What I do to feel less like a tourist

Oct 15, 2019

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It’s not always about where you stay, where you go, how many times you rely on a map or translation app, or what you wear. There’s one thing you can do every time you travel that immediately will make you feel less like a tourist: Do something ordinary. 
I’ve noticed that trips that involve some mundane task can become an adventure when done in a new-to-you location. Whether it’s grocery shopping, visiting a playground or even checking out the 7-11, the little differences can stay with you long after you return to more familiar digs.

Bangkok, Thailand. (Photo by Akabei / Getty Images)
Bangkok, Thailand. (Photo by Akabei/Getty Images)

It’s the reason I’m such a fan of slow travel. I’ll do a whirlwind weekend if I’ve no other choice as a way to explore a destination. However, I really believe to begin to “get” a place, you’ve got to go deeper than the Hyatt Regency club lounge and a big bus tour. I don’t think you need a month to do it, but you do have to be willing to get out of the bubble.

Related: 10 magical places to travel with your family that aren’t a theme park

Algarve salt and sulfur chips

Our summer vacation this year included a number of vacation rentals, including one in Southern Portugal. During our week at the beach house, I became intimately familiar with our local Aldi grocery store. I’m a sucker for trying anything I haven’t tried before, so every trip I ended up with not only bread, milk and toilet paper but also some version of local cuisine. We had some big hits and some definite misses.
In the hit column: a jar of “Flor do Algarve,” which is Portuguese sea salt mixed with aromatic herbs. At 1.39 euro for 200 grams, it was hardly an expensive gamble. The mix includes rosemary, lavender and a number of other spices we can’t identify but that taste amazing on just about everything. We went back for three more jars to take home or to use as gifts.
My big miss this trip made for a great story: fried egg-flavored potato chips. We tried these on a road trip and the sulfuric aroma quickly had us opening the windows. The memory of “fart chips” still causes giggles when we talk about the drive between Faro and Sevilla.

Earn 2x at grocery stores and gas stations. Image by Parinda Yatha / EyeEm / Getty Images.
It’s fun to explore a foreign supermarket. (Image by Parinda Yatha/EyeEm/Getty Images)

Shop and restock

Don’t let me loose in an overseas drugstore unless you have at least an hour to kill. Between the 80 cents per pack of rice paper that does miracles for shiny skin, the spray bottles of water that are plane-perfect at .99 euro in France, or the 3-pound tea tree sticks in England that zap blemishes before they erupt, my bathroom vanity is chock-full of treasures that you can’t find in a souvenir shop. Even items that you can find in the states can sometimes be a fraction of the price overseas, so you may find a great opportunity to restock some items back home while abroad. Mundane? Yes. Grounding? Yes. Still kinda fun? Absolutely.

Ninja warriors and playground chess

I plan a lot of down time when I travel with the kids; it just makes us all happier. On our South American adventure I extended our visit to Vina del Mar, Chile, in part, because of the amazing boardwalk playground. The setup was so much more than teeter totters and swing sets: There was an oceanfront ninja warrior training course, a ropes feature and public chess and checker boards.

child in wheelchair at park
Give your kids the opportunity to meet people their age at a local park. (Photo by fstop 123/Getty Images)

We made our way down to the boardwalk daily and I enjoyed a beachside book while the kids used the equipment alongside local kids. By the end of the week, the kids had each made friends. My then 14-year-old son worked on his chess skills while sharing smoothies and practicing his Spanish with a girl from the neighborhood. My 10-year-old daughter taught a group of younger kids tricks on the monkey bars.

Bottom line

If you’re looking to expand your horizons, look outside the tourist trail. By stepping some into normal life by shopping or visiting with locals in playgrounds, cafes, etc. you’ll get insight into how everyday folks live around the world. You might be surprised by how similar or different it is from your home — either way you’ll walk away with memories and almost certainly feel like you actually experienced where you traveled instead of just witnessing it.
For more inspiration:

Featured photo courtesy of Dana Friedlander.

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