Eat Like a Local When You Vacation

A version of this post was originally published on our Atlantic Luggage blog.
It’s always surprising to see the number of chain restaurants in touristy areas in vacation spots. For example, if you travel to Orlando and hang around the theme parks part of town on International Drive, you’ll see a lot of franchise restaurants that you normally find back home.
Obviously, there are plenty of people who want to eat at those restaurants, or else they wouldn’t be there in the first place. And that’s the surprising part. Why are they so popular?
It could be because people from out of the country have always wanted to try it, or it could be that people who are so far away from home still want some of the comforts and reminders of home.
We’re a little more adventurous at Travelpro: we encourage people to strike out and visit new places, see new things, and go places you’ve never gone. We love to hear stories about how you’ve expanded your horizons and traveled to new locations, and that includes where you eat.
Especially where you eat.
You can’t expand your horizons by eating at the same franchise restaurants you find at home. You may not even do that by eating in the tourist parts of town.
That’s not to say the tourist restaurants aren’t any good. They are! Many of them are new, innovative, and are doing amazing things. When you go to the big tourist destinations — Miami, Orlando, Las Vegas, Chicago, any major conference city — there are bound to be some restaurants that appeal to a visitor’s more adventurous side. They provide a fun and interesting place to visit. They may be huge, seating a few hundred people at once, but they’re there for the tourists who want something new.
But if you want some really great food, your best bet is to eat like a local. Make a special vacation rule that if you recognize the name of the restaurant, you’ll skip it in favor of something completely new.
Leave the Tourist Areas When You Travel
Locals tend not to eat in the tourist areas. They go to the trendy parts of town, the cool neighborhoods, but they also know those hidden gems far off the beaten path. That special spot that people reluctantly share with their friends because they don’t want their secret spoiled.
Before you even leave for your trip, the first thing to do is look online and see if your destination city has a local alt-weekly newspaper that covers the weekly entertainment, music, and dining options. The alt-weeklies are geared toward locals, not tourists, so they have local restaurant reviews every week. You can search by cuisine or neighborhood in some of these papers, so it’s a great way to discover your own hidden gem.
Next, check out Yelp and see which neighborhoods they list in their filters. Each major city has neighborhoods besides “Downtown” and “the Northside.” Read the reviews on the different restaurants and see which ones have the most interesting menus. Don’t let a few one-star reviews deter you, though; every restaurant has them. Most of the time, it’s someone who just loves to complain, or they had a bad experience.
You can also do a Google Maps search for a specific type of restaurant or cuisine. Google Maps is connected to Google My Business (GMB), which has its own ratings, reviews, and information. You can do a search for a particular kind of restaurant — Italian, Cuban, hot dogs — and then find all the ones in the area. Save the interesting choices to a private map so you can easily find them again.
If you’re vacationing with a group, or you have people in your party with allergies or dietary restrictions, you can often find that information on a restaurant’s website or their Yelp or GMB listings. You can even use filters on Yelp for options like “serves gluten-free” or “vegan.”
The point of traveling somewhere new is to experience new things that you don’t get to do back home. Maybe you’re heading south to get out of the winter or heading north to go skiing. But if you’re trying new experiences, why don’t you try new types of food as well? Eat like a local in your vacation destinations. Visit some restaurants you’ve never heard of and sample some cuisine you’ve been interested in trying.
What kind of restaurants do you enjoy on vacation? Where do you eat like a local? Do you have any wonderful surprises or horror stories? What’s the best discovery you’ve ever made? Share your stories with us on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter stream. You can also find us on our Instagram page at @TravelproIntl.
Photo credit: Karriezhu (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)