Today’s savvy travelers want more than ever to be fully immersed in their destination. No more sticking out like a sore thumb, being easily identifiable as a “tourist.” Instead, we aim to soak up culture, indulge in regional cuisine at the same restaurants the locals eat in and learn the traditions of a place outside our daily bubble.
Here are our favorite ways to feel like a local in some of the world’s top travel destinations:
Drinking Beer at Oktoberfest in Munich
Locals know that Oktoberfest actually starts in September. Bonus points if you refer to it as the Wiesn, which roughly translates to “meadow” (the Munich festival takes place on the vast Theresienwiese meadow). Unless you have secured a reservation, you’ll have to arrive as early as 6 AM to line up with the locals who want to snag a table. And once you do get a table, plan to share. They’re all communal and part of the fun is enjoying the day with a bunch of lively strangers! There’s even a name for it – an Oktoberfest acquaintance is a Wiesenbekanntschaft.
Order your beer by liter mass. Don’t ask for a stein. Instead, say, “Eins Mass, Bitta,” which means “One beer, please.” Then, make eye contact with your new Wiesenbekanntschaft, clink your masses together and say, “Prost!”
Dress the part. The local folks will wear their traditional lederhosen and dirndls and you’re free to buy your own – but beware the obviously tacky ones. Go with something below the knee and without any neon colors or shiny bling.
Dressing in a Maiko or Geiko Outfit in Kyoto
In Kyoto, Japan, you can dress like a full-fledged geisha (geiko) for the day and learn about the culture. Studios throughout Kyoto offer to dress and make you up as a geiko or maiko (apprentice geisha). Perhaps the best part is choosing from the countless beautifully patterned silk kimonos. Once your makeup is on, you’ll be dressed in many layers: skirts, undergarments, collars, kimono, obi and more. The final touch is a katsura wig with flower-filled ornamentation. Then, it’s on to the photo shoot!
Once you’re in your geisha-wear, consider a private Kyoto walking tour to immerse yourself in the world of the geisha. You’ll tour Gion, the “Floating World” and famous entertainment district.
Salsa Dancing in Cuba
There are two ways to get your groove on in Cuba – take a few stand-alone salsa dance lessons while you’re there, or head to the nearest salsa club and simply soak up the vibe. However much you want to infuse your getaway with this distinctive style of dance, it’s a fantastic way to really feel the Cuban culture in your body and soul.
Brush up on your salsa or learn it from scratch from a master Cuban dancer. There are countless classes offered throughout the city (we can help you pick the right one). Then, it’s time to head to the dance floor! Join the locals at Casa de la Musica in Havana, where you can watch dancers strutting their stuff to the sounds of talented musicians. Or, attend a salsa show at the renowned Buena Vista Social Club – you may have a seat at a table, but be warned, you’ll be up and groovin’ in no time. Other favorite salsa spots include Jardines del 1830 on Havana’s seafront, and El Sauce, a super authentic salsa venue on the outskirts of town, showcasing top Cuban musicians.
Cooking in Italy
Bring home the secrets of Italian specialties when you take a cooking class during your travels – it’s the longest-lasting souvenir you can buy! There are culinary schools all over Italy, as well as foodie-focused tours, making it easy to learn and eat as the locals do.
Join a small-group cooking class in Roman with a local chef in a home kitchen. You’ll whip up classic homemade ravioli, fettuccine, gnocchi and tiramisu. Then, sit down with your classmates and enjoy the from-scratch meal – with a glass of Italian wine, of course. In Tuscany, you can shop for ingredients at the Lucca market, taste cheese and olive oils, then help prepare a delicious four-course lunch. You’ll learn insightful tricks to recreate the cuisine once you’re home. Or, up the ante and join a one-week immersive food course with Anna Tasca Lanza, the famous Sicilian chef who will guide you through pasta con sarde, bone-in pork roast, lamb and mint stew, cannoli and seasonal sorbets. Buon appetite!
Shopping the Floating Markets of Thailand
Floating markets have long been an essential part of Thai culture. Local people would walk and cycle along the waterways to haggle with neighbors or find work. Over time many of the vendors started moving their goods to the street and many of the floating markets closed. To preserve the market heritage, the country promoted the most famous one of all – Damnoen Saduak – to foreign tourists and the phenomenon flourished once again.
Some markets are more authentic than others, and admittedly, you’ll see more tourists than locals, but it’s an insightful way to immerse yourself in the regional culture. One of the most authentic is Khlong Lat Mayom in Bangkok, where you’ll find vendors floating and lined up on the riverside. Also in Bangkok, you can visit Taling Chan, with an abundance of flowers and snacks for sale – it’s also famous for its seafood. Take a longtail boat ride through the small canals (khlongs) nearby.
In Pattaya, experience the Four Regions Market, the largest manmade floating market in the country. Here, you can shop from Thailand’s four geographical regions, dine on tasty street food and attend regular performances and demonstrations about Thai traditions.
Ready to travel like a local? Let’s chat.
August 4, 2023