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Is it weird that you can decamp to a race in Bogota or Boise and not be able to tell the difference? Rhetorical question—yes, it’s weird, but travel is uncertain and uncomfortable enough that many corporate hotel chains’ guests are not always ready to go full native. They value familiarity when they leave home.
But if you want to live la vida loca (can we take a moment to think about Ricky Martin shaking it in Helsinki?), there is a world of ways to sample the local flavor, from full-on staying in the barrio to simply slipping into the local market for a look-see.
Not ready to give up the Hilton? Venture out for a cultural appetizer. In addition to lodging, sites like Airbnb offer an unimaginable array of region-specific experiences, like horseback riding near Madrid with a side of tapas.
Or, look up a cooking school in your destination city—many offer classes where you’ll learn a culinary technique, enjoy the fruits of your labor, and meet some locals in one swell soup.
Even more impromptu? Ask the concierge about places to enjoy indigenous music–blues joints in Mississippi, dan tranh in Vietnam. Venture outside the tourist zone for restaurants, and pick one that’s popular with locals. One dining caveat—if you’re in town for a triathlon, hold o on street food until after the race. Your stomach may not be as eager to embrace the local culture as you are.
An easy way to get the local experience is to do everyday things—shop for a snack at the bodega, browse the farmer’s market, buy shampoo or bandaids, get a haircut (maybe just a trim) or a manicure. You’ll take care of business alongside Balim from the block and gain un filtered insights on how folks live in those parts.
Authentic cultural experience is the driver behind the exploding rent-my-place space—sites like Airbnb, VRBO, and HomeAway. You choose how native you want to go: Stay in a chic studio in Ulaanbaatar or a traditional Mongolian ger. Either way, you’ll be living local, and your host will be a willing wellspring of cultural intel. Booking through these well-established sites provides secure avenues for payment, cancellation, addressing concerns, and personal safety.
Sites like HipCamp are the same owner/host idea with more air and less BnB. There’s a huge range–from tricked-out cabins with Wi-Fi to a field with a spot for your tent—but the local experience comes free with every one. Bear in mind, the experience is much more raw and immersive with outfits like HipCamp, so really let the reviews be your compass.
Hostels were always the answer to anti-corporate lodging and meeting other travelers, but it helped if you were a 19-year-old backpacker with low privacy requirements. No more. Still budget-friendly, culturally authentic, and social, hostels have gotten a haircut and a stylist. My Chic Hostel is a worldwide favorite.
Want a full-immersion experience? Apparently you can even go Couchsurfing with the Taliban in Afghanistan, among other destinations. An experience like that is about as far as you can get from a weekend at the Hilton, but don’t forget that’s the point.
Millions of places to stay around the globe—everything from apartments to castles to treehouses
Hosts open their homes and share their lives with travelers seeking the full- native experience
Over 285,000 campsites, ranches, vineyards, farms, public parks, and other amenities geared toward outdoor adventure
Poshtels, boutique hostels, luxury hostels targeting discriminate travelers