As the saying goes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Many dream of gallivanting around a destination as knowledgeable and wily as a local person. We search online for tidbits that we hope help us to explore like a local in specific places but we’re never certain if we’re getting the real deal.

Of course if you have local contacts and friends there, you’re in the enviable position of having insider know-how. But what about those travellers or new expats who don’t have such contacts?

This article will give you useful strategies to explore like a local in whatever destination you set foot in. Rather than speculating whether a blog post on a specific country written by a foreigner actually is local knowledge, you’ll be able to extract it yourself. In other words, this will teach you how to fish so that you no longer have to rely on any fish you’re given.

Why explore like a local? – The benefits

If you’re travelling, you might be wondering if it’s even worth the effort to explore like a local. Shouldn’t we just accept a standard trip like all other foreigners?

The reality is there’s a push towards ‘experiential travel’—travel that involves meaningfully engaging with the local culture, environment, history and of course, people. Modern travellers and nomads seek experiences beyond the ‘rest and recuperation’ that defined other eras of tourism.

First of all, wanting to explore like a local as a foreigner is not an act at odds with the locals themselves.

If anything, you’re showing a high degree of empathy, a willingness to understand their way of life by peering past the glossy cover that is the tourist hotspots and getting on the same page as them. Most natives appreciate this. But should there be a situation where you’re not welcome due to local exclusivity, respect that and move on. Don’t be the insensitive tourist who encroaches on a local’s way of life unwelcome.

Then there are the practical benefits. When you seek the best local fare, the neighbourhood favourites and the secret spots, you gain access to the foremost authentic experiences possible. Insights into where the people of the nation itself think is top notch right now.

Moreover, local highlights are often cheaper than those found in tourist areas because (1) those places can’t afford to hike up the prices for fear of losing native custom, and (2) the staff have good connections with the locals who frequent them meaning touting isn’t feasible.

All in all, you show that you’re a savvy explorer who wants to squeeze as much as you can out of your time abroad.

Let’s look at the strategies we can use to explore like a local abroad.

Explore Like A Local Benefits

1. Search engine street smarts

If you’re reading this, you use the internet to find insights related to travel, expat life and digital nomading and if you’re using the internet this way, you’re researching about the destination country using search engines.

Most travellers and expats google their way around. But few glean true local knowhow from the engine.

Searching for ‘Things to do in ___’ on your version of Google will only get you so far. It’s unlikely to bring up the lesser known suggestions that locals in the country see when they google with the same intent.

While Google’s search experience used to be aligned with the country domain you used (e.g. brought up results for France), it now aligns with your location. This means that if you search for ‘best restaurants’, you’ll still be shown results for restaurants where you are rather than in France (unless you’re actually there).

This is fine if you’re already in the country itself but if you’re yet to visit and are planning ahead, you could be missing out on local insights this way.

Luckily, I have a trick I can share with you that helps you learn what the locals know.

The simplest way to get around this is to use a VPN that allows you to see international results.

But if you don’t have a VPN another quick method is to change the search settings to the destination country’s.

There are a couple of ways to do this.

The first is to change the default search settings on Google to the destination country’s settings.

Let’s say we want to search for the ‘best bars in Playa del Carmen’. This means we want to change the default search settings to Mexico.

On the bottom-left corner of the Google homepage, you’ll see the current location as the country’s name. Click on ‘Settings’ in the bottom-right corner, then on ‘Search settings’.

Explore Like A Local Search Settings

On the next page, scroll down to ‘Region Settings’ and choose your destination country, then click save. I’ve selected Mexico for the purposes of this example.

Explore Like A Local Region Settings

Returning to the Google homepage, you’ll see that the default location has now changed to the destination country’s one in the bottom-left corner.

Explore Like A Local Mexico Settings

Under this setting, searching for ‘best bars in Playa del Carmen’ brings up unique results that you won’t see if Google was set outside of Mexico.

Explore Like A Local Region Search

One of the options ( shows a bar that locals themselves recommended to me in person when I was in Playa. Yet this bar doesn’t appear on any of the first page results when the settings were outside of Mexico.

The second way is even more specialised.

On the Google homepage, click on ‘Settings’ again but this time select ‘Advanced search’.

Explore Like A Local Advanced Search

On the next page, click on the drop-down menu next to ‘region’ and select the destination country, then save by clicking the ‘Advanced Search’ button.

Explore Like A Local Narrow Results By Region

Now when we run our search again, you’ll see that the results are more granular and niche than before. The example search brings up many Mexican domains that didn’t appear on the first page of Google in the last search. This is because this method find pages published in the destination region itself (i.e. by locals) and not just a global spread of results.

But there’s an even more precise way to see what locals see—search in their language.

