How to be a Local Tourist

The Local Tourist has a simple goal: we want you to experience the fascination of a tourist while feeling the comfort of the local, no matter where you are.

The Local Tourist began many, many, MANY years ago as a guide to Chicago.

And not just to Chicago, but a guide to a specific neighborhood.

I started a hyper-local site because after I moved to the city, I wanted to take every opportunity to discover what was in my own “back yard.” I was a tourist, yet also a local. 

Chicago’s a major tourist destination, so on the surface, it’s easy and exciting to find things to do. It is easy, but precisely because of that complacency is common.

I also learned that, while not every place is the booming metropolis that is the Windy City, all destinations have something to share. From tiny towns like Tonopah, Nevada, and Charles City, Iowa, to college communities like West Lafayette/Lafayette, Indiana, you can be a “Local Tourist” wherever you go.

When you’re local it’s easy to fall into a rut and do the same things over and over. When you’re a tourist, it’s easy to visit the places that every other tourist is visiting, and when you leave you feel like you haven’t really seen the place at all.

If you want to be a Local Tourist, if you want to explore with intention, whether you’re at home or somewhere else, we’re here to help.

What is a Local Tourist?

  • A Local Tourist is someone who wants to go beyond the tourist traps…but knows that there are reasons those attractions are so popular.
  • A Local Tourist wants to eat and drink local, shop at local boutiques, listen to local bands, view local art. 
  • Local Tourists are not content to do the same ol’ same ol’; they want to get out and explore, to see new places and meet new people. 
  • A Local Tourist wants to truly experience what is real and authentic, and to support those that create with passion and integrity.
  • A Local Tourist wants to find what is unique about a place and what makes it worth visiting and worth experiencing.

Finally, a Local Tourist knows that there are no rules – if you want to check out the cheesiest, most tourist-y attraction there is, then do it, by golly! It’s your free time. We just want to help you enjoy it as much as possible.

To achieve that goal, here are 5 tips on how to travel like a local, and 5 tips on how to be a tourist in your own home.

Always ask the locals for suggestions on where to go and things to do
Always ask the locals for suggestions on where to go and things to do

How to travel like a local

It doesn’t matter where you are, if you use these tips you can explore anywhere with the comfort of the local. 

1. Ask the professionals

Start your exploration by finding out what the professionals suggest. As you’re planning your visit search for the local Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB).

Usually, if you search “Visit {insert destination here}” you can find their website. Browse their recommendations and make notes of which ones appeal to you.

You’ll also want to follow them on whatever social media channels you use. They’ll often have an online version of their printed visitors guide, and if you’re planning far enough in advance you can request to have one mailed to you.

One of my favorite places to connect with local visitors bureaus is at the Travel and Adventure Show.

Related: get a free ticket to the Los Angeles Travel and Adventure Show.

2. Check Local Media

Explore the websites of your destination’s newspaper, radio and TV stations, and print and online magazines. These will have openings, closings, reviews, news, and upcoming events.

3. Talk to the locals

Before you arrive at your destination, seek out local bloggers and social media influencers. To find local sites, search {destination} + blog, and you can add whatever keywords interest you.

You can also ask those CVBs if they have any recommendations of people to follow.

Once you’re there, ask the people you interact with – concierges, taxi/ride-sharing drivers, cashiers, etc. – where they go to lunch, or where their favorite dive bar is, or what spot they love for great music.

If you build some flexibility into your visit, you can end up where the real locals go. 

4. Shop Local

Instead of getting your caffeine fix at a national chain, find the nearest locally-owned coffee shop.

When you’re planning dinner, skip the places you can find anywhere else and patronize the restaurant that has just one location.

Forget the big box store for any last-minute sundries; pick them up at the family-owned market. 

5. Take public transportation

Using an unfamiliar public transportation system can be intimidating, but it can show you a side of the city you wouldn’t see any other way. Before you go check out the local transit system’s website. You should be able to find fares, routes, and tips on how to get around.

This isn’t an option everywhere, of course. This is another area where the CVBs will come in handy.

How to be a Tourist in your own city

Take a tour to learn more about your hometown
Take a tour to learn more about your hometown

Aren’t you lucky – you actually live in a place that people pay to visit! They make a special trip to see what you have access to every day.

It’s that familiarity, though, that makes you forget all about what makes it unique, prompts you to look right past it, or even worse, proclaim that you’ll never go because there are too many tourists.

With these five tips on exploring your own city, you can experience the fascination of a tourist in your home town.

1. Take a tour

Dig a little deeper into your city’s past, its architecture, and what sets it apart from other cities with a tour.

Led by experts who are paid to know more than you do, you’re pretty much guaranteed to learn something new about where you live.

Almost every city has professional tours of some type, whether they’re trolley tours, hop-on hop-off tours, food tours, or bicycle tours.

2. Check out the Visitors Center

Just because you’re a local doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check out the Visitors Center. These places are staffed by people, often volunteers, who know so much about your home they’re tasked with sharing the best with anyone who visits.

A Visitors Center’s sole purpose is to help people navigate everything your city has to offer, so why not let them help you?

3. Take a Staycation

If you want to really feel like a tourist in your hometown, get a room. By staying in a hotel you can immerse yourself in the action, just like a tourist.

Ask the concierge and the bellhop where they go for dining and entertainment, and you’ll probably get some suggestions you never would have considered.

4. Go somewhere new to you

Humans are creatures of habit. Why not break out of the routine by visiting someplace new? Go to an entirely different part of town and walk the streets, absorbing all of the new sights and sounds.

For example, if you live in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago, go to Pilsen or Hyde Park for a day. If your home is Little Italy in San Diego, take a tour of Ocean Beach. Get out of your comfort zone!

5. Visit a tourist attraction

There’s a reason Navy Pier and Millennium Park are the most popular tourist attractions in Chicago. Likewise, there’s a reason Balboa Park is on every San Diego visitor’s itinerary.

The most popular tourist attractions are popular for a reason. Make it a challenge to find out why. You don’t even have to wait for an out-of-town visitor!

The whole idea behind The Local Tourist is to explore with intention and have fun. Whether that means traveling like a local or being a tourist in your own city, we hope these tips will help you be a Local Tourist no matter where you are!

10 Ways to be a Local Tourist
10 ways to be a Local Tourist, no matter where you are
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