Aren’t you afraid of being pickpocketed, mugged, or kidnapped?
Wouldn’t you feel more comfortable on an organised tour?
How can you get around without knowing the language?
These are, without a doubt, the most common questions I get about how I travel, and they all have simple answers. I’ve learned through my trips that, despite my anxiety, travelling like a local is the absolute best way to experience another country, purely because of how unique the experience is.
Every individual city and town has its own pulse—its own distinct and unique culture that separates it from every other unique place in the world. And in order to fully experience that pulse, you need to get off the beaten track, step out of your comfort zone, and live how the locals live. Why? For a few simple reasons.
Because the food is SO much better
Let me start by asking you something. Would you prefer to eat at a Thai restaurant owned by an American family or a Thai restaurant owned by a Thai family? Of course, you’d opt for the more authentic one.
Then when you’re in Thailand, why would you eat at a KFC or a McDonalds, when there is actual authentic Thai food quite literally all around you? Local food is always better than local attempts at Western food, and it’s frequently much cheaper. Just be sure to follow my golden rule: eat at places that are busy.
Regardless of street or restaurant food, crowds follow the good and avoid the bad. There’s obviously no perfect system for avoiding food poisoning while travelling, but this rule has served me (and my butt) very well for years.
Because tours only give you half the story
When I was in Colombia, I had a local guide give me a tour around Medellin. He did as all other guides do and explained Medellin’s checkered past, but he ended on an anecdote that really stuck with me.
He told me, in detail, about growing up in Escobar’s Medellin and seeing his brother and friends injured and killed by the gang violence that was so prevalent at the time.
That kind of story is not something replicated by upscale tour companies. Every city has its own history, and as a visitor in that city, it’s important to know the skeletons in its closet.
Companies will often romanticise and cover up the shortcomings and ugliness that’s a part of the city’s history, but the locals never do. When you’re informed, and you really understand the journey of your city, you’ll find that you appreciate its beauties far more.
Because locals know the actual hidden gems
Tripadvisor certainly has its place in planning a trip, but nothing compares to the advice and recommendations of people who’ve spent their whole lives there. Online “hidden gems” often become as crowded and overhyped as everywhere else, because so many people are able to discover them online.
Talk to locals and see where they recommend you go for dinner, for nightlife, attractions or hiking spots. I guarantee they’ll be, at the very least, less crowded than any hidden gem you can find on the internet.
Because you didn’t come here to experience just any city
You came here to experience this city. Not that city, or another city—this city. This distinct, and wholly unique place is brimming with food, culture, nightlife, and social norms that are entirely its own.
While you’re here, you should live like it. Hotels, burgers, and museums exist everywhere. Find the things that make this particular place unique, and jump into them as best you can.
Because it’s safer than you think
As an anxious traveller, safety is obviously of huge importance to me. I’m quite literally always prepared for someone to try and mug me. However, despite this expectation, I’ve noticed that street smart travellers rarely have any major issues. Yes, pickpockets happen, and yes, money gets stolen, but for the most part, they don’t have any significant run-in’s, and in fact, have better stories than other travellers.
However, if you still have hesitations about this style of travel, there are dozens of ways to find safe and vetted local guides to show you around their city. Talk to your hostel or a local information booth, or try using the Showaround app to find one in your city.
Locals know their way around the city better than any fancy tour company, and may, in fact, be safer to travel with purely because they know so much more about their environment. Give them a shot and see how you enjoy travelling locally, internationally.
This guest post was written by Gilad, creator of Anxious & Abroad.
Guest Blogger: I’m a 26-year-old backpacker with moderate anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Hypochondriasis. I spent most of my life thinking that travel wasn’t for people like me, and when I figured out that it was, I was changed.
I now travel multiple times a year and rough it with the best of them. I’m glad to say I’ve managed to turn what I thought were negatives about my mental health into positives, and want to show other aspiring travellers that they can too.