Think for Yourself: Locals Don’t Always Know Best

Sometimes the travel blogging world rubs me the wrong way. There’s often an arrogant tone underlying a lot of the writing out there, and I hate it.

The most common one we all hear is “hang out with the locals.” This is amazing advice, and I encourage you to take it. After all, it’s the whole operating theory behind, which is a fine organization and a definite “must-try.” Come to St. John’s and my friends and I will show you a superb time. We’ll probably even throw you a keg party.

But that’s not to say we always know what’s best for you.

My posse.

Here’s a great example. When I studied in England, our host town was divided into two very different sections: Old Harlow, and New Harlow. Our accommodations were in Old Harlow, where several Old-English style pubs were within walking distance. These pubs were fantastic—friendly, fun, and lots of cheap pints. I remember one bartender pointing out a tear in the modern wallpaper where centuries-old wallpaper peeked through from underneath.

But after awhile, Ange, Amy and I decided we wanted to see the night club scene in New Harlow.

We expressed our desires to some local boys who scoffed and said, “Don’t ever go to New Harlow. You’ll get shot or stabbed.” (You’d be surprised how often we heard that line when telling Brits about Harlow.)

But we were determined, oh yes. Crime be damned! One evening we downed some cider ale and took a cab into the new town, where we immediately sought out what the locals called the “worst bar ever.” I think it was Liquid, but it was a few years ago and my memory is hazy. Surely not a side-effect of beer.

Anyway, we arrived at the club and went through a security checkpoint at the main entrance, a pretty surreal experience for someone from small-town Newfoundland. Then we entered this huge, white-walled walkway, and ascended into the coolest, most badass club I have ever seen in my life.

No wonder Sebastian wanted to "work things out."

The whole place was swankier than any dance club I have ever seen in St. John’s or beyond, seriously. Feisty bar girls strolled around doling out shots, the dance floor was absolutely enormous, and the music was so futuristic it wouldn’t even hit Canada for another 5 months. The bathrooms had complimentary perfume and hair products, which was another new experience for me. I was in heaven.

Then I met a beautiful man named Sebastian, who took me to the VIP lounge and bought me a beer, then asked if I could visit him in London to “work things out.” My only souvenir from that night was his phone number written on a piece of paper, which sadly I lost.

Seriously, if you want to do something in a new place, do it. Locals and city natives can get jaded about their homes after many years, and what’s old and tired to them is fresh and exciting for someone else. To me, George Street is just another regular night out in St. John’s. I’ve been going there for 6 years. To someone who’s just arrived in one of the booziest places in the world, George Street is a haven.

Bottom line: think for yourself. Welcome all suggestions but don’t be afraid to side-step.

  • Adventurous Kate

    As soon as I announced on my Facebook page that I had bought a ticket to Bali, several people chimed in with, “Ugh, don’t go there, it’s full of Australians.” ?!?!?! First of all, I’ve already bought my ticket, so there’s no going back, and second of all, why would you write off the entire island?!

    Ugh. That bugs me a lot.

    And who’s to say you can’t have local experiences? What people failed to mention is that Indonesians are the friendliest people on the planet. Everywhere, from Bali to Lombok to Flores, I’ve made dozens of instant friends just by hanging out on a street and answering every “Where do you stay?” conversation-starter!

  • Candice

    Hahaha, same, Kate. Bugs me a lot too. I’m actually writing a post for Matador Trips called “In Defense of Cancun.” Should stir up some good controversy. ;)

  • Becky

    I could not agree more with this post. Locals can be GREAT but some are just really jaded – plus people have different interests. What’s fun for me might be hell for a local! I think its important to take what they say with a grain of salt. Side note: free hair products?! perfume?! I would have stocked up my oversized purse. Haha!