You don’t have to speak the local language to conduct research with the help of translation tools. Use Google Translate to discover what your search term is in the local tongue. In our example, this is ‘mejores bares en Playa del Carmen’ in Spanish.

Run your Google search using this translated term (remember to use the destination country’s search settings).

Explore Like A Local Spanish Search

The results you see now are exactly what a local living in the country sees. Their language, their settings.

“But I don’t understand it, it’s in another language!” I hear you exclaim. This is where we translate back into your native tongue.

On Google Chrome, when visiting a webpage you have the option to translate via the Google Translate icon in the URL search bar. If this doesn’t appear, right-click anywhere on the page and there should be an option to translate.

For our Mexico example, this precise type of search brings up an option ( that reveals lesser known bars that locals like to frequent that don’t appear on any other results page in English. As someone who’s visited Playa del Carmen, I’m aware of the touristy bars that all other sites can’t wait to show. This site uncovers alternatives that are less touristy where locals want to hang (and so are likely more authentic and less pricey). Local knowledge at its finest.

If you’re in the country already, your settings will automatically be adjusted to the local ones so you don’t need to configure anything in Google. However, it still can be lucrative to search in the native language to gain insights other foreigners don’t have.

Knowing how to leverage Google’s applications through these search insights plus Google Maps strategies beyond how most people use them will make you a savvy navigator.

Use these tactics to gain an edge in the country and explore like a local.

2. Mini immersions

For those not already in the destination country, a ‘mini immersion’ can be a good way of exposing yourself to the country’s culture pre-trip and even collecting some useful local knowledge along the way.

The premise is simple—find an area in town where a decent-sized group of natives from the country cluster. Many cities have districts where the diaspora of a country tend to live such as ‘Little Italy’ in New York or ‘Koreatown’ (nickname) in London. If there aren’t decent numbers of natives in town, find a restaurant or interest group related to the country.

However you find the natives, introduce yourself and let them know you’re going to their country soon. Ask them for advice, stories and insights. Most people will be thrilled to know you’re visiting their country and taking an interest in wanting to find out more in advance.

You’ll be surprised how many will go out of their way to provide extensive information about their home country because you ask. It moves them beyond the simple small talk they engage in with others on a day-to-day basis into the realm of passionate presentation about something they’re an expert in. Natives are proud of their country in some form or another and will divulge valuable insights you won’t find in your average guidebook.

A mini immersion is particularly useful for those who have a predisposition towards culture shock when they go somewhere new. If you surround yourself in a mock environment firing all your senses: the smells of the food, the sounds of the language etc. you’ll prime familiarity with the culture before you’ve even set foot on the land itself.

If you’re already in the country, you’re of course ‘fully immersed’ in which case you have an abundance of natives you can ask for tips. Don’t be shy to ask locals in person—most will be happy to help a visitor to their country whether that’s your Airbnb host or a person on the street.

If you feel that it’s too direct to ask them what the best things to do or best places to eat are right from the start, you can begin by asking them something simple such as directions to a place. Then once you inform them that you’re new in town as a traveller or resident, you can ask them what they recommend. Asking them something like “Where do you like to go that’s authentic?” can be a great way to move beyond the tourist stock information some people are primed to give and into local portals.

3. Advisable applications

Since we’re leveraging the power of the internet as a communication tool, it’s an apt time to ask “Wouldn’t it be great if there were ways to connect with locals from a country and ask them for insights?”

Unsurprisingly, the internet is way ahead of us. Software is eating the world and people have done the hard graft of putting together apps for this purpose.

There are two types of apps under this objective.

The first type is travel guide apps curated by local insiders. These apps place authentic knowledge about activities, restaurants and hangout spots at the heart of their programs. These include:

Spotted by Locals: provides guides for over 80 cities across the world with up-to-date information plus offline maps for added convenience. All the contributors are locals who speak the local language and there are even chances to connect with locals in person.

Like a Local Guide: local insights into a range of things including things to do, nightlife, shopping and more. Also includes tours recommended by locals.

The second type is language exchange apps connecting learners with native speakers. Along with learning the local lingo (more on that to come), these apps offer the opportunity to have connections in the country and the insurmountable knowledge that comes with it. These apps include:

HelloTalk: large worldwide coverage with over 30 million members across 150+ languages. Allows for connections with individual members or groups.

Tandem: intuitive interface with a range of tools to help learn the language plus connect with people on your travels.

HiNative: more Q&A focused – lets learners ask questions about language (sentence structure, pronunciation and naturality etc.) but also about culture to several natives at a time.

Tap into the utility of these apps to hit the ground running and explore like a local once you arrive.

4. Instagram insights

Another application you can use for local search insights is Instagram.

Instagram has a searchable map feature that you can use to find popular spots that locals post about.

