6 ways to experience more authentic travel
When I’m on a trip and I overhear someone complain about the customs, language or food it always makes me want to tap them on the shoulder and ask “What exactly did you expect?” Not kidding I was in Thailand once and heard someone yell “DOESN’T ANYONE HERE SPEAK ENGLISH?!” ermm you’re in a non English speaking country... so, no.
Sadly it happens more often than not. Here’s a few more ticklers I’ve heard; “there’s no burger on the menu” … “you’d think they’d signpost it better” … “that music is so annoying” If, like me you love immersing yourself in new cultures by getting lost, challenging yourself and trying new things, read on. If you have a similar attitude to the lady who was angry that fluent English wasn’t spoken in rural Thailand, I fear this post will be of no value to you.
1. Live like a local
Hotels have an industrial and impersonal vibe, especially chain hotels. My advice is to steer clear of them and stay in a local home. Use siteslike Airbnb and HomeAway to find your accommodation, for a short time you’ll be living just like a resident and not only will it enrich your experience but more often than not it’s far cheaper too!
In my experience Airbnb hosts have made me feel like a family member and at the end of my stay instead of saying goodbye to a stranger behind a hotel reception desk, I’ve felt as if I’m saying goodbye to a friend.
2. Eat at local hotspots
When searching for a place to eat try and find a restaurant whose menu is the local language. English menu’s with pictures of the food are a clear indicator of a tourist focused facility that will lack authenticity. In order to find such places you will need to venture outside popular tourist areas which will require some walking! But your efforts will be worth it.
Don’t be afraid to ask the local’s for recommendations either. I never mind walking 30 extra minutes if it means being rewarded with a culturally rich dining experience. The food will be cheaper at local hot spots too! You might not know exactly what you’re ordering and there will likely be a language barrier between you and the staff, but it doesn’t get much more authentic that that!
3. Take the road less travelled
Of course you’re going to see the big sites, nobody’s going to Rome and skipping the Colosseum because it’s too touristy... BUT for more authentic experiences you need to venture further afield. Walk with the intention of getting lost. Whenever I do that I always end up finding something interesting.
In Poland on one of these exploratory walks I stumbled upon an enchanting Jewish cemetery. It was dripping in history and the grave stones towered above my head, it felt like a gigantic stone maze. It was a fantastic experience that I would have missed out on if I hadn’t made the effort to explore outside of popular areas. Another great way to get off the tourist path is hiring a scooter or a car. When I went to Ibiza one of the best things I did was hire a scooter for two days and buzz around the coastline of the island discovering as many beaches as I could, you’ll be amazed at what you discover when you leave urban areas to explore the countryside.
4. Be friendly and get chatting to the locals
Don’t put a shield up between yourself and the locals! Whenever you get the chance to have a conversation with a local, take it. Doing so can result in wonderfully rich travel experiences. In Thailand I got chatting to some local lads who worked on the beach, we ended up making such good friends that on several separate occasions during that three week trip I was invited into family homes for meals and even to one of their father’s birthday celebrations! We are still close friends to this day.
5. Always see the good in the bad
Don't let a negative experience determine your perception of a place. I have had countless 'bad' days during my time in London but I still adore this city! I got drugged on a night out in Thailand but that place remains my favourite country. You can't let one or two bad experiences shape your whole experience.
Recently I was speaking with a woman who had just returned from Morocco, as I would be visiting soon I asked her what it was like. Her response surprised me with how wholly negative it was. She told me that she'd been verbally abused by several Moroccan men on her trip and also had her wallet stolen. The two negative experiences she'd had over-rode anything positive and in conclusion her feelings were that it was a horrible country which she will never visit again. I found this to be incredibly sad! what about the good people she met, what were they like? what was the food like? the architecture? the vibe?
Bad things are bound to happen and when they do, don't let them ruin your experience! Always find the silver lining. If there isn't one, choose to focus on the positive experiences you've had and let those determine your perception instead.
6. Take a moment to absorb it all
Allow a day or at least a few hours to simply ‘be’ where you are. Some of the most memorable experiences I’ve had on my travels have been when I didn’t have a plan, days when there was no pressure to get out the door and rush to see a particular attraction before it got too busy. During that time simply do whatever you want! Stop and reflect on where you are in the world, the smells, the sounds, the colours.
Sit in a park or at a local café with a good book and relax, watch the world go by and the locals going about their day. Soak it all up before it’s time to leave because I think too many of us rush through our holidays, always moving toward the next tourist attraction without ever taking the time to actually enjoy being where you are.
Now you’ve read these tips I hope you put them into action! In fact I challenge you to. Let go of your reservations and dive into the slightly uncomfortable but incredibly rewarding depths of ‘real’ travel. I guarantee you’ll thank yourself for it.
Over & out x
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