How to Enjoy Local Travel Experiences – The 5-Minute Rule

How to Enjoy Local Travel Experiences – The 5-Minute Rule

By |2018-10-21T19:46:47-04:00October 21st, 2018|Perspectives, Travel Tips & Advice|47 Comments

Local Travel Experiences


You want local travel experiences. You start researching destinations. You discover that so many cities are considered overrun with tourists. You hear about countries that appear to be so touristy, others say they’re not worth visiting.

It’s true. There’s a lot of destinations in the world that have a lot of tourists/travelers in them. So, if you prefer to stay away from mass tourism, it can seem like a real challenge to find an ideal destination to visit.

But…think about this.

In my 19 years of constant travel, it does seem to me that 90% of travelers (that’s not based on any real data!) visit the same places, eat at the same restaurants along the same main squares, walk down the same streets and wander in and out of the same shops, all over the world.

There’s nothing wrong with visiting the main sights or the most interesting neighborhoods as well, or eating that famous pastry from the famous bakery.

But if you want local travel experiences, all you really need to do is follow one very simple rule.

The 5-Minute Rule for Local Travel Experiences

Here’s how it works:

  • Step 1: Turn around.
  • Step 2: Walk away.

Yes, that easy. That’s the rule.

We’ve been here in Lisbon for a few weeks now and this city is absolutely jam-packed with tourists and travelers and cruise ship passengers and foreigners of all kinds. There are lines and crowds in all of the ‘famous’ areas and there are a lot of ‘famous’ areas!

If you aren’t into visiting touristy destinations, you might feel the urge to flee from this city within a few minutes of your arrival.

At the same time…

Despite Lisbon, and Portugal in general, being one of the ‘tourism hotspots’ in Europe right now, our experience here has not been a touristy one.

Far from it, actually.

Again, all we do is turn around and walk away.

Local Travel Experiences - neighborhoods

When we look for a place to eat, we look in neighborhoods that are a 5 minute walk away from the areas that are full of tourist-oriented restaurants.

When we want to have a coffee, we turn from the famous square, lined with cafes serving up low quality food and drinks to a never-ending stream of travelers…and we walk away. We head down a random street and climb up some random stairs.

When we want to explore the city, we head to the areas that are most popular with tourists and then we pick a direction and start walking away. Sometimes we’ll later head back and do it again in a different direction.

The Wonderful Results

Using this easy method, we end up with the local travel experiences that we prefer.

We end up at cozy local restaurants down quiet lanes, with doors that are not plastered with TripAdvisor stickers. There will be no English spoken, the customers will all be Portuguese and the prices will be a fraction of the tourist restaurants nearby…and the food usually much better!

We also end up at cool places few people seem to know about, such as a remarkable bookbinder, a local hangout with an incredible view that quickly became our favorite cafe in the city and an attractive, yet non-touristy, beach.

We get a glimpse of real Lisbon life, in quaint parks full of locals hanging out, in hidden squares abuzz with everyday activity, in shops where the fruit and pastries are of the highest quality and the cheapest prices and in beautiful neighborhoods that don’t have well-known attractions to draw a crowd.

It’s authentic. It’s extremely rewarding. And it’s incredibly fun.

The real beauty of it all is that we don’t have to head towards the far outskirts of the city or to a small village an hour away from Lisbon (which would be wonderful too!) to make this happen. All we do is walk, for 5 minutes, away from the crowds of tourists.

It’s that simple. Local travel experiences can always be had…at any time, in every destination around the world.

It’s just up to us to have them.

What’s your experience in touristy destinations? How do you get away from the crowds?

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  1. Isabella Miller January 15, 2019 at 6:56 am - Reply

    This rule is so good. This is how we should actually travel if want to experience the local food and people. Wandering around is fun and authentic. Great article, Derek.

  2. clie stubbs January 10, 2019 at 12:51 pm - Reply

    Exactly what I do, If I find mysefl in a touristic area, I walk down the back streets and find a bar or restaurant where the people who live there go. Its usually a lot cheaper and the food a lot more real.. I take local busses rather than taxis, Of course that doesnt mean i dont go to the must see places, i just dont want to spend too much time eating and drinking in them..

  3. voyagershome January 7, 2019 at 6:58 am - Reply

    I always love to interact with new people of new places. But I didn’t have any rule for that. But I loved your qrticle as it is quite unique.

  4. Noel December 5, 2018 at 4:23 am - Reply

    I used to be a strict travel planner, with all of my future destinations neatly mapped out in front of me. While a certain degree of planning is necessary, over-planning — and the ensuing expectations — can often funnel you into the same exact spots other travelers end up.

