It is easy to visit a new country, city, town, village and stick to the well worn path of visitors gone. You go scale the famous structure, view the painting, pay your respects to the cathedral. I have found this type of travel ultimately unrewarding. Almost like I should have remained at home in front of the computer and googled the images. I like to travel in a way that replicates the local life as much as possible. Of course, when it ultimately comes down to it, we are tourists and this fact can’t be escaped. Yet there are certain ways where you can get at least a sense of life in a foreign destination. A few simple guidelines follow below.
It amazes me that when abroad, certain travelers seek to eat the meal most resembling what they would devour back home. I cannot fathom their reasoning. Open your pallet to the wonderful myriad of flavours that are on offer. Delight in the tagines of Morocco, the spices of India and the tapas of Spain. Leave at home your need to critique everything from the placement of the garnish, on up. In fact, my most memorable travel dining experiences seem to centre around the anti-fine-dining type eateries such as found in markets or street food. I like the closeness to your fellow diner and open-aired nature of the environment. The smells of the cooking (and whatever else), the noise of people shuffling by. Often, a friendly discussion with the proprietor of the establishment ensues. To me, each meal can become a mini-adventure in itself.
I recall a night in Granada, Nicaragua a few years ago. The hostel inhabitants were gathering to discuss the how the night’s proceedings should transpire. The options were narrowed to two: the “traditional” Nicaraguan location where a local band was playing customary tunes; or the local dance hall that would be pumping electronic music until dawn of the new day. On first glance, the responsible choice seemed clear. I went the “traditional” route. The place was full of tourists and the music was underwhelming. Shortly, a small discontent contingent of us decided to give the other place a shot. The atmosphere could not have been of starker contrast. I think every local youth had made their way there, and the dance action was well and truly underway. Which was the more “authentic” experience? All I know is I busted out dance moves (stylish of course) for countless hours while the ones who hadn’t made the switch were stuck trying to salsa with fellow travelers equally as adept. There are plenty of places about that try to create this authentic experience, but in doing so I believe they strip all the realness out of it. If I see a word like “traditional”, “real”, “authentic” or similar, I steer clear.
Athletic pursuits break barriers around the world. There is no better way to win a new friend or 10 than by joining a pick-up game of whatever is available. Soccer, I have found, is the most prolific. Tip: It helps to know who Messi and Ronaldo are, and who they play for! Besides joining a game, there are also opportunities to go watch the pros at work. Some of my most memorable travel times have involved supporting a local team, from joining a group of dedicated fans following a Honduran team around the country to cheering on a baseball team’s witch doctor mascot in Nicaragua. You will find yourself hi-fiving everyone within reach at your team’s success, or commiserate together in their failure.
Photos courtesy of onefinestay.com
Where you stay can make or break an entire trip. There isn’t too much “adventure” involved in being cooped up in a hotel watching cable tv. Look for alternative options. The well publicized couch-surfing phenomenon is obviously a great start. Another example of an option is Onefinestay a concept where homeowners in the UK allow travelers to stay in their houses whilst they are away. The homeowner leaves recommendations on what to see, do, eat, etc. Onefinestay calls it the “unhotel” concept. Whatever you decide on, be sure to explore more creative options that will get you in amongst the action instead of languishing in the realm of the tourist.
This list is far too short, but I think the general idea has been conveyed. Other thoughts of localizing your journey might lie in types of transportation (i love walking), volunteering, studying, and the list extends. Break the moulds friends!