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SALT LAKE CITY — Every place that you visit can become a small part of you. After each new travel experience, you come home understanding a little bit more about that area.
You have the opportunity to meet the people who live there, taste the food, hear the accents and witness the way of life somewhere new. It's one of many reasons why traveling is so memorable and fulfilling.
If you have an upcoming trip or if you are planning to move somewhere new, here are some ideas to help you get to know a new place.
Go running or walking
Hit the ground running — literally. Go running or walking all over when you first arrive. This will get you into the area early on, wake you up and help you get a great feel for a place.
Put on some good shoes, go out right away and hit the streets. Take time to wander, notice and take everything in. Getting out on the street will help you get to know a place faster than riding around in a cab or on public transport at first.
However, make sure to stay safe and don't go running or walking when it's dark until you get to know the areas better.
Take a cooking class
One of the best and most fun ways to explore the local cuisine is to try your hand at it. Experiencing the food culture firsthand will make you feel much more connected than just tasting it. Plus, you’ll have some knowledge to take home with you about a different cuisine.
You can find cooking classes on sites like Vayable.com or by researching online. You can also ask around at markets to learn about local foods and dishes.
The best way to feel like a local is to not look like a tourist. The more weighed down you are with bags, the harder it is to get around and feel comfortable somewhere. Whether you’re in an old European city with cobblestone streets or a modern city riding the subway, you won’t enjoy a place as much if you’re distracted trying to roll your luggage around instead of looking around and enjoying a place.
Strike up conversation
The places I have gotten to know the best are always places where I've met and talked with local people. Whether you’re at a sidewalk cafe, a bus stop or on the street, chatting with locals will give you the biggest dose of culture and make you a few friends along the way.
I love to ask locals questions about their life, culture and where they live. Usually they appreciate the interest and enthusiasm about their town and I always learn interesting perspectives about a place from those who live there.
Prepare and learn beforehand about the area
If you want to spend less time feeling lost and more time getting to know a place, take some steps before visiting to learn about your destination. If it’s a foreign city you’re visiting, study the language so you know some basics beforehand.
Learn the currency and exchange rate so you’re not always asking and study some maps online. Look up facts and customs and get as much information as possible so that you are aware upon arrival and ready to learn much more beyond the basics.
Try going without a guide book
Of course guides and travel tips are helpful, but choose a day to ditch the guide book and explore on your own. It gives you more freedom to just wander a place without worrying about seeing certain sights or things that others have recommended.
Instead talk to locals, find neighborhoods that are less touristy and discover an amazing bakery or lively street. These places will become special to you because you’ll have discovered them.
Stay with locals or in a local apartment rather than hotel
If you truly want to feel the heartbeat of a place, rent an Air B&B or a room from a local family. Nothing will connect you more than getting a taste of how people live in a certain place. This helps you see an entirely different side of a city than the typical traveler would.
Document your experience
Documenting helps you notice, appreciate and remember details about a place. When you walk around with a camera in hand, you capture details, sounds, people and the feel of the area more.
Do simple things like keep track of where you go: sights, areas, cafes, restaurants and anything you would want to remember and recommend. If you really want to feel like you got to know a place, then collect favorites so you leave feeling like you know and love the best of it.
Don’t be afraid to act like a tourist when you arrive
Even if you might want to get to know the local side of a place, it’s important to know all sides of it. Get the full tourist experience that everyone comes for — follow the guides for a day and see all of the major sights. Then you can get to know the more local sides afterwards. You’ll want to see the famous spots at least once — they make up a place too.
Take the opportunity to live in a new place
The places that I’ve lived — even if for a short time — feel the most connected to me. If you really want to know a new place, take a leap and gain an experience. Whether it's through a study abroad, sabbatical, internship, extended vacation, volunteer experience or an actual move, spending an extended amount of time somewhere new will add to your appreciation and understanding it.
Emi Rigby lives in San Francisco and documents her travels around the world on her food & travel blog WellTraveledWife.com.