    Lately, I’ve been embracing the unknown and letting random chance dictate my adventures. Occasionally, I’ll hope on a random bus or train and get off at a stop when it feels right. The resulting experiences are not always exciting, but definitely feel more real and authentic than I’m used to.

    Thanks for the great post. If everyone used the 5-minute rule, the travelverse would be a much better place.

    • Amit Basu January 10, 2019 at 4:14 pm - Reply

      I like your “hope on a random bus” open yourself to the unexpected.

  5. Jenn November 28, 2018 at 11:25 am - Reply

    I love this approach. My husband and I took a trip to Las Vegas and were completely sickened by it all. The best experiences we had was getting in a car and driving out of town and seeing the desert.

  6. Ben Zweber November 18, 2018 at 11:09 pm - Reply

    Great advice Derek. I’ll be writing this down so the next time we go to touristy places, I’ll just turn around and walk away. Gotta make that my new years resolution. Love your blog!

  7. Michelle Freeman November 17, 2018 at 2:29 am - Reply

    Agree totally – I am likewise simply unable to resist slowing down and wandering off smaller streets – just peeping ’round just one more corner’….the surprise of what you may find is a large part of the fun of travel – especially as you get older/(hopefully) wiser and defn used to not caring about feeling a bit daft waving your hands around to act out what you mean when language fails – always with a big smile 🙂

    But what I really wanted to say is it’s also refreshing to hear you speak up for seeing the popular tourist sites too – these days I start to sense a bit of ‘travel snobbery’ (if that’s a word??) about experiences at times – if it isn’t ‘sleeping in a dead camel with ants for breakfast like the ancient nomads did’ it just isn’t authentic….over the top I know but you’ll get my point! The tourist sites – especially buildings & natural wonders – are famous for good reasons after all – so my trick is just to see them in as off-peak mode as possible and not feeling obliged to do so by an imaginary check-list.

    Happy Travels!

  8. Simon November 12, 2018 at 4:33 am - Reply

    It’s so amazing to learn about such easy rules. Loved your blog. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Ryan November 7, 2018 at 1:27 am - Reply

    Awesome tip! I remember when I was in Budapest and there was this central tourist street where everything was sort of situated… This one guy was standing in the middle of the walkway asking people to follow him to his restaurant which was a 5-minute walk off of the beaten path but had awesome food and great prices.

    It’s probably not a good idea to follow a stranger to “his restaurant” but me and my travel partner were feeling irresponsible and we took the dude up on his offer.

    Lo and behold the guy walks us five minutes away and we had some of the best hungarian food we tasted during our time in the area.

    • Derek November 11, 2018 at 6:34 am - Reply

      That’s how it goes and while it’s not always the best idea, it’s usually safe and leads to the kind of experience you had!

  10. Stefanie November 3, 2018 at 9:09 pm - Reply

    This is spot-on advice, Derek! I’d also add that while it’s natural to want to visit big-name sites and destinations — like Venice or the Vatican — crowd sizes increase in proportion to a place’s popularity. So mixing some lesser-known stops in along the way makes for a more well-rounded trip!

  11. Dorota October 26, 2018 at 4:30 am - Reply

    My trick for avoiding crowds in the popular tourist sites is to wake up early and be there before everyone does 🙂 I’m not always motivated enough and I hate myself when alarm goes off at a ridiculous hour – but these places are so magical at sunrise it is a pity to miss it! And I do the same when I want to find a good restaurant – I walk away and check the small streets. I found one of the best restaurants I’ve been to so far in Italy this way! The menu was in Italian, only one waiter was (barely) able to speak English – we had a lot of fun trying to communicate 🙂 Food was amazing and their vino di casa was the best!

  12. dalibro October 25, 2018 at 2:53 am - Reply

    Absolutely, Derek! I’m so glad, someone else has this simple rule as well 😀 There is nothing like taking the next side street which is almost always ignored by the crowds and just stroll and suck in the atmosphere of a new place. And as Veronika mentions – it is possible even in Venice! Or Prague, or Lisbon, pretty much anywhere. 🙂 Regarding restaurants, I have another simple rule – if they use photos of the food they sell, I walk away. Fast 😀

  13. Bill October 23, 2018 at 7:25 am - Reply

    Like all good travel approaches, this applies to life more generally if you want an authentic experience. 🙂

  14. Bill October 22, 2018 at 8:10 pm - Reply

    This is a generalization about being off the beaten path always being better. Some slums and ghettos can be deadly. Some overcrowded tourists site can contain rewarding experiences with locals. For example, when I was at Borobadur, Indonesia, the site was full of Info esianhighsvhool students and families. As they lined up for photos, I would sometimes slide sideways until I was standing beside them. People would suddenly look at me a But startled and then invite me to be in the centre of their group. Never once was I chased away. Attitude is important, the location does not always matter.

