Have you ever heard of the expressions "jump in with two feet", or "when in Rome", or how about "if you can't beatem, joinem"? More than often, when traveling, some of the most hidden-in-plain-sight cultural treasures and genuine experiences, fall under the umbrella of these expressions. If you are looking for ways to engage local culture, get around without breaking the bank, enjoy local flavors in the sunshine, or listen to amazing music; here are a few simple ways I've been able to "get both feet wet" in a new place!
1. Use local transportation
If you decide against renting a car, use local transportation. While subway, train, and local transportation can seem daunting and cumbersome, it is usually MUCH cheaper than always hiring a taxi or a driver. Also this is a great way to encounter locals and get in some great people watching!!! Amsterdam is a great city to learn how to navigate tram and train systems. Most people in Amsterdam speak English, so if you get on the wrong tram or have a question before hopping on, they are very helpful in getting you to your destination. San Francisco is also a great city to get acquainted with trams and trolleys without being intimidated. And you’ll find in most cities, using buses and trams are actually much faster than jumping in a cab. I actually met a musician on a trolley in New Orleans and ended up with free tickets to an otherwise very expensive jazz combo!
2. Find local music
Listening to local music is another great way to shake hands with a new place. Not only is it a window into local culture, but it can often be a unique, relaxing addition to your trip. In places like New Orleans and Paris you don’t have to venture far to find amazing music and better yet, it’s often FREE! I actually listened to one of the best classical guitar players and violinist I’ve ever heard, in a subway tunnel in Paris. I’ve also ran into multiple, famous jazz musicians in New Orleans, by simply walking the streets of the French Quarter and being willing to go into a small basement venue or garden behind a restaurant.
3. Engage with the locals
Don’t be afraid to talk with locals, even if you don’t speak their language very well. In most places, if you attempt to speak the local language, they will honor your effort and try to engage in a meaningful conversation with you. A vast amount of information can be obtained from even a one-minute conversation with a local on the street or in a train car. On my way to Munchen, Germany, I met a German couple in my train car that offered me a place to stay during Oktoberfest; else I would have been sleeping in the train station. I ended up spending my entire Oktoberfest weekend with them, sharing in Bavarian traditions, meals, and beer. We’ve remained friends to this day.
4. Go to a local produce, fish, or clothes market
This is a HUGE window into a local culture—it’s kind of like a free museum. What people eat, where it comes from, and what it looks like, tells you so much about the place you are in. Pick up items you’ve never tried, even if you can’t read the ingredients on the box! In St. Vincent, I make a weekly visit to my “fruit/veggie lady” that keeps me stocked in the freshest, organic, local vegetables and fruits of the season. I pay half what I would pay in the grocery store, have twice as many options, get the opportunity to support a local farmer, and I don’t have to worry about pesticides or preservatives. I also enjoy people watching at the market!
5. Sit in the town square or park
Go where the locals go, take a picnic lunch, a bottle of wine, a kite, book, etc. and spend time doing what the locals do. This is a relaxing, inexpensive way, to people watch, rest, read about the place you are in while being in it; or perhaps play a pick-up game of frisbee or soccer. Some of my most fond memories of travel are lying on a blanket with a bottle of wine and a book in Paris; playing soccer at the community soccer field in Honduras; flying kites with locals in a city park in Poland; and walking through the gardens of St. Stephen’s Park in Dublin.
What have been some of your most unexpected great memories from trips? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!