To capitalise on this feature, in the Instagram app:

-> Click on the search button (magnifying glass icon) at the bottom.

-> Type the destination country or city in the search bar.

-> The results will be a catch-all category of posts or the ones labelled ‘Top’. Instead, click on ‘Places’ in the menu bar. This time you should see the name of the location again but with a location icon next to it. Select the location.

-> The searchable map of the location will appear. Click on ‘Search This Area’ and it’ll display posts and stories dotted across the map. You should also see a pop-up menu on the bottom part of the screen called ‘Popular nearby’. You have the opportunity to select items that you want to search for (restaurants, parks and gardens etc.) or search for your own.

Many of the displayed places are hangouts that are also popular among the locals. Use this tactic to find local-worthy spots.

Explore Like A Local Instagram

5. Vagabonding – venture where tourists don’t

This one is for when you’re in the country. Want to explore like a local? Walk where they walk.

This means getting off the beaten tourist path and vagabonding.

Sometimes the best watering holes can’t be found in a guidebook or online no matter how savvy you are with Google and Instagram. Or you find them but don’t know when the best time to visit them is.

But you can often find out with the good old-fashioned method of walking until something happens.

Vagabonding lets you see the real country—how the locals live and go about their business including the places they visit.

As a bare minimum, it pays to walk at least a few blocks away from the main tourist districts every now and then. You’ll often stumble across unique happenings far from the eyes of the Instagram crowd because the gathering was initiated by locals. This could be anything from a community favourite restaurant popular at a certain time of day or a street party crawling out from a secretive bar.

In a digital world, vagabonding is an analogue method but few things can give you a taste for the local flavour as much as it does.

Explore Like A Local Vagabonding

6. Learn the local lingo

I talk about languages a lot on this site. That’s because nothing endears you more to the natives than learning their language.

If you’re an expat in a country or planning to be, I highly recommend learning the language of the country to at least a conversational level. It’ll be life-changing in your new home.

Even if you’re travelling or nomading somewhere, it’s worth picking up the local lingo to some degree, even if it’s only the basics. In Mexico where English ability is mixed, I decided to learn as much Spanish as I could in a few weeks. The locals really appreciated my effort to learn their native tongue even if I wasn’t particulate adept. I have all kinds of wild stories as a result of using Spanish and it enhanced my trip in ways I could never have imagined.

Learning the language as a traveller doesn’t have to be a complicated process built up months in advance. But you’d do well to move beyond mere guidebook stock phrases too.

If you’re travelling, your main goal is learning to speak the native tongue over reading and writing. You can also focus on ways to get the most out of the immersion you’re in once abroad.

7. Help from homestays

Last but not least, if you can’t beat them, join them. Nothing will help you explore like a local more than living with one.

Homestays provide the opportunity for foreigners to live with locals in their residences. This gives you the chance to connect with a local in person and truly learn about the place you’re in on a deeper level. There are even services such as Couchsurfing where locals put you up in their homes without taking any payment themselves.

You can even do language homestays to combine the above language acquisition approach with the lived experience of local life.

Contrary to belief, homestays aren’t only for teenagers and young adults seeking a culture exchange. The service economy spearheaded by companies such as Couchsurfing and Airbnb has galvanised interest in staying in another person’s home across the globe among all kinds of demographics, young and old.

Research and consider a homestay on a future trip. You’ll be able to explore like a local because you’ll be with a local.

Explore Like A Local Homestays


When heading abroad, most people’s search for tips on local knowledge of a destination is haphazard. They rush a search on their phones in the hope that the info that pops up is authentic.

But if you learn how to universally find local knowledge for travel and emigration, you’ll never have to worry about the validity of information again. You can explore like a local at will.

Along with authenticity of the experience overseas, we benefit from the reduced prices, improved quality and invaluable connections with the local people when we explore this way.

There are various strategies we can employ to explore like a local.

We can use smart ways of mastering Google searches to gain access to results others don’t have. 

Mini immersions allow us the opportunity to touch base with natives and obtain knowledge from them before we’ve even set foot abroad.

Travel guide apps curated by natives and language exchange apps connect us directly to locals overseas so we don’t have to wait until we arrive for liaisons that bring local insights.

Instagram has location-specific features we can leverage for extra ideas.

Then there are other analogue methods. Nothing beats vagabonding around a destination for in person experiences.

We stand to gain a lot from learning at least some of the local language. Making an effort will curry favour with the locals and get you into exclusive places more than you expect.

Finally, the Information Age has made access to homestays easier than ever. There are all kinds of homestay options for different demographics—if you want a direct experience of local life, a homestay abroad will give you just that.

When you explore like a local, it puts you into an echelon of travellers and expats who understand and experience the world on a different level. Use the strategies and be at the forefront of experiential travel.