    • Derek October 23, 2018 at 3:36 am - Reply

      Hey Bill – Of course. That’s why I wrote that there’s nothing wrong with visiting the main sights. They are typically worth visiting too. And walking 5 minutes away doesn’t mean walking into dangerous areas or places where you might find trouble obviously. We need to do our research and make sure we’re safe but after traveling to 104 countries, I can honestly say that 99% of the time there is nothing to worry about.

  15. Ryan Biddulph October 22, 2018 at 6:21 pm - Reply

    Derek this is excellent bro. I love it because my wife and I do this regularly. We wander, for like hours, finding spots off the beaten path. Always without fail, our most treasured travel experiences happened well away from heavily touristed spots.

    • Derek October 23, 2018 at 4:02 am - Reply

      Hey Ryan – Sounds like we travel similarly. Most of our days we spend wandering for hours as well. And wherever we end up, we always find something interesting or memorable, just as you’ve done as well. It’s the travel style we enjoy the most by far!

  16. Bela Palma October 22, 2018 at 3:56 pm - Reply

    Totally in agreement! It’s so unfortunate that the “touristy# times coincide with the school holidays. and tour operators with a lack of imagination….But, if you have to travel during these times, as you rightly say,if you change direction and go somewhere else, you are rewarded!

    • Derek October 23, 2018 at 4:01 am - Reply

      Hey Bela – I think that lack of imagination is partly because everyone wants to see and do the same things. So they just take people to the same places, in the same way. But yes, a quick change of direction is all it takes to experience something completely different!

  17. christina digan October 22, 2018 at 3:08 pm - Reply

    Yessss. Exactly this. We also do it everywhere we go. Sure sometimes it’s nice to see the famous sites but I find there is so much more when we just turn and walk away. We also try to stay out of the tourist zones when we pick an Airbnb. Thank you for writing this!

    • Derek October 23, 2018 at 4:00 am - Reply

      Hey Christina – It can be nice for sure to see those famous places. But over and over again we’ve realized that our best times come from wandering around areas or neighborhoods that are away from those famous places. Good point about the Airbnb location too. It’s definitely worth it to stay outside of the tourist zones!

  18. Frances October 22, 2018 at 1:47 pm - Reply

    Being in the travel business myself I feel for visitors when I bring them to overcrowded sites and places they absolutely insist on seeing. When I can, I get them up super early, they don’t mind when they know it is for their benefit and we get to tourist areas before the mobs descend. I also do trips backwards. So when the other coaches and guides are going one way, I take the road less travelled, get to the venues either after they have been or before they get there. My guests hardly ever experience the madness here in Ireland! You just have to be like the wiley ol’ fox! Outsmart them.

    • Derek October 23, 2018 at 3:58 am - Reply

      Hey Frances – That’s a good way to do it and I try to do the same with my own tours that I organize. Going to places at off times or the opposite times of most people, can make a difference.

  19. Ravi (Rick) Thawani October 22, 2018 at 12:38 pm - Reply

    great idea! in fact we did just that recently in Amritsar India as we stepped off the main tourist court because there were too many vendors trying to sell stuff to us. We walked into a small street not knowing what to expect and were pleasantly surprised to see normal people working in the stores and restaurants……no pressure to buy anything we didn’t want. 🙂

    • Derek October 23, 2018 at 3:57 am - Reply

      Hey Ravi – Sounds like a good experience in Amritsar!

  20. Susan October 22, 2018 at 12:34 pm - Reply

    It all sounds great but without any English spoken I would feel nervous. We are a retired couple who want to travel in southern Europe next spring but I think we will probably stick to tourist areas so we can have a good chance of being understood in our language and just be armchair travellers of you and other brave travellers.

    • Derek October 22, 2018 at 12:38 pm - Reply

      Hey Susan – That would be such a shame to do that! Honestly, you’ll have no problem, even when English isn’t spoken. People are generally so warm and friendly all over and language has never been a barrier for me or for most travelers. I certainly don’t speak the languages in most of the countries I visit but getting away from the tourist locations is always the most rewarding experience. You’ll quickly see that speaking the same language is not necessary for a wonderful interaction!

      • Sakai Naismith October 22, 2018 at 2:18 pm - Reply

        Hey Susan, If you are nervous there is a travel book that you can carry easily with you to restaurants, shops and cafes called the wordless travel book. It has pictures of almost everything that you might need to say to people in general interaction… and I think it is around 8 USD on amazon. It takes the stress out of situations as you can try to interact and use it to fall back on if necessary. But I agree with Derek – it would be a shame to sell your experience short because of a language barrier…. it is part of the whole experience.

