As I sit in my beautiful bedroom in Krakow, I think about how I don’t ever want to leave. Before I moved to Krakow I had been traveling to Poland several times. The decision to make this city my new home as well as a relatively smooth transition from being a backpacker to becoming an expat wouldn’t have been possible if it hadn’t been for my attitude as a traveler.
I decided to write this article so others can have the same meaningful stays in places as I do, and experience the local ways and benefit from local pleasures and comforts.
I opened up for Krakow’s local life and its people which helped me to see it as more than just a tourist destination to check off. A vague impression of the city gained sharpness and the strangers on the streets became less anonymous as I was learning more about their everyday life and mentality.
Slowing down and experiencing the place from a non-touristy perspective has definitely allowed me to rethink entirely the way how I want to travel in the future.
As a solo traveler and someone who’s happiest with my passport and a plane or train ticket in hand, it can often be hard to meet locals and experience the true culture of an area as an outsider. I have my own five-step rules that let me get the best out of everywhere I travel.
Adapt to your surroundings
We can all travel the world over and see what the travel guides tell us we should see, but we can also get the local experience. I always make sure I fill my trips with once-in-a-lifetime, genuine, local experiences, but making sure I still see the sights I have traveled so far to see.
In my experience, it’s best not to let the guide books influence how I should feel in any area, I have found that the most engaging adventures I have don’t come from what I see, but more from what I encounter.
Everywhere I have gone in the world, I always try to embrace the place for what it is by being non-judgemental on local customs, just because you’re not used to their way of life doesn’t mean you should judge them, just go with the flow. I go out of my way to fit into the local culture rather than expect them to adapt to my needs.
Let your plans be loose
One of the important lessons I learned when traveling is that your plans will nearly always change. You will always find that there is a lot more to any town or city than what is in the travel guides like the standard landmarks and main streets.
Be the courageous lioness you set off on your travels to become, let go of your plans and be free, I find getting lost in the streets where the locals hang out is a guaranteed way to feel like a local.
When I started traveling I used to plan every last detail but I have found some of the most beautiful, history-filled places and fine food restaurants when I don’t have plans and just go with the flow. I have become a lot more flexible and found the nerve to go to and try new places that are not mentioned anywhere in any travel guide.
Just rip up the map and let your feet do the wandering. Be daring and speak to local people on food stalls, at markets and read notice boards in local shops. Take a cooking class like I did and learn to cook some of the beautiful dishes from the area, it had nothing to do with the vodka tasting class that went with it but was a great way to meet local and other tourists that were being locals for the day.
We don’t’ always have to make plans when traveling, I like to be spontaneous and search for local festivals. It is always a good way to make sure you have things to do that can immerse you in the local culture. I was lucky enough to land in Krakow in May, which seems to be the month of many festivals.
I stumbled upon the Juwenalia, a five-day festival where the students receive “the keys to the city” to celebrate their youth. I went a long for a look and found myself joining in with the students. It consists of free concerts, barbecues, crazily dressed students and the best fun I have had in a long time.
I found this a great way to mingle and immerse myself in the neighborhood student life. I experienced a lot of new foods and beverages that day that I probably never would have tried if it wasn’t for my new friends showing me the local way of celebrating.
I met lots of young and mature students at this festival and made some really good friends, even if some of them don’t remember me, let alone being at the festival.
Observe and learn from the locals
When staying in one place for a while I find homestays are a great idea. Not only do you get to live and connect with the locals but also to live like a local.
Having Polish ancestors, I always wanted to learn the language and I found staying with a family who spoke everyday Polish was great for me. I got to immerse myself in the local customs and traditions and spend time with the people that really make the place what it is.
I find that a little effort goes along way with the locals. No matter how funny I have sounded when trying to pronounce new words I find the locals will always smile (maybe even laugh at you!) but appreciate your trying.
Remember if you don’t speak their language, it’s your problem, not theirs. No matter how loud you speak it won’t make them understand you. It was because of my efforts with the local language that I learned most of the local knowledge.
Park your pride at the border
No matter how hard we try to become a local we will always be just traveling through and there is nothing wrong with that. It is ok to make a fool of yourself every now and then as you try to find your balance, I find it is easier just to let go as it shows others you are open to trying but most of all you are willing to put your pride on the line to try and blend in.
Living the way the locals do can force you to let go of a lot of your traveling rules, but discovering the true feel for a country will not only change your perspective but may also change your world.
I just love to be a local in a foreign place even if just for a night or a day to get a bit of the local feel. It has left me with some of the best memories. In the end, the most important thing is to find your own pace and balance. Just try and incorporate some of the tips above and it will truly enhance your experience while traveling.
Take care my sweet traveling friends!
This is a guest post by Jules Bukovsky.
Jules Bukovsky is an independent traveler passionate about budget traveling, art and cooking. A year ago she moved to Poland where she works as an English teacher.