Learn how to travel like a local
Get your gap year right and you'll remember the experience forever. Gap years are fantastic exactly because you get the chance to really go native, so put down that guidebook and start to travel like a local.
Take a bus — but not a tour bus
Tour buses are great for tourists and sight-seers, but how many local residents do you see on them? Instead, hop on a local bus. It may be slow and uncomfortable, but you'll see a slice of local life that's impossible from the soulless boxes that ferry visitors from one tourist trap to the next.
Nobody knows a place as well as those who live there, and you'll miss out if you don't take time to get to know local people. Everywhere you go, say hello to people you meet, talk to shopkeepers, ask questions in bars and restaurants... the list is endless. You may even make some firm friends.
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Learn the language
Although you can get by with English in many places, you'll find travel far more rewarding if you engage with local people on their own level — and that means picking up, at least, a few phrases of the language. Don't worry too much about making mistakes: most people are delighted that you've made the effort.
Don't take the guidebook
The problem with tour books is that they tend to concentrate on the same places. That's fine if you want to spend your gap year trip to India as a face in the crowd at the Taj Mahal, but some of the best places in any country are the hidden gems that nobody but the locals ever find. Avoid playing by the book and you'll find some hidden treasures, too.
Don't look like a tourist
This is one you've heard before — but it's still true. If you're going to travel like a local, dress the part. Don't go overboard, especially if there's a risk you might offend someone, but equally, avoid looking like a catwalk model. Apart from anything else, blending in will reduce your risk of being noticed by the sort of people who prey on tourists.
Get your walking shoes on
Wherever you are, there'll be places that just aren't accessible to vehicles, whether it’s in the depths of the Amazon rainforest or the twisting lanes of Capri. Simply avoiding these places will mark you out as a tourist straight away, so go exploring on foot for a while. Use common sense, though, and avoid anywhere that feels dangerous.
Stay in a house, not a hostel
Hostels are a great way to get to know the local area as well as other travellers. If you want to keep up with the locals, though, try and organise accommodation with the residents there. In most countries, it's simple to set up stays with local people in their own homes. If you want to experience authentic local life, this is the way to do it.
Eat on the street
Don't shy away from eating street food because of all those dire warnings about food poisoning and worse — if you do, you'll be missing out on a wonderful aspect of travelling. When you find a likely-looking food stall, stand back and watch for a while: if the place is packed with locals, then it's probably pretty safe for you, too.