Some travel to put a check in a little box, but many are in it for the immersion experience that can only be gained outside of your own element. Sampling the local cuisine is a good start and a neighborhood hangout is an invaluable resource for living like a local — at least for a few days.
Read up on the area
Chances are you chose your destination because something about it interested you. Before your trip, brush up on local customs and handmade talents. What are they known for? You can also look up local fair trade organizations that make sure items are made by real natives or artisans.
Explore the neighborhood
Get your bearings. One can pretty quickly tell which blocks or streets are directed at tourists who want a cheap shirt and a postcard. Look for more subtle displays and signs. You want to find places that you would shop if you lived there everyday. Be safe but venture a bit out of the main tourist zones.
Find a local pub or restaurant
Sit down with a local glass of beer or wine and strike up a friendly conversation with the server or bartender. Explain that you are here to get some local flavor and are interested in the real history. Most will be pleased that you are making an effort to avoid the obvious shopping.
As a quick example, while honeymooning in Edinburgh, we wanted to take a tour of the old city underground. There were at least a dozen tours that claimed to be the best, but living in a tourist town made us wary of slick brochures and costumed guides. We explained our situation to the friendly pub owner and said we wanted the least “cheesy” tour there was. With a knowing smile he directed us to one company. He was proud of his city and was pleased that we wanted a real experience.
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