How exploring with locals makes your travels better

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Of all the places we have traveled, Singapore has been one of the most interesting to figure out. It is a city of 5.8 million people, yet it is also a nation set on 272 sq miles of land. It couldn’t be more unlike the rest of South East Asia, and yet while parts of it seem to be dripping in wealth, what is it like to really live in this city of contrasts?

singapore skylineA key to getting under the skin of Singapore is to see it from a local perspective. Sites like Withlocals can help connect you to people who have a genuine interest in showing you their country through their own eyes. Because Singapore is also a very pricey destination, we opted to stay with a local host for part of our visit. A German expat, she had been based in Singapore for over 5 years and was able to share so many recommendations with us.

singapore apartment complex swimming poolOur host was a very successful businesswoman and unfortunately didn’t have much time to show us around herself. While we were so thankful for the hospitality and perspective on Singapore, we were left wishing we could undertake more activities with locals during our stay.

We didn’t know about the Withlocals website back then, but the options for Singapore are so amazing we would love to use it on our next visit. The site connects travelers with locals in Asia through food, tours and activities. In Singapore, you can connect with people to eat in their homes, do parkour together with a local or go on photography or cycling tours through local neighborhoods.

The other major benefit of hanging out with locals, especially in Singapore, is that you can ask all of those random questions that pop into your mind when exploring – and actually get some answers. This happened in Singapore more than many places we traveled, just because the history, politics, government and lifestyle here is so different to other places we had visited.

kampong glam streetWhat do they think of the different traditional neighborhoods, like Little India, Chinatown and Geylang Serai? How much do locals pay for rent if hotel rates in the city are so high? How do locals feel about the trade-offs between a spotless city and flawless public transportation with hugely high fines, their reputation as a ‘police state’, obvious wealth inequalities and billion dollar hotel projects?

There is such diversity among the people of Singapore, but do people from a traditionally Indian background easily befriend those of Muslim or Chinese cultures?

singapore indian curryAnd on a lighter note – where are the best places to eat – according to that local person or their friends and family.

Our German host recommended quite a few places to eat, and one of the best was a simple Indian restaurant right in her neighborhood, far off the beaten path. This ended up being one of our best and cheapest meals during all of our stay.

She also gave us the perfect tip for going out in Singapore. Rather than go over budget buying drinks in expensive spots around town, she recommended we get beers in Chinatown, which is exactly what we ended up doing. It would have never occurred to us that drinks could be affordable in a city where everything seems overpriced to the novice traveler. So after our tour of Chinatown, we stayed there and had a blast without breaking the bank. You really can’t put a price on the benefits of hanging out with locals in countries around the world.

chinatown singapore at night

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