Stop Fetishizing Locals

Overdone and unreliable

The Gateway Arch in Saint Louis as the sun is setting, with the Basilica of St. Louis, King of France in the foreground.

Please enjoy this random image

Reading time: 2 minutes

Return to Blog Home
July 7th, 2020 at 1:15pm

Bad configuration of Message to Display in Plugin parameters.

Not a rant

A friend and colleague refers to semi-occasional appearances of "surly Scott," but this post is not that. It's not a rant at all.

In fact, I come not to complain about locals but to liberate you from them.

I come not to complain about locals but to liberate you from them.

It's not difficult to find travel writers who fetishize locals. Travel like a local! Get the inside scoop from locals! Go where the locals go! I read these hoary tips a great deal, and they inspire the same reaction every time: taking advice from locals is a crapshoot.

If you come across the right ones, and they want to talk to you, then yes - absolutely, without question - talk to the locals. Listen to them. Follow their suggestions. But it's not always easy to know who the "right ones" are.

Jars of different kinds of honey against a brick wall

A lot of people won't know about this honey, won't like it, or will think it's weird. Photo by Jonathan Farber (Mods)

I have defended this minority position with writers and bloggers at travel writing conferences. The look is always the same, a strained combination of disbelief and woke patience. I disagree, but let's hear the old white guy out.

Roughly 40% for sure

My main argument is as follows: how many people in your day-to-day life are full of shit? Consider your coworkers and neighbors. Many of them:

  • Are painfully phlegmatic, boring people
  • Think Chili's is a great restaurant
  • Are horrible human beings who believe it's acceptable to put children in cages
  • Etc, etc

If you ran into them on the street, would you ask for suggestions on what to do around town? No, you wouldn't. So why would that change if you were a visitor from out of town?

How many people in your day-to-day life are full of shit?

This critique goes in the opposite direction: a significant share of the population would not want to do anything I like to do. The scent of ginger in restaurants I like would turn them off. A trip to an art museum or conservatory would bore them. Going to see Matt and Kim or Gogol Bordello would be way too weird. And checking out a soccer game? No way.

Cash register and counter of a coffee shop with various colored woods and an American flag hanging on the wall, and lots of pastries and bags of coffee beans

A lot of people won't know about this coffee shop, won't like it, or will think it's weird. Photo by Ian Baldwin (Mods)

Even if we're talking about other midwestern, college-educated, liberal, middle-class white people, with whom I have a high likelihood of sharing preferences, I still don't have the same tastes. A good friend once told me a local breakfast joint was "epic," but I thought it was astonishingly mediocre.

Let's give locals a rest. They may very well not want to talk to you, and if they do, you might not like what they have to say. It happened to me a few times when I researched Backseat Cities.

I recommend discovering things for yourself.

Instead, I recommend discovering things for yourself. Go out and see what you can find. Yes, consult Tripadvisor reviews, the travel industry's foray into the Law of large numbers. Those suggestions might still be wrong - I don't always share the wisdom of crowds - but you're improving your odds of finding a place that suits you.

In the end, though, do what looks good to you.

 Two Shelves, One Book The Bourdain Paradox 

Blog Home

Add a comment


There are no comments for this post yet. Be the first!



A smiling Francis and me, sitting outside in front of some shrubs

Some basics

A brief biographical sketch

Me on top of a sunny Mt Pilatus in Switzerland, with mountains in the background


Pardon the saccharine and the obvious, but travel is everything

A couple standing in front of a large Gothic church, on a bridge over the Seine


France deserves its own section

Francis, as a two year-old in a car seat, in sunglasses reading a French picture book


The bullshit of daily life? I'd rather read.

Stage with musicians going at it - they're Gogol Bordello, and they're crazy


Let me take you back

Little boy sitting on a big white bed, looking at a tablet


I watch a lot more television than movies

Live action from a soccer game at Crew Stadium - yellow versus blue


The only sport that matters

Ugly photo of a pig knuckle after it's been eaten - really, it looks horrible


As a travel writer, I have to talk about food

Me in an outdoor restaurant drinking from a green coconut with a long straw

Dumb stuff

You will not feel smarter after reading this

Dumpster full of garbage


Trying to live simply

Me getting out of a red Ferrari F430 with a guy clapping for me

Other Interests

I've only driven a Ferrari once

Dude wearing orange pants and orange and green shoes walking on wet grass

Get off my lawn

A few brief rants

Recent Instagram Posts

Recent Tweets