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Travel Like A Local? or Travel Like a Tourist?

Exploring Montreal on the 'Biki' bike taxi system. A perfect combo of being local and being a tourist.

Exploring Montreal on the ‘Bixi’ bike + taxi system. A perfect combo of being local and being a tourist.

As perpetual nomads, with intentional blurry lines between ‘every day life’ and ‘travel’ – we’re always experiencing new places while technically living there too.

But we’re not quite tourists, and we’re not quite locals.

Our lives are often confused for being in perpetual vacation mode, a topic we talked about on camera last week.

Today, I wanted to take that topic in a little bit of a different direction.

And that’s how we strive to live locally
while having our eyes wide open like a tourist.

Traveling Like a Local

Often we hear the phrase ‘Travel Like a Local‘ tossed out amongst our community, in effort to set us nomads apart from vacationing tourists. Heck, we’ve even said it a few times ourselves.

But what does traveling like a local really mean?

In my recollection of being ‘a local’ (granted, it’s been a really long time now), and having hung out with many locals in our travels, we often find:

  • Embracing local prices on avocados on a regular every day grocery store stop.

    Embracing local prices on avocados on a regular every day grocery store stop.

    ‘Local’ stuff can have a heavy dose of daily routines & chores. Sure, we need to do our grocery shopping and laundry too, but we’re not all that interested in attending homeowners meetings, doing yard maintenance and sitting in traffic. That’s the part we intentionally left behind when we hit the road.

  • Locals can become complacent to what is truly unique and magical about the place they’ve chosen to live. Whether it’s the beauty of the landscape, wildlife spottings or the unique history.
    • It's a fricken moose. In the wild.

      It’s a fricken moose. In the wild. Yeah, I’m taking a picture.

      Example: When we were touring Alaska last summer, one of our local hosts chuckled at all of us visitors for being gah-gah over seeing a moose in the wild.

      Oh, we see those ALL the time.

      (Of course, I’m the type that still gets excited seeing a squirrel… but I think seeing moose in the wild is pretty darn awesome on most anyone’s scale.)

  • When we meet up with locals in a new town, it’s not uncommon for them to drag us off 30-45 minutes across town to experience a favorite restaurant or attraction. Sure, that may be a regular thing for locals to do to escape their daily routine. But for us nomads? Local is what is right around this spot we just arrived to. We’re not always excited for doing more travel once we’re at our destination.
Nomad dilemma - is it still eating local if we consume our farmer's market purchases in the next state over?

Nomad dilemma – is it still eating local if we consume our farmer’s market purchases in the next state over?

We love eating at locally owned restaurants, as opposed to big national chains. We love supporting local shops, shopping local farmer’s markets and supporting small businesses in general.

We enjoy strolling through the city on foot or bike and just absorbing in the nuances of a city.

We enjoy taking recommendations for things to do and see from those who live in the area based on where they might take their visitors.

We tend to find locals are thrilled to have visitors stop in, because it gives them a chance to see their locale through new eyes.

St. Louis Arch. Tourist Attraction? National Monument? Don't care, we're loving it.

St. Louis Arch. Tourist Attraction? National Monument? Doesn’t matter – we loved exploring it with loved ones.

We serve as an excuse for them to take a little ‘Staycation‘ – practicing being tourists in their own city. Which is important for any local, I think, to keep a fresh perspective on the place they live.

And perhaps that is what nomad’s really mean…  ‘Travel Like a Local… on Staycation‘.

But unless we put down roots in a place for the long term, us nomads will NEVER truly be locals in the places we pass through. We come in with wide open eyes, and we leave before establishing routines and growing complacent to what is around us.

Once the grocery store clerk knows our typical buying habits, that’s generally our prompt to exit stage west.

Traveling Like a Tourist

We're near a glacier. Heck yeah, we're taking an 'USie'.

We’re near a glacier. Heck yeah, we’re taking an ‘USie’.

Oh, we totally get why ‘Travel like a Local’ is a distinction nomads like to make. Before we hit the road, we took vacations too.

And even when technically now on vacation, we get mistook for being ‘local’ while only having been in town for a couple hours. We just soak in new places differently with our honed in nomadic skillsets.

Tourists generally have no pretense of being locals. They are truly strangers in a strange land.

No hesitation to whip out the camera and really relish the experience they are having. No shame in being on a group organized tour and oogling over the sites. After all, they planned for, paid for and took the time to be HERE.

There’s a lot us nomads can remember in that – the joy of discovery. The reason we’re out here. That the photos last longer than the experience. And sometimes organized tours save a lot of planning & logistics.

