Whenever I am in a new city, I love hunting down the local farmers’ market. Learning about the local produce and getting to know the stallholders is always such a lovely introduction to that particular destination. Local farmers and stallholders are always very passionate about where they live, and are proud to share their favourite local recommendations. I remember getting some stellar tips from a lovely little lady who had a stall at my favourite farmers’ market in Lisbon (in Principe Real, on Saturday mornings). She told me about ‘A Sociedade’, an open studio space that is all about the coming together of creative and inspiring people in the world of food. I ended up doing a wonderful cooking course with them as a result.
Then, grab a coffee
As a lover of good coffee, the first thing I do on arriving in any new city is to check out where to find the best speciality coffee. I often use the cafe as a base to work from, and it’s always such a great way to get chatting to others who are doing the same – sometimes locals, sometimes not – and a perfect source of local info.
I spent three months living in Tel Aviv a few years back, and found out about amazing parties in the bush, and the best hummus haunts, from talking to locals in the cafes that I was working out of. Likewise in Mexico, I remember being in the tiny surf town of Sayulita and it was in a cute coffee shop that I went to each morning that I found out about a local guy who did the best and freshest fish tacos in town, and also a hidden surf break and beach that I definitely wouldn’t have found otherwise.
Walk, don’t bus
Whenever I get to a new city I love to get out there and pound the pavement. I find that you see so much more and stumble across much more cool stuff when on foot. Now that Uber is everywhere, you have another chance to chat to a local and snag a few good local tips at the same time.
Ditch the guidebooks
In my backpacker days, Lonely Planet was definitely my best friend. I am sure I had more than 30 in my collection. They were great for those early days when I was super green and had never travelled before, and needed a bit more hand-holding. Now though, on a forever quest to travel more like a local, I tend to avoid them like the plague. If it has been published in Lonely Planet it is no longer a secret, and therefore less appealing to me. I tend to use Instagram to find more interesting places, and I still do love a good travel magazine.
Try to speak a few words if you can
Google Translate is incredibly handy when getting around in a foreign place. I used to buy a little dictionary back in the old days, and I still make sure I know at least half a dozen words of the local language before I get there, to show that I am at least attempting to make an effort!
Here’s what my photographer friends recommend (and their Instagram feeds are beautiful)…
Lucy Laucht (based in the UK)
“When I arrive in a new place I’ll go for a run. For me, it’s a great way to get a sense of place and (beat jetlag). I’ll usually set my destination as a local, independent coffee shop. I find they usually have the best tips on what to see and do.”
Sarah Irene Murphy (lives in New York)
“Keep plans open and avoid over-scheduling your trip. Walk down the side roads, let yourself get lost in the beauty of your surroundings with no timeline. Take in the smells, eat something new, stop to chat to a friendly face. You find that some of the most beautiful moments happen when you’re least expecting them.”
Lavinia Cernau (based in Romania)
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things” wrote Henry Miller. I love this quotation. I feel like it encompasses the essence of travelling. And travelling to me is always connecting with the locals for pieces of culture that you may never have found on your own.
I would ask the waiter at a cafe or the newspaper guy, and once I’d get to their recommended place, I’d ask the people in charge there and so on. It’s a circle! A circle that will lead you to cultural or geographical gems that make that particular city or country truly special.”