Every time I asked a Dallas native what I should do in the city, they would pause and then name the bigger, more touristy attractions. There is some merit in going to tourist attractions, especially those centered around the arts and major historical events. But I wanted the details on the best local Mexican food, the hole-in-the-wall coffee shop, the unspoiled places that people love.
Getting those leads sometimes feels like pulling teeth.
It’s not that people are trying to hide their favorite places, but when put on the spot, the first thing they can think of is the obvious big attractions. There are ways to get great travel advice though and here’s how you can do it.
This is the most difficult step but necessary. Strike up conversations with strangers. Take every opportunity you can to start a dialog about every day, mundane things. The weather, the bus being late, the rude person that just pushed through the crowd, asking for directions– any of these interactions can lead to great conversations.
It’s all about you
Once you get a conversation going, keep it going by focusing on the other person. Questions about people’s interests is the best way to get them talking. This is where “getting to know you” questions come into play. Whether you’re chatting with an Englishman in a pub or the street vendor making your noodles in Japan, you’re bound to get better answers if you ask them questions that make the conversation about them.
For example, if you want to learn about good lunch spots, ask where they eat lunch. You’re more likely to get some local suggestions. But if you ask “where should I eat lunch” you’re more likely to get answers that they think you’ll want to hear– answers that could include tourist traps that sell “American” food.
Do your research
In France, it’s rude to talk about money, in Korea, you should always address people by their last names, even if you’ve been friends for a while and in India, you shouldn’t have physical contact with the opposite sex, not even a hand shake, unless the local offers.
Try to keep your behavior in line with the country you’re in. Americans are often blasé about intimate details of their lives, but our openness might not be well received in other places. Make a list of safe topics to ask about and stick to those.
Yelp and Trip Advisor are great resources if you keep a few things in mind. Sites like yelp usually show the extremes. Most middle of the road experiences don’t drive people to create an account and write a review. When you’re reading reviews, remember that you’re mostly reading about people that had an amazing experience or a horrible experience.
The ratings also depend on what people want. If you’re in the suburbs, locals might like kid friendly restaurants better than foodie experiences. In a city, the newest, most trendy restaurants might grab more attention and ratings than the tried and true local joints that everybody already knows are good. Use the internet to try some new places, but don’t let bad ratings keep you from going to a place that you’ve heard is good.
If you’re looking for authentic food while abroad, try googling for the country’s version of yelp or trip advisor. For example, if you’re in Germany, google “Germany’s version of yelp.” You’ll get the local’s take on where to eat.
While most attractions have an internet presence, some of the best food isn’t on yelp, trip advisor, or anywhere on the internet. Street food and small mom and pop joints can sometimes only be found by wandering around or talking to a local. Don’t be afraid to ditch internet advice and walk into the first place that looks good.
The more I explore Dallas, the more I’m realizing that the action is where people live. Downtown is fun, but some of the best stuff is outside of the city center. And really, this makes sense. Communities come together around the local bar, the coffee shop down the road, or the restaurant that has been around for as long as you can remember. Check out the businesses serving neighborhoods and you’ll find the local flavor you’ve been looking for.