Travel Like a Local: 6 Ways to Find Hidden Gems for Your Family Vacation

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August 23, 2011

Wouldn’t it be great if you had a best friend in every top travel vacation destination? Someone who could take you to their favorite places, the ones that never make it in to a guidebook so you could travel like a local?

The Internet can connect you with local flavor before your trip and after you arrive so you can act like a local, no matter where you are headed. Here are a few places you can look to find the best deals, restaurants, and attractions.


The local paper has everything about new business ventures and townie favorites. Christina Amorose, of women’s travel site C’est Christine, swears by the local newspaper for restaurant tips. “I always checked out my hometown’s Taste section for recommendations on restaurants, old and new,” she said, “so why wouldn’t I do the same thing abroad?” One of her finds was Eskimo Candy, a fish market in Maui. Tucked in between an industrial area and a high school, Eskimo Candy is a far cry from the typical tourist restaurants boasting ocean views or close proximity to resorts, but Amorose said, “it is where locals go for super-fresh fish and amazing fish and chips — all for reasonable prices.”

Once you know where you’re going and when, a few minutes with Google or your search engine of choice will lead you to the newspapers that serve the area. For example, if you are planning to visit New Orleans, type “new orleans newspaper” into the search box. On the first page of results, you’ll see a link to the local entertainment weekly’s Best of New Orleans list. You probably know of the big tourist destination eateries, such as world-famous beignet bakery Cafe Du Monde, but this reader-submitted list will send you to Superior Bar & Grill and Reginelli’s Pizzaria, two kid-friendly restaurants locals love.

When you’ve arrived, pick up the newspaper and any free entertainment guides you can find. This will save you money AND time!

Family Magazines

Regional parenting magazines are a great source of local deals and information. You can find these by searching for the name of the city you are traveling to and “family magazine” or “parenting guide.” Corrine McDermott always suggests regional parenting sites. “Not only will [you] be able to find tried and tested family-friendly restaurants, attractions, parks, and playgrounds, those sites often have coupons and discounts on offer as well.” For example, if you are going to Miami, a Google search for “miami family magazine” will lead you to the South Florida Parenting magazine website. On their event calendar, you’ll see that the magazine sponsors a back to school event at a local mall each August that features paddle boats, a dunk tank, and other fun and free activities.

Guide Sites

Online city guides give you the best of both worlds. They hire local writers to post descriptions of local restaurants, attractions, and events, and they crowdsource reader feedback. Start with the major national sites, such as Citysearch or AOL City Guides. If you plan to head to New York City, you’ll want to get some pizza in Brooklyn. According to Citysearch, Grimaldi’s is the place to go. But, other visitors will be stuck in the long lines that come from good reviews. You can follow the Citysearch tip to order ahead and eat your pizza at a nearby park.

After you get the lowdown from the general sites, you might want to try family-specific guide sites, such as Momaboard, the newly launched Families Go, or McDermott’s Have Baby Will Travel, have the info you need about kid-friendly activities and locations. These make a good companion to the general guide sites.


You can use Facebook to find out the real deal about your destination. Ask friends for recommendations — you never know who among your online tribe might have lived or have family in your destination city — and then use the search box to find out if those businesses have fan pages. They might offer coupons and Facebook-specific deals you can take advantage of.

And, once you have arrived, your status updates can help you redirect if things aren’t going as planned. Momaboard founder Kaamna Bhojwani-Dhawan recently posted an update that helped turn her boring trip around. “When we were in Budapest,” Bhojani-Dhawan said, “I put up a status post about being underwhelmed by the city and received 7–8 comments from my friends who had lived there (I didn’t even know), telling me where to go and what to check out.”

Do be careful when posting about travel. Make sure your privacy settings ensure that only your close friends can see where you are and when you plan to return. If your kids are old enough to have their own profiles, ensure that they are locked down, too.


Seek out local businesses on Twitter — a pizza joint or a few kid-friendly venues — for targeted deals. And, check out some other types of businesses, such as a community newspaper or credit union. For example, Aloha Federal Credit Union in Honolulu, Hawaii, tweets about specials at local attractions, such as Wet ’n’ Wild Water Theme Park, on its Twitter feed. That type of info can save you big bucks.

Hospitality professional Joan Eisenstodt uses the search function in Twitter to seek out hashtags from cities she plans to visit to find the hotspots. You can also just search for the city name or airport code — some cities may not have users who add a local hashtag to their tweets.


When you get to your destination, talk to everyone you encounter. You never know when they will let you in on something special.

On a trip to the Cook Islands earlier this year, Stirling struck up a conversation about kayaking with someone she met. He not only told her about the unknown places to kayak, he “hooked [us] up with another local who gave us the keys to his garage to use his two kayaks whenever we wanted. It truly was amazing, and the kids LOVED it.”

In the absence of a local guide, a little planning — and flexibility — can help you create a summer vacation your family will remember.

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