Travel guidebooks are a good source of reference for the practicals of travelling to another state or country, but you can’t really get the feel of a place from the pages of a book. Getting out and meeting the locals is the best way to make the most of your holiday.
Businesses and tour operators in popular travel destinations often see tourists as a way to make money, and the eventual tour or experience doesn’t always live up to expectations. You need to be adopted by a local to get a true taste of your destination.
Meeting locals can be difficult, because when you’re on holiday or taking in the sights, they’re working hard to make a living. Also, some cultures are a little more stand-offish than others, or see tourists as a necessary evil to boost the economy. But there are some countries where the locals are so friendly you may find it a bit overwhelming – as with everything in life, it’s all about finding a balance. So, how do you meet the locals?
Before you leave:
- Consider house sitting or house swapping as an alternative to booking accommodation. By using such arrangements, you are given access not only to a house, but often to a community, friends and family.
- If you’re a member of an organisation such as Probus, Rotary, a sports club, or special interest club, try to find out if there is such a group at your intended destination.
- Contact the tourism commission for the country you’re visiting. Many countries that are trying to promote tourism offer programs where you can eat with a local family, or have a local guide show you around.
Once you’re there:
- Keep the guidebook on hand for emergencies, but try to eat and drink in places that are off the beaten track. Absence of an English menu is a good guide that it may be a locals-only establishment. Be sure you feel safe before entering, and remain alert once inside, but don’t be afraid to start a conversation, even if there is a language barrier.
- Visit the local food market and talk to the stallholders about what types of food are on offer. Ask to taste a few titbits and where in town are the best places to eat.
- Time your visit with a festival or local gathering. While travel and accommodation maybe a little more expensive at such times, this is when the locals let their hair down and are only too happy to share their wonderful country with visitors.
Remember, if you’re travelling alone, or are visiting places off the beaten track, then it makes sense to register your travel details at Smarttraveller.gov.au. Find out how to do this and where to get more information on remaining safe by reading Travel Smart.