Destination locations go to great efforts to guide tourists to where they want them – to the attractions, the gift shops, the photo op, the restaurants and generally places they can leave their money behind in exchange for experiences.

The places where the tourists stay out of the way of the locals (at least those not working in the tourism industry).

If there's a giant fiddle right on the cruise dock, don't be ashamed to take a photo. Yeah, it's touristy then.. but now? It's a precious memory.

If there’s a giant fiddle right on the cruise dock, don’t be ashamed to take a photo. Yeah, it’s touristy then.. but now? It’s a precious memory.

As an example, at every port we got off at on our recent Canadian cruise – we’d typically be greeted by conveniently placed rows of vendors, costumed local performers and plenty of opportunities to take guided tours.

What was reachable on foot, was typically more of the same – shops, after shops, after shops – intermixed with a couple historical buildings.

There’s nothing at all wrong with this, and heck – we enjoyed some of it.

But while our shipmates were doing organized shore excursions – we were exploring on self-guided walking tours, renting cars or exploring by local public transit.

There’s only so many museums, amusement parks, guided tours and tourist traps we can enjoy. And we certainly can’t shop much – since our home is an RV, we don’t have room for souvenirs.

While we may be visiting a location, just like tourists are, our visits are also part of our every day life. We’re not taking time off of work, daily chores and our budgets just to explore our current locale.

Instead, our exploring is done during our ‘off time’ (ie. that time in our stationary lives we used to take a yoga class or go to the movies with friends).

Traveling Like a Nomad

So if we’re not tourists, sticking to the beaten path. And we’re not locals, caught up in every day complacency.

Just how do nomads experience the places we visit?

I think, we get the best of both worlds!

Embracing our every day (ie. eating) with enjoying the local view.

Embracing our every day (ie. eating a home cooked meal) while enjoying a new local view.

We have the tourist advantage of seeing a place with outsider’s eyes. Everything is new to us (well, maybe not all the identical big box stores).

We’re very aware of the differing styles of food, local dialects, unique history, landscapes, traffic patterns, general friendliness and regional trees, flowers & wildlife.

All the things that make an area what it is. We’re not complacent to it, as the last dozen or so places we recently lived had their own unique vibe.

It would be a shame to not embrace this unique perspective by trying to blend in like a local by mostly ignoring or dismissing these wonderful attributes.

We explore, we visit monuments, we take lots of ‘vacationy’ photos’, pay admission fees and we learn about what is around us.

Yup. We're dorks. We're nomads. We're in love. No apologies offered..

Yup. We’re dorks. We’re nomads. We’re in love. No apologies offered..

But unlike a tourist we’re not focused on only touring, it’s not our temporary full time pursuit going from monument to hike to museum.

When we’re in an area, we’re also navigating the city a bit like a local to attend to daily life things  – groceries, fixing stuff, doctor’s visits, haircuts, eating out, exercise and spending time with friends & family.

It’s all about balance.

We’re not traveling like tourists or locals.

We travel like… Nomads.

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29 Comments - Still Plenty of Room for Yours!

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  1. I like following you guys as you impart how it is for you, doing your thing as full timers. You give plenty of detailed info and advice. We are in the planning (just looking) stage, preparing to buy an RV and hit the road. By following you and others, we are getting a small glimpse of what it will be like and what we need to be thinking about.

    So far I mostly see two types of RVers. The full timers and the folks that head out for yearly vacations and such. Not too much info on our planned lifestyle. I am retired and my wife does our sons books for his store. We have a house in Connecticut and our three sons live in the same town with their family’s.

    Our plan and lifestyle is to hit the road for short shakedown trips on the east coast. Then expand our trips. Our lifetime dream has been to see our country at our pace. My wife can do the books from the road, so we will head out with “No Particular Place To Go” as the song goes. We will stay out as long as we feel like, in a place for as long as we feel like, returning to our house and family for a while. Then heading out again. Initially no destination per say or timeframe.

    I don’t think we would be considered full timers. Not vacationers. Not sure what our “Style” would be called. But you know what…. Who cares?

  2. Our first year on the road, we had a rule that we could not eat at chain restaurants or repeat restaurants while at a location. We normally stay one month to three months at one location. After four years on the road, we do allow ourselves to eat at chain restaurants but we try out the local places first. If we love a place, we may repeat. Trip Advisor is my favorite app for exploring a new area.

  3. Lol! Eating local in the next state. You really tell it well. I have been guilty of not ever seeing some of the local sights when I was growing up in SoCal. Now when I am out there, I try and see something new. This last time it was a new grandson. But we’ll get back to the sights.

