While preparing for my current visit to H-Farm and Venice, I remembered a conversation I had with Noah Kagan and Shira Schwartz on our way north when Noah visited Israel.
“What’s your trip planning strategy?” we asked, and each gave their two cents on how they approach planning traveling abroad.
How do you choose where to go and what to see? How do you decide if you want to “lazy” travel or really get around? etc.
With that conversation in mind, I decided to document my process for my latest visit to H-Farm and Venice.
What does Traveling like a local even means?
H-Farm is a startup accelerator located about 45 minutes from Venice. A few times a year, I fly there to do 1-2 Workshops and mentor their companies with one-on-meetings.
Every time I’m there, I stay in Venice for 2-3 nights.
I fell in love with it the first time I was there on my honeymoon and had the luck to spend time there often.
The thing about Venice is that it’s a crazy tourist trap. It’s beautiful, but you don’t get to see how interesting it is if you spend your time on a site-seeing only tour.
The same applies to any major touristic city in the world basically.
I hate traveling like a tourist because you end up eating commercialized touristic food disguised as local food.
Instead of seeing the hidden gems you only see sites that have been talked about to death, and you don’t see any locals. Just other tourists!
The first time I was there, I was a complete outsider, but in the last couple of times, I started using a framework so I can tune into the city.
How to use this post
In this post, I will share various techniques (indulging scripts) I use to learn about the best local places to visit and eat in any city.
I will show you how I gather information about where to go, where to eat, how to engage new people and who.
So before I dive into techniques, I want to share with you the tool set I use.
To document recommendations: Usually my go-to tool was Evernote, but for the last couple of trips, I started using Apple Notes to organize my findings.
I love Evernote, but Apple Notes is simply faster to open and quickly document a tip you get in realtime.
In my note, I create categorized lists based on the activity – Food, Fun and culture, Places I have to see and pour all the information in.
At the night before my flight and At the end of every day (or I’ll take a ten minute in a cafe) I review the advice that I get and sort out based on what I “really” want to do, versus “I kinda want to do” and “if I’ll get the chance.”
To help me prioritize, I will write every recommendation that I get the number of times I got it.
So if 7 people recommended a specific restaurant – I would prioritize it higher.
I also have a clear priority of what experiences do I want to get more of. (You can change it at any moment of course).
So last time I was in Venice, I just wanted to explore it as much as I can in terms locations. This time I wanted to focus on hanging out with local people.
When planning my next day – I put all the recommendations in Google Maps so that I can gather them all based on areas as well. It makes the traveling more effective and gets you experience more.
9 things that will immediately upgrade your trips
1.Do a list of all the most popular touristic places
Yes, you’ve heard me. You want to make sure you know any touristic spot in your target destination.
For two reasons actually:
- Hi, you want to feel like a local, but you also don’t want a miss something might worth seeing.
- You want to use this list anytime you search for more local adventures. With this list, you’ll be able to notice if the recommendations you get from people are interesting and local, or just the olden beaten path.
2. Go on a local Facebook group
In Israel, everybody knows “Secret Tel Aviv.”
But how can you find local people in a strange country easily?
Look for theme-based groups.
When I flew to Venice the second time, I went into their University Facebook Group and said: ‘I’m coming to Venice, students know the best places, where do you guys hang out? Please recommend me two places to eat, a great bar and your favorite place in the city.
When I went to Dusseldorf in Germany to give a keynote for the European Venture Summit, I looked for the “startup Dusseldorf,” likely I found two.
I went into the group and posted “I’m a growth hacker from Israel, I’ll be in Dusseldorf doing a keynote talk for EVS, would love to meet local startups.”
This post ended up connecting me with one of their biggest startup community managers, booked 5 hours of mentoring time in their co-working space “Startplatz” and got me a meeting with the crazily awesome Vidar Anderson.
3. Use the right search operators in Google
Most people search for “the best place to see in…” “top 10 sites you have to see in…”.
That’s how you get the most popular places, or the “lonely planet” variations for what traveling is.
Here’s a cool trick you can do.
Just add the word “Urban” / “Hipster” this two will usually get you the best places.
You can also try “For musicians” or ” For students.”
