Travelling as a local, not a tourist

Four months ago I arrived in Barcelona with the mindset of a tourist. I’d done my research on what to see and do, bought my Lonely Planet handbook and packed my ultimate-European-backpacker backpack full of essentials.

Then I was introduced to Stoke Travel.

A bunch of young, sprightly and culturally-diverse (although mostly Aussie) travellers who enjoy the finer things in life, like partying on boats and getting sloshed on unlimited beer and sangria. They pride themselves on seeing places that are “off the beaten track” and doing things that your every-day tourist wouldn’t generally do.

Within a week of working for Stoke I had cycled the city with a beer in each hand, eaten 1 euro tapas from a hidden alleyway bar, drunk 60 cent cans of beer on a majestic patch of grass in front of the marina – dubbed by stokies as the grassy knoll – and carried 50 cent cartons of vino up a hill to one of the best 360 views of Barcelona, where we sat for hours drinking said wine before stumbling back down again.

I started looking at things from a different perspective, taking photos of sunsets and rivers instead of the key tourist attractions, and enjoying the smaller aspects of travel.

I also found myself cringing every time I heard someone speaking blatant English to one of the locals. E.g. I walked into my local coffee shop one day, ready to order my cafe con leche de soja, por favor and overheard a couple in front speaking ever-so-slowly to the man behind the counter caan-we-have-two-coffeees-with-milk-and-sugar, then proceeding to mutter under their breath about needing to find somewhere with staff who spoke better English…

And we wonder why some locals hate tourists.

Graffiti near Port Vell in Barcelona.

Obviously, when you live and work somewhere for a certain amount of time, the tourist-to-local transition is a much smoother process. You’ll inevitably pick up a few words of local lingo off the streets and your salsa moves will improve each time you hit up the local club. But it’s still very much possible to travel like a local, even when just passing through.

Here’s how to avoid the tourist stigma and create a better travel experience for yourself while doing so…

  1. Learn a few words – it’s not hard. Jump on a free language app and familiarise yourself with how to say hello, please, thankyou, goodbye, coffee and any other simple food terms you think you’ll need.
  2. Buy food from the local markets or corner stores rather than dining at the pricey tourist eateries every night – obviously it’s nice to treat yourself but this doesn’t need to be an every night practice. Save your pennies and spend them on the local burlesque show instead 😉
  3. Don’t plan every day – if you’re only in a certain city for a few days you’ll obviously want to have a few activities planned but if you can, give yourself a day to just wander. Stroll the streets with a fresh mind and perspective and you never know what you might stumble across.
  4. Do as the locals do – tan topless on the beaches (if appropriate), catch trains/trams/buses instead of taxis, hire a bike and cycle the city, shop at the local boutique stores rather than the corporate giants situated in prime tourist areas, do some research and guide yourself up the mountain or through the forest or around the city.

They may seem like small things but trust me, they really make a difference. Living in Barcelona and travelling Europe with the Stoke Travel team may have been one heck of a crazy ride, but if anything, it made me realise there’s a whole lot more to travelling than checking each city’s hottest sights off the bucket list.

When it comes down to the crunch, who cares if you never got to climb the eiffel tower or couldn’t afford to go inside the caves in Budapest? As long as you soaked up a bit of the culture, tasted a few local treats and made lasting memories, that’s all that really matters.



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