5 senses: sight, touch, taste, sound, and smell.

1. See: Visit the surrounding attractions and main points of interest.
When you visit a particular city or area, do a little research to find out what they are known for. Is it a particular industry? What kinds of building or architecture is important to that area? Do they have any historical sites or interesting attractions that are iconic? Explore castles, historical landmarks, ornate churches, and ancient cities that are an important part of their history. I enjoyed hearing stories and traditions from ancient Hawaiian history while exploring sacred sites among the islands, taking in the beautiful architecture in Italy, and learning all about the history of the Olympic Games and International Olympic Committee at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne.

2. Touch: Immerse yourself in the natural environment.
One of the things I love about exploring new places is the opportunity to enjoy new scenery, invest time in nature, or do something outside your comfort zone. While on your trip, take a few hours to go on a hike, get out on the lake, find a secret beach, listen to the birds, or watch the sun rise over the mountains. Another way to immerse yourself in the environment is to attend a local festival or concert. See where the locals go, ask for recommendations, and try it out!

3. Taste: Try the local cuisine.
If you're going to truly experience life the local way, one of the easiest ways is to try the food! Again, do a little research to find out what dishes make up the local cuisine, and be sure to sample some of the fresh ingredients grown in the area. I always look forward to macadamia nuts, fresh seafood, and strawberry papaya in Maui, hearty soups and carefully crafted French cuisine in Quebec, and incredible chocolate and cheese in Switzerland. A fun way to make sure you get the authentic experience is to chat with the server to get the inside scoop on what life there is really like, and if you're feeling brave, ask them to choose your dinner order for you! You might discover a new favorite dish!

4. Hear: Listen to the local or traditional music.
Music is another fantastic way to experience the culture of an area. When traveling internationally, it's so fascinating to listen to a country's traditional music and to learn about how it shaped the lifestyle, people, and their traditions. Music often correlates to significant events in history, and can tell you a lot about the important events or themes in a culture. Don't be afraid to ask for recommendations from locals to find out where you can take in a concert, hear an up and coming artist, or learn more about their musical history.

5. Smell: Take in the aromas of the area.
Scent is a powerful sense; it can evoke memories or experiences from times past. I'm always amazed at how a specific scent can instantly transport you to a certain place or time. For example, the salty sea air brings back memories of swaying palms, crashing waves, and hidden beaches of summer vacation. The smell of eucalyptus immediately takes me back to misty hikes in a eucalyptus forest on the side of a volcano, and fragrant plumeria blossoms remind me of perfumeries on Bermuda. A personal favorite scent of mine is the smell of the heady island air when you land in Hawaii--it is a mix of sweet tropical flora, salted ocean air and bit of cool rain. There's nothing quite like it. On one of my last trips there, I found a candle in a local boutique that managed to create an almost identical replication of that scent. Every time I light it, I'm transported back to that moment. While on your travels, take in the scents of the cuisine, the flowers, locally grown herbs or fresh mountain air.

How do you live like a local on your travels? Have any suggestions for experiencing a culture in new ways? I'd love to hear!

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