Here’s How To Make All Of Your Trips The Epitome Of Authentic
Technology has completely shifted the way we travel. We used to walk into a place with expectations set by guidebooks and Hollywood-glossy depictions in movies, and we’d be limited to meeting the odd local also drinking a coffee in the cafe down the road from our hotel. But these days, we can Instagram-stalk everything from accommodations to the best coffee shop in the entire city to the most creative street art photo spot. And thanks to some fun tech innovations, there are ways to pre-plan local experiences, such as sampling authentic food and getting an inside peek at what the cool kids do for fun in our favorite travel destinations.
We’re all chasing authentic adventures. We want a chance to live in locals’ shoes for a minute (or a week). Arguments on the definition of “authentic” aside, the best travel moments occur when you feel a part of something completely foreign and amazing. Here’s how to make that happen.
Get a local guide.
While we’re frequent users of the free walking tours common to most popular tourist destinations, you can up your sidewalk tour game by taking a wander with a resident of the city you’re visiting. The best free option is the Global Greeter Network. It’s a volunteer-based system where you get matched with a new pal in a new city who will show you around. If you like parks, you can request someone who knows all the ins and outs of that city’s green spaces. If you’re super into shopping, the network can find you a fellow fashion fan to show you the best stores.
If you’re willing to pay (and even the free walking tours should cost you a little bit in the form of a tip), Tours By Locals can arrange vetted tours with people excited to give you a fully personalized look at your destination. Airbnb Experiences aims for a similar thing. Instead of renting out someone’s apartment in a destination city, you join an “experience.” It could be anything from a walking tour to an inside look at a craftsperson’s studio and artwork — and price ranges vary from experience to experience, depending on the activity and tour guide you choose.
Eat a real local meal.
You already know that any place with an English menu in a non-English speaking country is probably not the most authentic food you can get in a city. But after you’ve eaten at all the hidden local gem restaurants on your list, you can also share a home-cooked meal with new local friends.
There multiple options for arranging a meal abroad. There’s EatWith, a meal app that works a lot like Airbnb. You can search for different opportunities in different destinations around the world, from pasta-making in Florence to exploring tapas in Barcelona, and request to book a meal with hosts. They can accept you into the dinner party and then you show up on the day, to their home, and enjoy some great home-cooked dishes.
There’s also Meal Sharing, a website with a similar concept to EatWith. Except you might find Tanzanian food in Chicago or French cooking on a sailboat in New York. And before you start worrying that you are required to eat French food in France or only pizza and bagels in New York, remember how varied your food tastes are at home. Why should that be any different while traveling? If you only eat pizza and bagels in New York, you’re going to miss out on the city’s melting pot of food cultures — just like the rest of the world’s mixture of food traditions.
Do your Insta research.
If there’s one piece of digital technology that has fundamentally changed the travel game, it’s Instagram. The photo app’s wanderlust-filled, endless scroll of travel influencers and bloggers, digital nomads and van-lifers transformed travel from a personal journey with some snapshots you’d show to a select few patient and curious friends upon returning home to a constant pressure to detail your travels in Instagram stories and glossily perfect photographs of your adventures. We’ll admit to having a love-hate relationship with the travel ‘gram. But when used in certain ways (don’t travel just for the likes, friends), it’s unbeatable in planning some travel ventures.
One of our go-to travel moves is to check the Instagram geotags of every spot on our travel list. The geotags are the location feature in a post. You can click on it right below the username in any photo posted on Insta. Scroll past the obviously photoshopped pics of the big destinations and you’ll be able to see the normal crowd that hangs out in whatever place you’re vetting — and a more realistic representation than a destination, restaurant or hotel’s professional account.
Now, geotagging also gets a bad rep for blowing up secret spots that were previously pristine hideaways for those in the know. So if you end up learning about some secret hideouts, take your initiation into the local club seriously and be a good guest. Leave nothing but footprints (no trash, no empty beer bottles) and, if you take photos, geotag smartly. If you think swarms of ‘grammers coming in just to pose with a cool background might ruin a place, it’s okay to keep it to yourself. If you want to spread the word about the uber-cool underground club you found, sing loud and proud. Realistically, you alone can’t control the flow of traffic, but you can be one of the good tourists who does show up to those local favorite spots as a welcome addition instead of a pest. Just act how you’d like an out-of-towner to act in your favorite spot at home.