They say tourism is a deadly sin. I have to agree. If you’re a youngster interested in travel but are too afraid to fall into the very sin of tourism, here are some tips from a fellow amateur traveler that will hopefully make your experience a more authentic one.
1. Hostels, NOT hotels!
Unless this is what you do in your spare time:
Not only are the most expensive hostels cheaper than the cheapest hotels, but there is also the privilege of being in a place where you can meet young people who share your interest in the city you’re in. And maybe they’ll be willing to exchange stories, information, or tips about the city, which will save you the trouble of worrying about where to go and what to do for the duration of your trip. Many people opt for hotels for privacy and cleanliness, but they don’t realize how this limits their options of meeting possibly interesting people.
It does take a little bit of effort to find a decent hostel, but if you go with an open heart, you’ll definitely end up collecting interesting stories. Plus, a hostel is much more laidback. If you end up in the right place, the staff will treat you as a friend, rather than a customer, and you might even get free drinks!
A simple but often ignored choice to make, walking as much as possible instead of taking the underground will make a huge difference in your overall experience. It’s true that the underground comes in handy when you’re new to the city, but you do need to develop a sense of orientation. It’s not just about sightseeing; if you plan on having an authentic experience, then you might as well act like a native. You can simply do that by walking…a lot. You’ll notice how this is helpful when you actually ask for directions (you inevitably will) and you start to relate to where you are and where you’re going. Your chances of finding a place to have lunch or dinner that is more interesting than McDonald’s (which is basically every place in the city) is much bigger. I, for one, had a burger with spinach in Portugal…that’s right!
And always remember that natives tend to not eat or be in tourist places just like you wouldn’t in your own city. So if you’re looking for a decent conversation over lunch (if you speak the language) or more in-depth info from the city’s own people, you don’t want to be in a touristy place.
3. Listen to the local radio
Basically, do whatever is necessary to familiarize yourself with what’s going on in your travel destination. I find it passive to be in a place without knowing about people’s problems and concerns, their daily routines (which you can probably follow it for the sake of the experience), and/or what’s right and wrong with the city. While some people will reach for the newspapers to skim through the headlines, I’m suggesting listening to the local radio because everybody listens to music. Whether you’re traveling alone or in a group, you will have alone time at some point. Since you already know your favorite playlist inside/out, take some time to listen to the local artists – it’ll help you appreciate the culture so much more.
4. Souvenirs, Maps, and Currency
I can’t think of a better souvenir to retain the memories of your trip than your own map. A map is how you’ll find your way around the city when your smartphone is on roaming or your battery is dead from taking pictures all day. The circles and scribbles of your map that has signs of rain all over it will serve as a reminder of all the places you visited, no extra purchases needed. The same applies for the currency. Save a few coins and/or bills to add to your international collection…and you’ll only have to do that once if you’re touring Western Europe.
5. Food: Cook and then go with the flow
Whether you’re traveling alone or with a group of friends, food will always be a major concern. Of course you will not have all three meals on the run or in coffee shops/restaurants. I’m sure that nobody, from the city’s people to any other normal human, does that (it’s neither healthy nor affordable).
Thus, you’ll have to do some cooking. This goes back to the hostel vs. hotel issue, as hostels often provide their guests with a kitchen. I’d definitely recommend having an in-residence breakfast and then going wherever the natives go for lunchtime (which is exactly when you’d want to go somewhere authentic). This way you save money for lunch AND avoid suffering all morning without breakfast.