When you can make money without being tied down to a particular office in a particular city, it opens you up to a new world of travel opportunities. From the rich landscapes and cultures of South America to the vibrant history and cityscapes of Europe, nomads are free to explore any part of the world as long as they have the income to cover travel and living expenses.
But simply visiting somewhere doesn't mean that you've automatically gained an understanding of what it's like to truly live there. If you're not intentional about the way you travel, you can easily end up out of touch, living a life of hotels, resorts, and tourist traps that are removed from the culture and history of the area you're visiting. Worse yet, failing to understand and respect local customs can have unintended consequences for both you and the locals. So we've put together a list of ways that you can get yourself more ingrained in the area you're visiting so as to get the most out of your experiences abroad.
While the label "Tourist" is often used to describe the type of traveler that wants all of the Instagram photos with none of the culture, taking time in your trip to visit the 'touristy' points of interest is a great way to learn the history and culture of your host country. Whether it's the 1500-year-old Byzantine-built Hagia Sofia or the Ancient Aztec ruins of Templo Mayor, these sites will breathe cultural and historical context into the veins of any visitor.
It sounds a little strange, but visiting a barbershop or hair salon is a great way of peeling back some layers and getting a deeper feel for what the local culture is like. Not only will you get a feel for what the experience of getting a haircut is like for the locals, but if you're lucky, you'll also get a glimpse into the daily lives of the staff you're being helped by. When I was in Mexico City, for example, the stylist that cut my hair told me about her life in Mexico, some of the challenges she experienced, what she liked, and how she got by.
There are so many great reasons why you really should take some time out of your busy travel itinerary to relax at a local park. Firstly, you'll have an opportunity to connect with the environment of the area you're visiting, getting a better feel for the wildlife and vegetation of your host country. Second, while traveling is often stressful and taxing on the body, visiting a park is a great way to slow down, destress, and recharge. Moreover, parks can be great places to connect with others, which ingratiates you more with the culture.
One of the best, but admittedly hardest things to do when traveling is to get out of your social comfort zone and interact as much as possible with the locals. Even for extroverts, fighting the temptation to say as little as possible can be a challenge at times, but making the effort to connect with a local and go beyond the usual small talk pays in dividends as locals will often know the best places to visit as well as the places to avoid.
One way to connect with locals is by striking up a conversation with the staff of the businesses you're visiting. Cashiers, servers, bartenders, drivers, and more are all generally very happy to connect with travelers and share their advice and perspective. Another great way of meeting locals is through Facebook groups. Just about every country has a Digital Nomad or tourist group from which you can connect with both local guides and experienced travelers.
It's hard to imagine getting a glimpse into the day-to-day life of a local community without knowing where they go to meet their regular shopping needs. Whether it's a local bodega on the way home, an outdoor market on the weekends, or a regional supermarket, every country has its own local norms when it comes to shopping.
Visiting these local shopping spaces is an opportunity to get a glimpse into real life in a place you're visiting. It's not just about seeing what local people buy, but how they shop, how they navigate their way through the store, and what is important to them in their shopping experience. Doesn't it feel like these things are different everywhere you go?
Eating with a local is hands down the best thing you can do to get acquainted with the local cuisine of your new host country. That's because locals generally know the best restaurants to eat at, the best dishes to choose from, and the local eating etiquette you should be following. Eating with a local is also a great way to get more ingrained in the community and get to know someone on a more personal level.
While being a nomad is generally great for the nomad, there's often a dark side of nomadism that's not always talked about. Therefore, it's important to be respectful of the communities in which you're visiting and always be mindful of how your presence and actions could affect these communities. Tipping unusually high by local standards, for example, may sound generous but can affect the local tipping expectations, and in turn the cost of living. Therefore, I always recommend learning the customs as soon as possible so that you can have a positive impact on the places you visit.
One of the things that I love the most about traveling and 'living like a local' is that it highlights how at the end of the day, no matter what part of the world you live in, we all basically want the same things. Even if some of the details may differ, ultimately, we all love a nice home-cooked meal, a cozy place to sleep, and a few creature comforts.
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