How often have you heard, “Be a traveler, not a tourist”? But what does it mean? What is the difference between a traveler and a tourist? Typically, a tourist is defined as someone who travels to destinations for leisure. Whereas, a traveler is someone who travels not just to explore the known attractions but with ulterior goals of discovering something unique, beyond the telling of destination guides.
L for Local
When you visit a destination, it is not about a building or an attraction alone. A destination is a mix of the place, the people, the culture, the food and everything that occupies place- physically or socially, playing an influential role in the surroundings. It is about all things local.
You will always have the option to go for the popular attraction, the luxury hotel chain, meals at branded restaurants, options based on online listings, discounts, memberships, recommendations. These options may be also fancy and convenient. Their offerings customized to suit your tastes and liking. But that is most likely to steal you of the joy of what is real. How will you know the real local flavors? Or the hidden gems known by the locals? What about the little nuances that you can pick up around you?
The true essence of travel is based on the interaction between the travelers and the locals. It’s a two-way street where the locals are likely to share with you the best options to make the most of your travels in their locality. On the other hand, you get to pay back by learning more about the local culture, appreciating their way of life, relishing the local flavors and through all of it, by supporting local businesses.
As a traveler, you have the potential to contribute to the local economy and the growth of the natives of the destination.
Reasons To Go Local On Your Travels
Interacting with the community
Technology will only take you so far. Eventually, you shall need human interaction to rescue you from any possible situation. You may not have anything in common with the locals when you visit a new destination. But that is precisely the reason to interact with locals. The cultural exchange created by this interaction is the very core of travel.
Locals are most excited about visitors, not just for the contribution to their economy, but for the opportunity to showcase and share their world and way of life with someone else.
Talk to them and they will tell you about the best finds, experiences, flavors and stories that are hidden from the prying eyes of the gazillion guide books and blogs.
Try the native flavors
You can have a Subway sandwich almost anywhere in the world with its own sets of localized adaptations. But you’ll find the best Belgian Fries in a small eatery in Bruges, or some fine Becherovka only in Czech Republic. Global food chains always feel like home, because you’ll always find something that fits your bracket of comfort food. But local food is always an experiment- it could be similar to the way you like it or drastically different! It could have a different style of making or ingredients that completely twist the expected dish. And you may love it or completely hate it. But you will never truly know a place until you eat like a local.
A cup of Starbucks coffee will barely tell you about the social fabric of Vienna. But even stepping into one of the traditional kaffeehauses will tell you a lot more about how seriously the Austrians take their coffee, why there is alcohol in a variety of their coffees and why their coffee houses look so grand.
Food, flavors and beverages are the tell-it-all of a place. It could reveal the occupation or weather or which ingredients are staple in the area.
You could literally learn about a whole culture through the local flavors! No better time to go local than while traveling.
Supporting Local Businesses
When you travel to a destination, you’re essentially contributing to that economy. You support the economy by paying for your stay, food, attractions, everything you shop for. Basically, every time you take cash out to pay! Making more local choices is the best way to support the businesses in the locality. It only makes sense for the local businesses to flourish of your contributions, given their time and contribution towards creating something genuine and native to the destination. By supporting the many local businesses directly, you’re supporting not just the owners, but their families and eventually the destination.
Through these interactions, let us be particularly cautious of being respectful towards local cultures and ideas, even if they are different from ours. And let us promise to leave the place better than we found it, instead of polluting and destroying it. The repercussions of mindless actions will have to be borne by the very locals who welcomed us. By being more mindful, we can help maintain this relationship even for future travelers. No one likes their home left dirty by strangers. No one likes to welcome those who cannot respect the sanctity of their homes.
Travel truly becomes empowering when the tourists/ travelers interact with the local opportunities, creating more opportunities for them to flourish. Similarly, the local communities are the best guides to understanding and experiencing the native fabric and stories.
Whenever we travel, wherever we travel next, let’s resolve to support the local communities through our interactions, let’s learn something from them, and share something that matters. Together we can create wonders!
What are your thoughts about local-tourist interactions?
This post was written as a part of #BlogchatterA2Z Campaign.