By Cat Perry
Eat Like a Local
What's a "stranger," anymore? The web has made our community the global community, and when it comes to food, the world actually is our oyster (in Spain or our homemade lasagna in Italy or our light and delicious brunch in Amsterdam!). And with new websites like Cookening.com and Eatwith.com, cuisine becomes the language with which your travels unfold.
In this DIY setting you could have a famous local singer cooking for you or a grandma with four daughters. It's easy to sign up, and what's sure to happen is that you'll meet new people over the most relaxed of settings, who may become ready-made temporary guides for the rest of your trip, all for less than a typical dinner out in the states. Food is beauty, community through food is even more beautiful.
Live Like a Local
The joyful wellspring that is Air BNB for super-convenient opportunities to
stay in new places and meet locals allows you to log on anywhere you get a signal on your computer or phone and book a room or apartment or house from a local. Yes Couchsurfing is still amazing, as a sometimes less formal—and
FREE— way to stay in farflung places. And Hostel Rocket
still rocks!! Staying at hostels is still one of the most tried and true ways to get immersed quickly with fellow travelers, who can often introduce you to their local contacts. But there's also
free, fantastic ways to stay and play: TrustedHousesitters.com, which connects travelers who love pets to the homeowners in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, and France who need their pets taken
care of. Love this site!! Sitting assignments range from a few days to an entire year. For a small annual fee of $95US, you can stay in some of the most gorgeous homes in the best destinations
with man's best friend.
Dont forget to check out sites like Mingletrips.com
and Travbuddy.com that will allow you to create the same
built-in travel partner situations beyond where you eat or stay. There are also tons of apps and there's an article by ShermansTravel.com that lists a few really good ones to try while on the road.
Go for a Run
This one is a no brainer, for me—because it's cheap, effective, and goes straight to your brain! It's one of the most inexpensive ways to explore and get some fresh air. If you run into a local (not literally:)), do stop and chat.
I was running along the Northern wind-swept coast of Scotland and stopped to talk to a local and his big, friendly sheep dog. He told me of a nearby art installation, right on the Glenmorangie House property where I was
staying that I must see. Later that day, I ventured out to see this Pictish Stonework replica (originals date back to the 8th century) with fellow travelers to marvel at it as we listened to
ocean waves crashing against shivering cliffs. As an artist and nature-lover, I'd count that as a super-score. Run-run, win-win.
I also once found myself in the Northern Cascade Mountains in an adorable Bavarian town called Leavenworth, with a fantastic little beer hall, about an hour outside of Seattle for my best friend's wedding. We'd arrived quite late from a pretty long flight from New York, so I didnt know what the environment looked like. You know the feeling. So the first morning I wanted to do a bit of exploring, but I didnt have a car, or much time. Stepping outside to stretch, the sun warming my skin, I finally got to see just how absolutely breathtaking the Cascades are. WOW! And by strapping on a pair of sneakers that I'd brought along, I got to connect to a small corner of the wooded paradise that was around me.
Hop on a Train
Not only can you see a lot of the landscape far beyond where you landed, but in a single day you can traverse the best of a region without much hassle of car rentals or flights. Unlike the U.S.,
the rest of the world is powered by train travel, daring you to sample as much local flavor as you can in the time you have. Check connection schedules ahead of time, for sure, but in many
European countries, like Germany (as pictured above, in Berlin), you wont have to wait long. Plus, on a train, every time you blink you'll see
something new up close.
On a trip between Berlin and Stolzenhagen in 2013, which took several hours and two transfers, I got to see more of Germany than I'd ever imagined I'd see in this lifetime. There are so many incredibly scenic train rides to see before you die, but then again any train is pretty much fine by me, even the NYC subway sometimes... :)
Also note: For those traveling in Europe who are considering a Eurail Pass. Just make sure you're traveling enough to make it worth it. If you're more likely going to get to a place and travel outside your destination only once, you may just want to wing it and buy the tickets at the rail station. I was in Aix En Provence once, coming back from a week-long stay there; and I'd bought a Eurail train ticket while still in the US to get there from Paris' Gare du Nord rail station—just to be safe—but I needed a return ticket to Pairs. I was SO SURE I was hearing the ticket agent wrong when she kept saying it was only 6 euros for me and my travelmate to get back to Paris Gare du Nord. Holy freakin moly! I will never buy ahead again unless I know that I'm really train-hopping, and even then, I may still wing it!
Rent a Bike
From Tulum to Seattle to New York to London, bike rentals are tres-cool. But even more than that, those two wheels can provide and immense amount of independence, affordability (brush up on
your language skills to more effectively negotiate a great price, where appropriate), fresh air, and a break from the hustle and bustle if you pedal right to the edges of a town.
I usually hop on public transit while traveling, but sometimes it's just so much easier to rent a bike. Especially in a smaller town, it cuts out the middle man and you choose your own
Grab a Drink and Make New Friends
Pick the most populated pub, lounge, wine bar, or tea house you can find near your favorite neighborhood center with people your age. Keep in mind that if you don't speak the language you may have issues in an older, more traditional bar with sit-down tables! Try to peek in before you go inside and have to hear the record scratch... You'll avoid the embarrassment that I encountered a couple of times in places all over the world, including Berlin—because, apparently, I really know how to pick 'em! But there's a good chance I'll find a good spot by following my eyes and ears. Listen for the beats, then go inside!
I think most people feel like travel has almost a magical force that can push through interior social walls. So don't be shy. You'll be sure to find warmth for being brave and approaching
strangers. And you may just garner some new, great friends that will show you a side of a city that you could never, ever access on your own. Take Berlin for example, unless you make local
friends, that infamous underground side to the city may elude you for days, even weeks! Though worse can surely happen, that's a tragedy!
Go to Concerts or Events to Suit Your Fancy
People often forgo events to instead hit the tourist track of museums, landmarks, and the like. Though these are great way to get a taste for the city, the scenes at a concert or other
non-touristy event will blow you away even more. Local events are an amazing way to get a deeper sense of the country or city or village you're in. And you'll have a memorable time too, even if
you don't understand the language. Chances are, you'll meet new friends, and if you're staying at a hostel, or some other place you can exchange digits or What's App (the best—free!—international
text messaging service), you can hang in the days to come.