The first two would usually land you on some local blogger’s list or just somebody more local documenting their experience of the city.
4. Instagram Stories / Snapchat
Find a bunch of local people to follow on social media.
You an use Tweepi to search bios and see where they’re from. Then you can curate a list of people who have some influence and start following them.
Influencers usually know how to find the best spots, and you can reach out to them. They will usually be excited about somebody foreign reaching out for advice.
It means they are.. you know, influential.
This should’ve been the first rule.
Living in a hotel automatically disconnects you from the city.
“But I’m out, so what do I care where I stay?”.
Well, staying in a hotel puts you in an outsider state of mind. Because of its location and because of the facilities.
Getting an Airbnb usually means your apartment will be around more local people and more local stores and environments.
Hotels have an entire touristic ecosystem surrounding them.
Airbnb’s don’t because it’s just regular neighborhoods.
Also taking an Airbnb forces you to visit a local supermarket, which is one of the most fun experiences you can have in a foreign country.
It also gives you a chance to speak with local people (will get to that in a second) and buy local brands.
6. Interview your Airbnb host
When you get to your Airbnb flat, your host will usually come to see you’ve settled in.
What everybody usually does, is ask “What is there to do around here?” or “What would you recommend I’ll see in the city.”
The problem with this question is that it gets your host in a “lonely planet” mode. Meaning you’ll get sucky tips.
Try asking “Hey, what’s your favorite spot in X,” or “what’s your favorite restaurants.”
If you dynamic is good enough, even offer to buy them a cup of coffee/beer / food and chat a little bit. Then let them lead you to a place of their choice.
7.Talk to strangers
When traveling, you’re surrounded by strangers. Locals, travelers, service providers (taxi drivers, store salespeople, waiters, etc.).
Ask them the same questions you’d ask your Airbnb host. If you feel comfortable enough and the dynamic is good, you can even ask “Hey, do you want to hang out tonight? I’d love to see more of the city”.
Make sure you don’t come off as flirty, or creepy – only ask this if the timing feels right.
Talking to strangers can be extended to seeing a group of people that look nice and start talking to them.
You can use the simple phrase:
I’m traveling for work, and I have some time here, I’m traveling alone and don’t know anybody. Mind if I join you?”
You won’t believe how much people love meeting people from other places.
Pro tip, when you sit down, don’t just shut up or start asking touristic questions.
Be interested in them, ask them questions to get to know them.
Here’s an initial set of questions you can use (and have worked well for me in the past):
‘What do you do?
How did you get to do that?
Do you like it?
How’s it like to live in
What are your favorite spots in the city?
Were you born here? If not, where are you from originally and why you moved.
Do you have a family? (If they’re married or have kids you can follow up with “oh how long are you together, how did you meet?. If they talk about parents/siblings instead, ask them questions like “are you a typical younger brother?” or “What’s your best memory growing up here?”)’
By this point, you should already be engaged in a meaningful conversation.
If you notice, I start with easy to answer “soft questions” and then I go into more meaningful ones.
At first look, you might think it’s quite excessive, but the reaction and depth of conversation you’ll get is amazing.
That’s how I got into a conversation in Venice with a boat builder who moved all the way from Buenos Aires to build boats six years ago.
Same for as a conversation with a social media expert and her friends. We all ended up having lunch together the next day as well.
8. Look at the map before you go
Yes, review the map like an old-schooler.
You are not trying to memorize the city and streets; you just want to get a few anchors you can lean on in conversations and also have some familiarity with the place in advance.
Emotionally, you’ll feel better when you’ll go into a new city but already have some familiarity with it. It will drive you to get around more and feel freer doing so.
9. Get lost. As much as you can
Yes, you should know your map. But the key thing is allowing serendipity to happen.
Walk around, make mistakes, ask people for directions, just move around.
Go into places that look small and unpopular, go into streets that don’t look main.
Every city has two layers. Touristic and local.
As a tourist, it is hard to feel local – because eventually, you’re obviously not.
What you’re after is getting the local experience and find at least 2-3 spots that no tourist has found before.
Are you traveling to any place interesting soon? Share with me in the comments.