The only way to do this is to break away from the guidebooks, tourist traps, and other Americans. This is not necessarily an easy task, but so far I think I’ve had some luck.
After a week of orientation and registration five of my new friends and I hit the open road out of Cape Town. While we were still six Americans, it still felt as if we had escaped the hoards of international students being toted from place to place.
Our trip was a blast and was only enhanced by the local advice we accepted. The owner of the hostel we stayed at practically planned out half of our trip. He sent us to an amazing restaurant where we all indulged in ostrich, which is so good. The next day he gave us a coupon to a local, sustainable ostrich farm. That was such a cool experience; We learned heaps about the incredibly weird bird, helped baby ostriches, and got to ride an ostrich!
My favorite part of our trip was 100% due to the local knowledge and kindness of the hostel owner. No guidebook or brochure ever mentioned a waterfall hidden within the folds of a canyon. I could have stayed there all day long, floating in the refreshing pool listening to the roar of the waterfall and climbing higher and higher up the canyon walls, plummeting into the pool beneath.
The waterfall was gorgeous, peaceful, and tucked away from the tour buses, souvenir shops, and glitz and glam of the tourism industry.
When it comes to a foreign country, guidebooks can only get you so far. At the end of the day locals know best. They know the hidden gems and local hangouts. Their cultural knowledge is far vaster than the anecdotes offered by travel sites and books.
My advice: the next time you travel anywhere, domestically or abroad, ask the waiter for the local delicacy, pester the concierge for out of the ordinary sites, and question your new friend about the on topic cultural dialogues. You’ll get a better, more authentic, and certainly more unique taste, understanding, and experience of wherever your travels take you.