Time to retire the phrase “live like a local” – I propose “undertourist”

December 6th, 2017

Alex Bainbridge

“Live like a local” is travel industry jargon for a niche, long tail travel experience where a customer can really get under the skin of a destination and live like a local.

Only, they can’t. A real “live like a local” experience ought to include many boring tasks, such as filling out tax returns, and no one is going to pay for that travel experience!

What customers really want when opting to live like a local is something passionately delivered, less touristy (small groups only) and which gives a true taste of local culture.

In my view, it’s a good concept but a bad phrase, so lets create a new phrase and fix it!

An alternative phrase – “undertourism”

The phrase overtourism started as a hashtag on Twitter in August 2012 (however, Skift has also laid claim to inventing, or at least popularising, it).

Regardless of who invented it, overtourism refers to an excess of tourists in certain locations, and is a great phrase.

My proposal, an undertourist, is the opposite of that, it’s:

  • A traveller who gets under the skin of the destination
  • The opposite of “mainstream” – under tourists do not create overtourism problems.

Simple, huh? Isn’t that a nicer way of saying “live like a local”?

I would be proud to be an under tourist.

The tourist word

If your debate is with the word tourist, I suggest you go and read this article about the fine line between experiential travel and colonialist tourism by Ann-Derrick Gaillot. She argues this point much more eloquently than I could.

Feeling like an outsider is one of the only “authentic” experiences travel and tourism have to offer, and it’s a feeling that can keep travellers from figuratively bulldozing over the places and cultures they seek to visit

and continues…

One of the bravest things any traveller can do today is admit they are coming from a position of unknowing that they cannot easily or quickly shake

This reinforces that tourists really should remember they are still tourists. They can’t (and shouldn’t!) avoid that, so using the word tourist within the live like a local replacement phrase makes total sense.


Undertourist and undertourism work as improved definitions yes? If you’ve got a better replacement phrase add it in the comments below. 🙂

Klook has started to use ordinary living, which I do quite like, but it’s not very catchy.

Image: Flickr : Images Money

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2 responses to “Time to retire the phrase “live like a local” – I propose “undertourist””

  1. Brian Cowan says:

    Time to retire your misspelling of “quotidien”! 🙂 How about the (ironically) more commonplace “quotidian”?

    Maybe on this road to redefinition – which is a destination that I’m not sure we really need to go to Alex! – we need to start from the same place?! Arguably, “Live *like* a local” = do some of the things that locals do, while “Live *as* a local” = do all of the things that locals do (including tax returns and speaking the local language fluently).

    “Tourist”? The problem with anything “touristy” is that based on the dictionary definition it can be “abounding in tourists” or “designed for tourists”. In your redefinition you probably want it to mean the latter but not the former. Tourist, by definition, also tends to have an emphasis on “seeing” as opposed to “doing”. For those reasons I don’t think that “tourist” should appear in any redefined term, if one were required.

    As for “Under Tourist” specifically – well, I suppose that if you’re a prostitute in touristy Amsterdam it perhaps describes where you “live like a local”!

    I thinks it’s the old features versus benefits argument – do you use a term that describes “who/what you are” or do you instead use a term for the experience or “what you get out of it”?

    “Live like a local” is aimed at “outsiders” getting a feel of what it’s like to be “insiders”, enjoying experiences that are “off the beaten track”.

    For a visitor it’s largely down to time available, depth and preference – ranging from “skim the surface and see” TO “delve under the skin and experience”. So, are you a skimmer or a skinner?!

  2. Steven says:

    Not sure if undertourism will catch on, but it is a good try. I have had the same idea about the ‘live like a local’ concept. Isn’t the whole point of traveling that you are not at home? I might want to visit a dance party in a favela where I am the only foreigner. Does that mean I am living like a local? No. I am very much the tourist.

    Especially the commodification part of it; it stops being ‘authentic’ (another pet peeve) once you start paying for it, guys…Does not mean it cannot be valuable.

    I am also happy to see you advocating the correct use of tourist. If you are traveling somewhere to (broadly speaking) enjoy yourself, you are a tourist. I hate those people who say they are ‘travelers’ just because they went to Kabul on their holiday.

    I personally use the term meaningful travel. I think that term encapsulates nicely the type of tourism I strive for: an experience that feels meaningful and transformative for tourists, locals and tourism’s service providers alike.

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