In this age of Google Maps and Street view and everyone-documenting-everything, there is no reason not to set your story in a ‘foreign’ location and still get the details right.
Write a story in a place you’ve never actually been to.
- Use a search engine to find out a few important facts about the place.
- Use Google Street View to take a look at the place (if your story is taking place in a diner in North-East Philadelphia, hope on Google maps and find out exactly what your heroine sees as she’s looking out of the window, waiting to say that thing she wants to say).
- Find a blog or informal tourist account of the location and gather some off-the-beaten-track details.
- Don’t spend all day doing these things. Just find one or two really colorful details that will help ground your story in the location. Make your characters from somewhere else if you’re not confident of capturing local speech patterns.
- If you don’t write realistic fiction, find somewhere to act as a model for your extra-terrestrial setting. Use a detail or two (like the architecture of the TRW ‘Space Park’ in Redondo Beach, California; used in a Star Trek episode in 1967; or England’s Home Counties as Tolkein’s Middle Earth).