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Travel secrets revealed: How to experience a destination like a local

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Posted: Sunday, August 17, 2014 10:00 pm | Updated: 1:33 am, Sat Sep 13, 2014.

(BPT) - Travelers today want more from their vacations, including authentic experiences that are off the beaten path. Knowing where the locals go and what they like to do is key to discovering the hidden gems of any destination. Fortunately, finding this seemingly secret information is easier than you think if you just follow a few tricks of seasoned travelers.

Research weather patterns: The ideal weather at a particular location doesn’t necessarily align with popular vacation times or holidays. By looking into average temperatures, you might be able to book an affordable vacation during the off-season and still enjoy beautiful weather. For example, fall months bring warm and comfortable temperatures to the Myrtle Beach area in South Carolina dubbing September and October as the “perfect time of year” by locals. Learn more about off-season travel at www.visitmyrtlebeach.com

Look beyond the hotel: Prime tourist areas are ripe with hotels and resort options, which can be wonderful. But for a more authentic experience, consider renting a house or condo instead. Your home-away-from-home might be in a neighborhood where locals live, allowing you to experience day-to-day life from a fresh perspective. You might even mingle and make some new friends.

Try the local food: Food provides an inside glimpse into a region’s history, culture and favorite flavors. Before you head home, be sure to research cuisine unique to the area and try a few new dishes while away. Southern coastal cooking has created a phenomenon called low-country cooking. This type of cuisine includes dishes like chicken bog, a pilau dish typically made of rice, chicken, onion, celery, sausage and spices. A trip to South Carolina is not complete without a visit to Shorty’s Grill in Loris, located just outside Myrtle Beach, where locals head every Thursday for Chicken Bog Day.

Embrace digital research: Spending time online will help you discover some of the best information about any vacation destination. Videos, social media and online chat boards are all great resources for exploring what’s hot within the local community.  For example, “local’s look” YouTube video series highlights favorite hotspots and things to do in the Myrtle Beach area. To learn about other local favorites, go to VisitMyrtleBeach.com/60Days.

Drink like a local: Raising a glass filled with a tasty libation has been a bonding ritual bringing people together for hundreds of years. Be sure to research bars that have built a strong local following, and strike up a conversation with the employees and regulars. Breweries and distilleries offer another opportunity to experience the local flavors. For example, New South Brewing is Myrtle Beach’s only local microbrewery that offers tours and tastings every Tuesday and Thursday. Also, Palmetto Moonshine is a facility that sells locally grown and made moonshine.

Play like a local: What do locals do in their free time? In beach towns this often means heading inland while the shoreline is packed with tourists during weekends. Consider exploring the city center when the work week is done and gridlock has ceased. It might mean visiting a park that comes alive at night with music and food booths, giving locals a break from the nine-to-five. Do a little digging and you’ll discover where the locals go – and the places they avoid – during their free time.

Converse with locals: If you’ve done some research and know a few places rumored to be favorites of local residents, the final step to ensuring an authentic experience is to be friendly and talk with people you meet. Residents typically have a lot of pride in where they live, and many are more than happy to share their thoughts on favorite restaurants, stores, beaches and more. An approachable smile, a friendly attitude and willingness to listen might help you learn about an amazing coffee shop or rarely frequented seashore that your family will adore.

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