  • SpilledInkGuy

    Sadly, I spend most of my time trying to get into cool, badass clubs. Happens all the time (despite my trying to convince bouncers that we were totally buds back in the day). I’ve started bringing my own hair products along… just to have something to do with my night besides reminding ‘Rocco’ about that time when we were kids and I totally won the big game for us…

  • Alouise

    I love this post, because it’s so true. If someone asks me what to do in Edmonton I’ll tell them to stay away from West Edmonton Mall because it’s crowded and just a mall… but that’s because I can go there whenever I want. I’m totally jaded about it, and I know for someone who hasn’t been there it’s probably amazing. So yeah listen to local suggestions but don’t take everything to heart. I mean I went to NYC and spent a ton of time in Times Square, an area I’m sure the locals avoid like the plague.

  • Amanda

    Great post, Candice! This just reinforces the argument that I always give: Everyone travels differently, and what might be “right” for YOU, could be totally “wrong” for someone else. When you travel, you should take others’ suggestions into consideration, but, ultimately, you should do whatever YOU want to do.

    And I do agree that people who live somewhere for a long time begin to take it for granted. Whenever people talk of visiting Ohio, for example, I usually respond with something like, “Why the hell would you want to do THAT?”

    I’ve found people have this opinion of their hometowns all over the world. Hell, people even feel this way about New Zealand, which I will NEVER understand…

  • Laurel

    Great advice! Also, locals tend to avoid touristy places but as a tourist some of those touristy places might be worth a visit. I’ve never been to any of the forts we have in W. Canada but think they would be interesting for visitors to Canada who didn’t learn the history in school.

  • Shannon O’Donnell

    So well said Candice; I’ve actually gotten some criticism here in Chiang Mai for hanging out with westerners and other bloggers so much, but hey, it’s easy and I enjoy their company so who’s it hurting?! :)

  • maggie

    locals can definitely be very jaded and give you poor advice… I *still* get poopoo’d by some locals around here when I want to do stuff, that shockingly I ended up really enjoying anyway ;P Or, like, the people at work who told me I would probably get shot if I moved into this neighbourhood, who were clearly mistaken. . .

    Truth of the matter is, you know yourself better than they do, and not everyone likes the same things. . . also, isn’t the point of travel to experience new things? ;)

  • Teacher Girl

    I am that jaded local I think. I tell people to stay away from the touristy places when they come to my city (tourist central), but all the stuff I hate is like the “reason” people come here, ya know?

  • Sabina

    Ha – you’re probably thinking of me when you write about the hang out with the locals mantra. But that’s okay. Often they are impossible to hang with due to the inpenetrability of our different languages or cultures. In SE Asia I hung out with none of them, save for a dinner conversation with a Cambodian one night. In a lot of locations, though, they speak our language so it’s easy to get to know them, or at least to get advice on what to do from them. They have, usually, such a different perspective than what you’ll read on the internet or get from other travelers. But you’re absolutely right – do what you want to do no matter what other travelers or locals say. It’s your trip and you know what you want. Following your own nose in this case led you somewhere extremely cool, I must say!

  • linlah

    I don’t anything about the local nightlife here so I’d have to ask the locals too.

  • Lauren Fritsky

    When I went on a class trip to Ireland senior year of college, one of our teachers, who was from Ireland, put us on lock down in Limerick because it was known as “stab city.” We actually all listened to him, because we were young and in school and didn’t want to get in trouble. Looking back, it’s a shame we couldn’t experience the night life because our teacher, who hadn’t lived in Ireland for years, had certain opinions of it. What’s even funnier is that we went to school in a not-so-safe part of Philadelphia, where there were shootings and such nearby often. If we could survive that, I’m sure Limerick would have been fine.

  • http://w stephanie

    Fabulous advice! Being an open-minded traveler INCLUDES being open to making you’re own decisions and not ruling out places based only on other people’s opinions.

  • Nancy

    great advice, candice. couldn’t agree more that we all have to think for ourselves. while it’s helpful to get advice from people about destinations, ultimately it’s about doing whatever makes you happy and feel alive!

