Words are not always faithful to those who command them. I enjoy sharing how the term ‘local travel’ isn’t presently polished to the point of unambiguity. For example, the first time I saw ‘local travel’ in print, I read ‘lo-cal’ travel (travel on a low-calorie diet). When I’ve used the term in the presence of green-leaning Baby Boomers, some are immediately reminded of the hippy travel notion of ‘going native.’ Many younger travellers simply assume that ‘local travel’ is sticking to places in the immediate vicinity of one’s home.
All three mistaken definitions could be alchemically treated to fit one true gold standard, but I think that would make Local Travel boring. That being said, for the sake of arguable clarity and discussion, here’s one catch-pot way of describing Local Travel, offered in last week’s article: Local Travel is travel like a local no matter where you are. It’s not about the destination as much as it is about balancing a visitor’s “discovery experience against the needs and interests of the host community by being sensitive to the local environment, the local heritage and culture, and the local economy.”
It’s about establishing and nurturing the kinds of relationships that used to be a routine part of travel but presently require a (richly rewarded) proactive readiness to seek out human conversation and direct engagement. It’s about immersion and experience, not checking off items on top-10 lists.
Local Travel Hints
If you’re not yet a practiced local traveller, or a travel writer able to spin a few local-knowledge yarns, here are six meaningful tips and practices that will help you get comfortable with your new orientation.
1. Play Local
Wherever you travel, do your best to meet and have fun with like-minded locals. If you don’t already have someone to turn to and don’t feel up to leveraging chance encounters, then take advantage of a variety of services that make it very easy to make connections, both before you leave home and once you are on the road.
These include Web-based friend-finding networks like Triptrotting and GuidedByALocal, or locals for hire (some are even professional guides) who can ease you into the local swing of things. These latter can be found through businesses like Cup of Local Sugar, LocalGuiding, Rent a Local Friend and ToursByLocals.
2. Tour Local
Choose unique ways to access a destination. Shoot for something that goes at least one layer deeper than the standard vanilla-flavoured best-hits tour. Although some people believe local travel is only possible if you slow down and extend your stay in a single destination, I don’t think that’s true, especially since there are options for travellers who don’t have a lot of time. They can still head out on a responsible tour of only a few hours, like those on offer from Urban Adventures. Of course, if you’ve got even more flexibility, then multi-day tour operators like the Ethical Travel Portal, Gunyah, Large Minority and SnoworSand always strive to keep it local.
3. Stay Local
Accommodation comes in all shapes, sizes, budgets… and degrees of connection to the local community. At a minimum, try to choose an overnight facility that is locally owned and not part of an offsite mega-company that siphons away profits. Homestays, ecolodges and family-run guesthouses usually qualify – check out SustainableTrip.org for some great examples. Also consider couchsurfing-style networks like AirBnB, My Friends Hotel, onefinestay and Tripping, or home-swap services like Knok.
For larger and more mainstream facilities, look at whether a hotel’s staff, guides, activity managers, crafts-makers and more are hired locally and fairly represent the local community. Think about what foods are served and where the food comes from. By researching and asking question about this, you are not only tapping into ethically appropriate tourism practices in a destination, you are also letting all accommodation owners and managers know what you think matters.
4. Buy Local
As I reported last week, US$80-90 of every $100 spent on travel in the developing world is usually “banked by deep pockets with little connection” to the land or country countries. That’s a staggering amount of money denied to the people who probably need it most. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to reverse that trend: shop in neighbourhood stores, eat at the restaurants locals patronise and select from services offered by locals.
These days, there’s absolutely no reason to buy and bring everything from home or to book everything in advance. What would happen if you embarked on an extended trip with only a day bag of things you might need for a day at work? You would probably be just fine, because every step of the way you could purchase and plan everything as you needed it, in local marts and through local operators.
5. Think Local
Don’t worry too much about details, definitions and morals. Just take a leap, be open to meeting people and trust your gut-guided instincts. Of course, you can (and probably should) seek a look local advice before you go. Fortunately, there are excellent services that put expert opinions at your fingertips and sometimes even encourage contact with the people behind them. For example, give Spotted by Locals, Tripbod and Trourist a spin.
The goal in all cases is to help you feel at ease in a foreign land. Clutching a list of quirky but revealing must-experiences, not the standard iconic must-sees, you can begin to find your way on your own, gain the kind of confidence that helps you tackle your travels by simply doing the things you would do at home every day: stay alert to new things, seek and trust others’ advice and not shy away from mystery.
6. Show Local
When it comes time to write about your experiences, give your readers something that they can’t get anywhere else, something that could genuinely add value to their experiences that would be in keeping with the normal flow of local activity. Don’t pen the umpteenth post about the Eiffel Tower or Bateaux Mouches, but share what you uncover about local patisseries.
Of course, this will mean choosing to indulge in the qualities of a destination that represent how people actually live, but with all the resources referenced above and elsewhere, you now can see just how easy it could be for you to abandon the mainstream and then challenge your readers to join you.
Why are you hesitating? Seriously, why? Tell us below.
Featured Image: Flickr/snowpea&bokchoi