Why 2021 Will be the Year of Travelling Like a Local

The bustling street scene in Cairo's Khan al Khalili market, the Islamic Quarter
The bustling street scene in Cairo's Khan al Khalili market, the Islamic Quarter | © Kumar Sriskandan / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Cassam Looch
Social Editor8 January 2021

Predicting what the travel landscape will look like in the next few months is difficult for obvious reasons. The global pandemic has caused a monumental shift in the industry. However, this change also points towards a greater focus on the quality of travel – and that’s where the concept of travelling like a local comes in.

Enriching cultural experiences may not be the first thing we look for when exploring new destinations – but attitudes towards exactly what we do want when travelling are rapidly evolving. Overcrowded tourist hotspots and attractions are no longer going to be able to operate at the levels they used to. Sightseeing will always be a part of any leisure trip, but when we do this through the eyes of a local, we can avoid long queues and find lesser-seen destinations.

Sustainability and wellness are trends we hear a lot about, indeed we’ve already had a look at some destinations we think will thrive in 2021, and these ideas conveniently feed into the wider “travel that’s good and makes you feel good” narrative. Spending time in one location and really exploring it requires a bit more planning, but the rewards are also amplified. Many of us have holidays saved up from 2020, so longer breaks are likely to be on the agenda this year.

The Seljavellir geothermal pool, in southeast Iceland | © Konrad Zelazowski / Alamy Stock Photo

Look at it this way, how many locals are you likely to meet in popular tourist attractions during peak season? The answer is few, if any.

When you give yourself more time in a new place, you can avoid the crowds, too. Why not explore the suburbs of Paris at a leisurely pace, for example, and head to higher ground on the outskirts of the city, instead of rushing straight into the centre? You’ll still get a view of the Eiffel Tower. Those in the know will be able to pick out the perfect spot, and thankfully in the age of online communication, you can find these spots too.

The Eiffel Tower in clear view from Rue Baron, in the 17th arrondissement | © allOver images / Alamy Stock Photo

Locals also know when to visit popular landmarks if those are still on your agenda. We’ve seen pictures of empty Venetian plazas during 2020, but even when we do begin travelling more freely again, it’s still possible to find quiet times to visit attractions. Is it better to see the gondolas trundling along the canals of Italy’s most romantic city at sunrise or under a moonlit sky? Someone who lives in Venice will know for sure.

Another way of making the most of your time away is by taking advantage of slow travel. This is the comforting notion of avoiding air travel and choosing options such as rail, road or sea to get from place to place. During lockdown several businesses, such as Byway Travel, have emerged that focus on this method of travel, and 2021 looks to be a bumper year for these modes of transportation.

A local train coming into the JR station in Osaka, Japan | © Duy Phuong Nguyen / Alamy Stock Photo

Road trips have always been a popular way of seeing destinations at your own pace, You get to pick out the specific places you want to visit, even if they are a bit further away from wherever you set up base. Again, an invaluable resource is the insider knowledge of someone who drives these routes every day. Locals will also have had additional time to find even more hidden gems during lockdown restrictions due to coronavirus – with domestic travel being the only way most people have been able to get away from it all. New routes such as Iceland’s Westfjords Way or Spain’s exciting Grand Tour of Catalunya are going to be available soon for all travellers, giving visitors the chance to see areas usually only accessible to a select few.

The scenery in the Kjalkafjord, Westfjords, in Iceland, is breathtaking | © Paul Mayall Iceland / Alamy Stock Photo

Venturing beyond city centres also has a financial benefit for everyone. Travellers already know that prices are significantly cheaper away from tourist hotspots, and local shops and markets will be able to offer you local produce that is unique to the area.

Ultimately the biggest upside is the sheer fun and excitement of embracing new experiences and creating lifelong memories. We all know travel is a feel good activity when done right – doing it the local way is even better.