Not all long term travelers can be at Instagram worthy destinations all day every day. It is extremely expensive to live like a tourist full-time. Instead, nomadic families can learn to live like a local in major cities around the globe.
I grew up in a major city. Tourists from around the world visited Seattle and went to the top of the Space Needle. I didn’t go up the Space Needle until I was an adult visiting my former hometown as a tourist. This same story holds true to every major city around the globe. People who live in tourist destinations often have never been to the most famous landmarks.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a landmark. Getting the picture perfect frame worthy image of my family at the Eiffel Tower or the pyramids is definitely important to me. But, when it comes to the day to day living, we’d go broke if we lived like tourists.
Landmarks & Elevated Prices
If you have ever been caught needing a snack near a famous landmark, you know how inflated the prices for basic products can be. Paying $6 for a bottle of water or $5 for a bag of chips isn’t exactly a budget friendly way to feed yourself.
However, it’s not just gift shops and snack stands that have increased prices. Every single restaurant within a perimeter around a tourist destination has higher prices than an average local spot. You might think walking two blocks away from Notre Dame is enough to deflate the price, but you’d be wrong.
Wanting to live like a local is as easy as striking up a conversation. You can ask any worker at a photo worthy landmark where they eat on the weekends. More than likely, their favorite spots are at transit stops where tourists have no reason to get off.
In travel circles it’s a subtle flex to offer suggestions of hidden gems. A hidden gem is not something you will read about on TripAdvisor or Yelp. True hidden gems are restaurants where someone tells you about a restaurant with no street presence or in order to get a table you have to know someone who can call ahead for you.
Finding out about hidden gems is such an honor for a nomad. You get to live like a local at restaurants in people’s backyards or up a set of stairs you never would have walked up if you weren’t told to.
Be gracious and be flexible at these true hidden gem restaurants. Often times the menu is not as robust at a tourist friendly restaurant. In fact, there are hidden gems that just serve you what they cooked that day and everyone is eating the same dish.
Now that you’re eating more like a local, you’ll probably want to live like a local in other ways. Making friends with locals will give you insider information to activities, locations, and experiences that internet research just doesn’t exist for.
Sure, you can get a great surfing lesson at the tourist entrance to the beach near your hotel. But, you’ll pay a lot and get a shorter lesson. Locals know that the entrance around the corner has a local instructor who charges way less with longer instruction time.
Locals know what’s up. They know what day of the week to go grocery shopping for the best meat selection, they know how to contact the summer camp before flyers are even posted to register prior to it filling up, and they know who hosts outdoor movie nights in their backyard on the weekends. Meet the locals, because your experience will be greatly enhanced when you live like a local.
One of the many benefits of finding local proprietors is that your money supports the economy more efficiently. Paying a smaller business means that money doesn’t mostly go to the landlord who is already wealthy. The velocity of your money is so much higher when you live like a local.
Staying in your comfort zone of Starbucks and McDonalds misses the point of getting to truly experience a new location. I use those examples because I love me some Starbucks on vacation, but I can’t afford to make that my nomadic everyday habit. We also do enjoy seeing the local changes to McDonalds menus in different countries, but we don’t eat there beyond just trying it the one time.
When living long term in developing countries it is my preference to us my privilege to enhance the lives of locals we surround ourselves with. If you’re going to another country on vacation, ask them what foreign products they would like. We have brought Nike shoes, healthcare products, and food items back for people who don’t normally have access to those things.
Live Like a Local
Even if you can afford to live like a tourist full-time as you live nomadically, in truth, I don’t know why you’d want to. Springing for the VIP tour at a tourist destination, yes totally get it, that can be fun. But when it comes to your day to day life, soak up the local experience in every way you can.
The memories you will treasure will be so much more significant when you immerse yourself in a culture. So many travelers visit a location and insulate themselves from anything that isn’t wrapped with a tourist bow.
Be the person with the best stories because you interacted with the destination like a local.