Avoid westernized hotels and tourist trap restaurants. Staying in an apartment or with a family provides greater insight into how people really live. The food is much better, too. Shopping at local markets is great fun. Escaping one’s comfort zone is educational and leads to unexpectedly delightful people experiences.
In Turin for the 2006 Winter Olympics we stayed with a lovely local couple who helped us navigate the Italian postal system in order to ship three boxes within Italy. Who knew boxes could not have any writing on them? We required massive amounts of tape to cover up the boxes’ manufacturer labels.
In the Cinque Terre we stayed in an apartment outside the window of which a woman was making wine and using hoses to draw it into the apartment next door for bottling. That was quite a conversation and we enjoyed two of their bottles.
We came by the apartment quite by chance, after showing up rather late in a very full Vernazza and wandering around looking for a place.