The ONE Question I Always ask Locals

Looking to explore more off the beaten path travel?

Every trip I take, I make it a point to speak with locals. It doesn’t have to be a deep moving conversation (though it can be if the interaction moves that way), but I always make a strong effort to connect in some way.

My favorite way to do this is to ask a specific question when chatting with hostel staff or taxi drivers or store clerks (I generally veer away from hotel staff because there are sometimes partnerships and the recommendation can be based on that rather than their true opinion). Those are the people whose perspective I crave. I love guide books, and there is no replacement for a well-researched blog post, but there is incredible value in seeking information when you’re there and on the ground.

What is your favorite thing about your city that visitors are likely to miss?

Its so mind-numbingly simple, but yet that little question serves a a few huge functions:

  1. It tells whomever you’re speaking with that you value their specific opinion
  2. It has the power to impact their ideas about you and the nation you represent.
  3. And, in the end, you get to learn about something you might not have known existed had you not approached someone who actually lives there.

I’ve had people shyly recommend some of the touristy spots stating that they truly thought it was something special. I’ve had others tell me about tiny restaurants that serve a huge, delicious breakfast for $1.80. I even had one guy walk me up a pagoda tower to show me what he thought was so special (it was high, I was scared, and it might’ve been breaking a law… but it was so cool).

My goal in having a prefab question in my pocket is that it functions as a friendly ice-breaker at worst, and an information gathering tool at best. Though I tend to be on the “scary extrovert girl” end of the spectrum, I understand the idea of approaching someone in another country can seem silly and uncomfortable. The benefits of learning something new about a place and/or its people is totally worth the moment of discomfort. You walk away a better person, and you leave them feeling valued.

Other questions to try (on locals or to break ice with other travelers!):

  • What is the best place to try (specific local food)?
  • If you could only recommend one thing to see/eat while in town, what would it be?
  • Are there any local customs I should be sensitive to?
  • How do I say “hello/thank you/please/sorry” in (language)? 
  • What is the coolest neighborhood in the city?

So go forth and communicate with the locals in your next destination. If it’s a few cities away or on the other side of the globe, seeing the city like a local makes for a great experience, story, and inspiration for what to search out on future trips!


  • What has been the best recommendation from a local that you’ve received?
  • Do you have any tips or tricks that you employ to make sure you’re seeing items that are “off the beaten path” or lesser-known?

 

Posted in Budget Travel, How To, Inspiration, Travel, Trip Planning.

25 Comments

  1. This is perfect, and my favorite question to ask as well! You’re definitely right about hotel staff, and I try to stay away from hotels in general. From asking questions like this, I have formed some of the best friendships around. There’s absolutely no better way! Great post! Thank you for sharing!

    • Thanks, Amanda! Yeah hotels are useful if you need a public restroom or someone to call you a cab, but I get a little suspicious of other recommendations

  2. That is a really good question! When I talk to locals I often ask for a restaurant or bar recommendation because locals just know best where to get the best food / drinks. Before travelling to another country I always try to learn at least 4 words in the local language: hello, bye, thanks and sorry.

  3. We use the same technique for learning of all the off the beaten places. It’s fun to do the high traffic tourist spots that you’ve always seen in the photos for about 5 minutes, then we like to get away from them and slow down to the locals pace. Since we mostly house sit, we always ask our homeowners and the neighbors we meet where to go and what we shouldn’t miss. A lot of the times, everyone will say the tourist spots but when you tell them you want their favorite places, everything changes. One of my favorites was this little seafood restaurant in Lisbon, where we ordered from the menu but the owner just sent out what he wanted us to eat (nothing we ordered). Amazing experience eating food we might not have tried.

    • Exactly!! I usually have to press just a tiny bit because the typical places are what many people want to hear… and then I’m like “Great, but what is *your* favorite?”

  4. This post is so true! Whenever I travel I always try to ask the locals what they recommend particularly when it comes to food. Now, however, I’m going expand my questions to include some of these recommendations! Thanks!

  5. These are good tips! Talking with locals is really a part of the experience in going someplace new…that’s why I love staying at Airbnb’s whenever I can, everyone I’ve met so far has been super helpful and friendly, and staying in their house gives you more of a taste of what it’s like vs. in a hotel.

    • I’ve never done an AirBnB (or Couchsurfing for that matter) – but I know that its great for local interactions. Super glad Wanderful just launched their homesharing network… since it’ll women and verified, I feel like I’ll be a lot more at ease to give it a try!

  6. Yes! I definitely agree! I always do this since it helps you discover many places that you will remember your entire life.
    This is really helpful and I love that you talked about this!

  7. You hit the nail on the head here is so many different places! I 100% agree with you that “there is no replacement for a well-researched blog post.” I always say I’d prefer to read blog posts because most experiences are so authentic! I tend to be an extremely shy traveler, mostly keeping to myself, but you’ve offered great advice. Next city I visit, I am definitely going to ask a local “If you could only recommend one thing to see/eat while in town, what would it be?” Thanks for the advice!

  8. I loooove this idea.

    Travel is always more fun if you can chat to people, and that is a really good ice-breaker question! What do you do if you do not speak the language of the country you are visiting? Do you try to translate your question?

    • I usually find someone that can speak English. I’ve found that sometimes I get approached (because I’m tall and usually alone and in places where I stick out lol), so the people who approach usually speak English. Otherwise, I’ll ask the hostel staff… they may have canned responses, but they always know a little something extra!

  9. This is so so spot on! Every time we have been anywhere, we have learnt the most from the locals. No amount of books or googling can tell you about a country or a city that a local can!

  10. It’s good to ask such question locals who like to explore his own cities/countries. But there are plenty people who don’t go anywhere from their villages and can’t say much. I found this “problem” while traveling in SE Asia. As well they feel a bit uncomfortable if they can’t answer the question, and such one – can be that one that they can’t say anything 🙂

  11. Has anyone ever steered you wrong with their replies? Or has there been any major miscommunications? By the way, great idea to have your questions at the ready.

    • No one has steered me wrong yet! The only thing that even comes close is if they think that a popular local attraction is worth skipping they might be vocal about that… but odds are if I’m asking for advice, then I already have enough time in a place to fit in the bigger sights and want to fill some time with the smaller/local spots.

  12. That is a great question. It also it is a great way to learn more about the city from locals. Usually I always ask them to recommend a place to eat. Sometimes its a hit and others a miss.

  13. This is one my favourite questions too. Growing up in a tourist city, I always think about the charm people miss by spending all their time at big attractions.

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