  • JC

    “Sometimes the travel blogging world rubs me the wrong way. There’s often an arrogant tone underlying a lot of the writing out there, and I hate it.”

    Ahah! Refreshing honesty from the inside!

    I’m an expat right now and people I don’t know well always ask me for advice. Aside from some cultural generics, I never have any idea what to tell people to do. What I think is fun may not be for someone else, what is safe for me is not necessarily safe or unsafe for someone else, and other people may not mesh well with whatever scene I found myself in as a foreigner. So I lamely offer a couple of restaurant recommends and generics that probably match whatever lonely planet is saying right now anyways.

  • Candice

    Hahaha, I would have, if the bathroom attendants weren’t staring…

  • Candice

    Brilliant, has it ever worked?

  • Candice

    Yep! And I’m totally checking out that mall if I make it there. :)

  • Candice

    Hah! So true. Happens everywhere. Although the NZ thing is a little shocking…

  • Candice

    It’s true, touristy things are popular for a reason! Usually…

  • Candice

    Ugh, hate that argument! Anybody is worth getting to know…westerner or not!

  • Candice

    Hahah yeah, some locals dislike their own homes and can’t understand what we find so special about it. Bollocks to them!

  • Candice

    Totally. and I understand that too, you’re apt to get sick of a place. It’s so fun to take someone new out though to show them the sights…kinda like seeing it from a fresh perspective yourself.

  • Candice

    Hahaha, I wasn’t, actually! And I don’t consider you a travel “snob” at all. :D I think it’s worth it to have all perspectives…old and new!

  • Candice

    Thankfully there’s enough in St. John’s to keep a nightlife fiend busy forever. :)

  • Candice

    Lol, perfect example! And I know what you mean…I live in a particularly “shady” part of town, yet somehow I’ve felt safer here than I ever have. But yeah, as a kid, it’s easy to believe everything we’re told…

  • Candice

    Agreed, thanks Stephanie!

  • Candice

    Most definitely, thanks Nancy! Glad to see you around here. :)

  • Candice

    Hahaha, oh, there’s more where that came from. :)

    I’m always at a loss too when someone randomly comes up to me in the street to ask for restaurant suggestions, etc. I’m like…try them all! DO IT!

  • Alouise

    I won’t hold it against you – actually West Ed’s pretty cool. But having just been there this weekend my advice would be go during the week when it’s a little less busy.

  • SpilledInkGuy

    Not yet.
    But I’m not taking that to mean the strategy isn’t working. Necessarily.

  • Scott

    Yep, great post and point! I prefer local/restaurants and bars, but honestly that is just to save money and get a better tasting product for my dollar. I will be hosting someone in St. Louis from another country next month, and I am really nervous about what of my opinions of my own town will rub off on her. Do I want to show her the best time I think possible? Absolutely. But I have to stay open-minded to things that aren’t my cup of tea but could be fun for her.

  • Ivy

    You know what I love about this post? That this is not a ‘Here’s why’-List of theoretical giraffe crap, but a simple first-hand story that explains it all. And I totally agree.
    Another point to make is that as a traveler passing through you might look at different resources than locals (who reads their own Lonely Planet?) and find out awesome stuff to do – when I visited my cousins in Melbourne, I took them on a Pillow Fight Day they didn’t know existed and showed them their next favorite bar. Hah!

  • Candice

    Hahaha, so true! Which is also beneficial for you…could introduce you to something you otherwise wouldn’t have explored before.

  • Candice

    Lol, thank you! And that is a PERFECT example, love it!

  • Fidel

    Great advice Candice! I agree that we often get too wrapped up in wanting to live like a local and have a unique blog post to write about doing that, rather than just being a tourist and enjoying where we are and the limited time we have to be there.

  • Zoe

    And what the heck is wrong with Australians?

  • Wade Goodwin

    Frickin awesome post! Couldn’t agree more…definitely have to take all advice (from a local or otherwise) with a grain of salt…just get out there and go where your heart/drunken ambitions takes you!!