If a picture is worth 1,000 words, what is an experience worth? Like the long-lasting memories that come from them, the experiences of any voyage are what make travel unique and priceless. Travel opens us up to so much of our world, connecting us with people, culture, and nature.
Some of my fondest childhood memories are of the summer vacations I spent in Greece. At a young age, I learned how to live with locals, experiencing them through familiarity, and learning to travel into the great outdoors. I did not grow up wealthy, but I was taught to appreciate the fact that I was able to travel, as well as to respect people and nature. I slept on couches, ate home cooked meals with relatives or even individuals who were complete strangers to me. I thumbed rides to the beach, took road trips with cousins, and sought out new hangouts. I learned that where my parents went, I was meant to tag along. Which meant always meeting new local people.
Over the past few years, there has been a shift in travel values. Now, more than ever, travelers have greater options to blend in with local society. Through apps, websites, and travel affiliation groups, travelers are seeking out original experiences that will allow them to become immersed in culture by living as the local inhabitants do. Traveling to a new destination is exhilarating, but staying with someone who knows the landscape (physical and cultural) opens many more doors. Taking the road less traveled, living off the beaten path, visiting more than just the typical tourist sites of your new turf should be everyone’s goal on any trip.
We should all make an effort to “go local,” learning about the culture of our new destination from the people who actually live in the region and to be chameleon-like as we blend into our new surroundings. Nowadays, modern day explorers seek exclusive encounters and unique and authentic experiences.
Experiential travel, immersion travel, and peer-to-peer travel are the new buzz words heard throughout the travel industry. But is this style of travel really new? It’s as old as civilization itself. Ever since the poster child of the “going local” movement, Airbnb, allowed guests to bunk in one’s abode, a new genre of travel was put on the map and travelers took notice. Today, there are apps and websites revolved around staying with residents, sharing a meal prepared by a home chef, hitching a ride, and being guided by the experts who best know the lay of the land: local inhabitants.
As P2P (peer to peer) travel continues to lay its mark on traditional touring, visitors may choose from a wide variety of places to rest. Accommodations can vary from the aforementioned stay in a home or apartment, on a sofa or in a spare room, to more exotic locales such as lighthouses, universities, wineries, monasteries, boats, treehouses, or above an English pub. One might live with indigenous people, sleep in a castle, a converted airplane, or even on a small island.
Food now plays a predominant role in choosing one’s destination. Fifteen years ago, few travelers might have called themselves self-proclaimed “foodies.” The cuisine of a nation is now a fundamental reason at the forefront of most journeys. Globetrotters seek a greater understanding of their new digs through cooking classes, visits to food markets, and commingling with locals through the meal sharing revolution.
A rewarding way to see the world is by volunteering— traveling the world while helping others. You can work in a village in Africa, teach English in Myanmar, grow organic food in Guatemala, and pick tea leaves in Sri Lanka, help to build houses in a Peruvian village, build schools in Bangladesh, or take a marine conservation holiday in Thailand. Whether you’re helping people or assisting with the environment or the protection of animals, nothing beats volunteering.
Wanderers must also be responsible travelers by protecting ecosystems and becoming environmentally and culturally responsible. Tour operators are crafting programs and individual trips to tread lightly, leaving a positive footprint on the places where they guide people.
Go “Local” and you’re sure to return home with a better understanding of the world, and with a greater tolerance and knowledge that can only be learned from interaction while merging into a local society.
Kontis, Nicholas. Going Local: Experiences and Encounters on the Road (Kindle Locations 118-120). Nicholas Kontis. Kindle Edition.
Nick’s book is free to download on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.