  4. Great post and particularly relevant to us as we are work kamping in a small town in Alaska for the summer. I love experiencing a place as a sort of local, but also love the touristy things as well. As you said we really have the best of both worlds.

  5. Really nice post….so many good points, thanks for sharing! Luckily as RVers, we can choose to enjoy and create our own experiences!

  6. It’s good to discover I’m not the only one interested in finding the local farmers market when traveling. I’ve already made note of several local markets near where we’ll be staying in Maine this summer.

    • We love it when they find us 🙂 The picture in this post was actually a farmer’s market that was setup at our campground this week. We only found out about it by driving by, on the way to the grocery store, no less.

  7. Well some locals might not even have a clue. Years ago my wife worked for the Visitor/Convention Bureau in Niagara Falls. If you’ve been there the town really isn’t very big. She met several locals who in their 50+ years living there had never been to the falls. When asked what they did with visitors that came to visit them they said they pointed them towards the mist and to have a good time 🙂

    • It always perplexes me when we encounter locals who haven’t gotten out to see the main attractions in the area. I mean, I don’t expect them to frequent them, but never having seen them?

  8. Plus, visitors can help locals learn about their own town. Years ago my Dad wanted to take my stepmom to a local mall which puzzled me. It turns out it was the first enclosed, 2-story mall in the nation. I would never have known that had they not visited us.

  9. One of our favorite places to go local is to find a book store, either used books or new books (or both) but NOT a chain store. Usually the attendant is happy to give a heads up on something interesting in the area, and will have time for a chat about what is going on in town. We have found some great events from bookstore info, and usually not heavily advertised elsewhere. I have a collection of bookstore bookmarks from all over the US and Canada. Nice reminders of where we have been.

    • What a great way to quickly get up to speed in a new location. I think that’s one reason we don’t mind laundromats so much either, is we often get tips on things going on that we might not have heard about otherwise.

      • Yes, the laundromat was a good place for us, as well. If there were no locals to talk to, it made a great stop for cleaning the RV while we waited for our clothes.

  10. As fellow nomads, we try to do the same. You’ve done a great job of summing up the distinctions between local and tourist, and pointing out how that they each have their advantages at times. Great article!

  11. I really enjoy reading your insightful posts. I love all of the photos because they are authentically you: hat, braids, etc. You are kindly sharing your personal photos with us. Please don’t ever apologize for being you!
    You are the best you.
    We all read your posts because of the real you, warts and all!!! We don’t want or need to see a fictional you. If we wanted fiction and perfection we would watch TV.
    So, keep showing us the real you! We love it! We wish we could be out on the road. Since we can’t, reading your posts is the next best thing.
    Happy Nomading!!!!

  12. Thanks for this great article. I am always telling people to Live Like The Locals and not like tourist thanks to hearing it said in some of your prior articles and videos and a lot of the time I give credit to hearing it from TechNomadia. I feel that piece of advise has saved me a lot of money. I still do some of the tourist stuff but at a relaxed pace. I am not always on the go trying to see all and do all in a short time span. If I don’t get to see and do all the things I want in an area during a visit oh well, those things will be there on a return trip. I went from not knowing how I would be able to finance my fulltime lifestyle to being able to save money each month. That extra savings will be used for some upgrades I want and to allow me to travel to some locations I never planned on. I think that my trying to live like the locals from the way that I have looked at it up to this point has kept me out of the constant vacation mode. Being an introvert and not doing crowds very well has been a big help to me also. I tend to not go to or do things with large crowds.

    • So glad you’ve been able to find a balance that works for you… we love that this lifestyle allows us to drift between the world of vacation mode, and embracing being local for a bit.

  13. I knew I was blending in when one day I was photographing a street-cast local with his big rig (18-wheeler). A lady came up and asked me for my business card. The only ones I had showed my old Kansas City location.

    “Oh, I’ve seen you at the grocery store. I thought you were from around here. I wanted to book you for my daughter’s senior portraits.” I told her that if she and her daughter wanted to meet us in Utah this summer, I would give the portrait experience of a lifetime, but if she meant here, probably not.

    We gladly absorb the local vibe, and are constantly amazed at how some folks don’t seem to know where they are, what they’re eating, who they’re sitting next to, or what the area has to offer those who are curious and open to new experiences. This is, in part, the effect that comes with leaving bricks and mortar behind. Home is where we are, and though the comforts of our fifth-wheel remain the same, the view out the window is constantly changing.

    We, like you, are most fortunate.

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