Eric Weiner
2 min readAug 22, 2022

No, You Don’t “Travel Like a Local”

And that’s okay

Photo by Mika Baumeister, Unsplash

When we travel, we expand ourselves not by turning inward but by looking outward, interacting with other people. Do we see only differences — language, cuisine, customs — or do we also identify commonalities, a shared humanity? This is empathy. If we don’t empathize, at least a little, with those we encounter, we never really see them.

Empathizing with other people, though, doesn’t mean becoming them. I know it’s fashionable to brag that you “travel like a local.” No, you don’t. You travel like a foreigner. That’s because you are one. And that’s OK.

The empathetic traveler doesn’t try to fit in. She knows that is impossible and that there are advantages to seeing places at an angle. One of the best books about U.S. democracy was written by a Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville. This is no coincidence. An observant outsider often sees what insiders do not.

Embrace your outsider status. See your destination through your own eyes, but make sure your eyes are wide open.

To be honest, I’m not even sure what “traveling like a local” means. Locals include dishwashers working for minimum wage, wildly wealthy tech entrepreneurs, and immigrants, too. Which local, exactly, are you traveling like?

Eric Weiner

Philosophical Traveler. Recovering Malcontent. Author of four books, including my latest: “The Socrates Express.”