    • Bill October 22, 2018 at 7:57 pm - Reply

      I have been about 40 countries and am not very functional in anything but English. I avoid English speaking countries because I do not think they will be different enough. With imagination and a playful attitude, language barriers can be overcome. Most people over estimate how difficult language can be. BTW, I am 73 years old and spend most of my time in Viet Nam

    • Lynna Schaldemose October 22, 2018 at 8:17 pm - Reply

      I agree with Derek and Sakai about not worrying about not knowing the local language. The little picture book is a great Idea. So is learning just the basics like hello, how much… I write them in a tiny tiny notebook and put my phonetic pronunciations so I don’t forget them. You don’t need numbers because you can write them down on paper or use a smart phone. I have pointed to other people’s food in a restaurant so I could order food. And if all else fails… mime it out. You might feel a little goofy but everyone laughs and it gets the job done. Relax and enjoy!

  21. Ken from LA October 22, 2018 at 10:52 am - Reply

    Oh man, yeah I tend to do the same. I’ll do the obligatory photo at some super hot famous popular spot, and then explore the lesser-known parts of the city. I used to care only about the famous stuff. Now, not so much.

    • Derek October 23, 2018 at 3:56 am - Reply

      Hey Ken – Definitely. That kind of combination is a good one. I was the same too. When I started, I always wanted to make sure I hit up all the ‘main’ sights but over time, that definitely becomes less important once you realize the real rewards of travel come from the other stuff.

  22. Mike October 22, 2018 at 9:59 am - Reply

    Totally agree brother. We do the exact same thing. And the trip advisor rule is so true, if it has a yelp or trip advisor sticker we will never eat there. Also when you stay at an AirBnB try to NOT stay near the tourist zone, you will have the local restaurants and shops all to yourself (well at least no tourists will be there)

    • Derek October 23, 2018 at 3:55 am - Reply

      Hey Mike – The Airbnb rule is a good one too. We’re actually doing that now as we’re in a very local area here in Lisbon, about 40 minutes walk from the center and it’s made a big difference. We need to walk for about 30 minutes before we start seeing other travelers and most of what’s around us is completely local.

  23. Leonard Holter October 22, 2018 at 9:31 am - Reply

    I just look to see if there is a cruise ship in the harbor. These monster ships ruin it. I head in the other direction

  24. Leonard Holter October 22, 2018 at 9:28 am - Reply

    I was in Split Croatia a few weeks ago, same thing. I would walk the promenade, very pretty, very crowded with tourists. I would choose a direction and head into the back streets. Coffee shops no crowd, dinner no crowd food good price good. Tourists don’t like to walk far, they are in too much of a hurry

    • Derek October 23, 2018 at 3:52 am - Reply

      Hey Leonard – You’re correct, most people don’t like too walk far. And that’s why it is so easy to get to those uncrowded places pretty much anywhere!

  25. Geoff Jones October 22, 2018 at 9:19 am - Reply

    One tactic I use is to use where my track is displayed and make sure I never walk down the same street twice 🙂 It’s amazing how we so quickly become creatures of habit and walk endlessly down the same streets…

    • Derek October 23, 2018 at 3:49 am - Reply

      Hey Geoff – I like that tactic as well and something I haven’t thought of before. I have but never used it that way. Thanks!

  26. Lynne Nieman October 22, 2018 at 9:19 am - Reply

    So true! I always say to tuck down a lane where you see NO ONE or a local person carrying their bags of food. Swim away from the crowds. This is great advice.

    • Derek October 23, 2018 at 3:49 am - Reply

      Hey Lynne – That’s a great approach!

  27. Veronika Primm October 22, 2018 at 6:02 am - Reply

    Absolutely agree with you! It’s possible even in Venice, even on the main island. While there it might have been about 15 minutes instead of 5, within a short walk we found ourselves near a school where parents were picking up their kids in the afternoon and a few kids played football right there on the street. Quaint local life just a few hundred meters away from the insane touristy buzz of Ponte Rialto, where you can’t even walk without having to use your elbows.

    • Derek October 23, 2018 at 4:04 am - Reply

      Hey Veronika – Yup, it’s possible even in Venice! Thanks for sharing!

  28. Glenn I October 22, 2018 at 1:50 am - Reply

    Even at popular places the crowds tend to come at particular times. I won’t go at those times unless I have no choice. Like you, I enjoy a good wander. The older I get the less I want to rush from place to place. Let me just be a while.

    • Derek October 23, 2018 at 4:06 am - Reply

      Hey Glenn – I think that’s how it goes, just like you said. As we get older and travel more, we realize what is the most enjoyable when it comes to travel and we just want different experiences, not the running around and taking photos of sights we’re supposed to visit. Nothing wrong with taking those photos and running around but I think most travelers would discover that a slower mindset and wandering away from the tourist zones would bring some pretty awesome rewards as well.

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