Why You Should Travel Like a Local
I am a BIG believer in “living like a local” while traveling. Seeking to understand and participate in culture as a globetrotter is essential for two reasons:
- You will make friends. When you demonstrate a sincere interest in a culture, the locals will be more inclined to like you. When they like you, they’ll become your friend. Who doesn’t want those?! This leads us to benefit number two.
- Your travel experience will be greatly enriched. Your new local friends will show you the off-the-beaten-path attractions and authentic restaurants. You’ll be able to view the world through their eyes and gain a deeper appreciation for your destination. No more wallet-gouging tourist traps for you!
Our recent trip to Zambia was an excellent test case for “living like a local”. For anyone hoping to visit the beautiful country one day, I’ve compiled a list of ways you can assimilate into local life!
1. Start a Conversation
You probably won’t master a new language before traveling to a foreign country, but just knowing a few key phrases can not only help to get you around but also communicate genuine care toward the natives. (Again, trying to make friends here!) Zambians are especially appreciative of your efforts to communicate with them. They’ll give you grace!
There are 72 different languages are spoken in Zambia – wow, I know! We visited the western and southern provinces along the Zambezi River where Lozi was the primary language.
2. Dress the Part
Dress is especially important for women traveling in Zambia, as I learned from my sweet friend Muvianna. For modesty’s sake, legs must be covered at all times by a traditional garb called a chitenge. These brightly colored bolts of fabric are actually really fun to wear. You can usually purchase them from various vendors in the markets of major cities.
3. Give Respect
This is hopefully a given as you travel, but it’s important to brush up on your destination’s respect code before you depart. For example, common hand gestures in the States can be considered EXTREMELY vulgar and disrespectful in other countries!
Hand gestures are key in communicating respect in Zambia. Whenever tribe members pass on the paths, they always exchange a verbal greeting, accompanied by a slight bow (deeper if it is an elder or headman) and the traditional handshake.
First you clap, while bowing slightly. Think golf-clap.
Then, you extend your right hand to shake, while your left rests at the midpoint of your right arm.
While clasping hands, you’ll rotate your hand up and down as your new friend does the same. This could go on for a while – let the native determine the end!
End with another golf clap.
4. Eat Up!
One of my favorite parts about traveling is sampling the traditional foods of my destination. And I’ll be honest, I haven’t loved everything I’ve tried, but I’ve never regretted the taste! While brushing elbows with locals, it’s really important to eat the food they offer. Especially in Zambia, where a big meal is a luxury and to feed a guest is an honor.
The traditional food in Zambia is nshima. It is made from cornmeal which many natives grind themselves.
Once ground, natives use water to mold the cornmeal into mounds. Many natives subsist completely off of nshima and collard greens, but on special occasions, they may also add a meat.
5. Be a Learner
Having a humble and teachable spirit goes a long way in making friends and living like a local. Ask questions. Be inquisitive. You’ll learn endless fun facts that will enrich your overall experience!
Maybe you won’t be traveling to Zambia anytime soon – but hey – these tips are pretty transferable to any destination!
What are your tried and true tips for traveling like a local?