Traveling like a local is the best way to go
By Triptrotting Team
The best souvenirs from all of our travel adventures are the friendships we’ve created along the way. They’ve given us perspective and even inspired us to join the Local Travel Movement and create a community of people who share the same passion for traveling and connecting with like-minded locals – Triptrotting (www.triptrotting.com). Here is a collection of travel memories where knowing local friends really made our travel experience extraordinary.
I’ve been to over 25 different countries, but the experiences below specifically taught me two key lessons: one is that hanging with locals completely changes your travel experiences and two, hanging out with your peers you realize how similar we all are, despite the fact that we come from so many different corners of the world.
Tunis, Tunisia — As I write this, Tunisia is a newly democratic country with new Presidential elections coming up soon, but when I visited I took a picture of the Presidential palace and my Tunisian friend Rola freaked out! She yelled at me that I should put my camera away if I don’t want the cops to take it away! I learned so much on that trip about Tunisia, its culture and its people. I got to stay with Rola’s family in Tunis for 3 nights and one night with her younger sister, husband and her 8 month daughter. We visited Rola’s high school, went horseback riding on a professional ranch and hung out with her high school friends. I could tell back then the growing frustration among the young people about the autocratic government, but at the same time feeling of hopelessness of the situation. Without knowing Rola in Tunisia, I would’ve probably never gone there! This was the first time I realized how knowing locals could actually drive people to take trips to places they would never go.
New Zealand (all over) — In December of 2009 I set off on my very first solo trip, but it was solo only on the flight there! Unlike most other student travelers, I didn’t choose a kiwi bus. Once I arrived to Auckland my local friend, Brendon Potter, with his whole family met me in the airport and we set off for a 5 day Christmas road trip from Auckland all the way to Wanaka in South Island. I listened to amazing stories about their lives, learned random local facts as we passed through vast green fields and herds of sheep, ate fresh caught fish in local Kaikoura cafe, stayed with their friend in Christchurch by the beach and stopped by to take pictures with seals. I got to see how real kiwis live, unlike any other traveler, even backpacker, gets to see. Brendon’s family was the warmest and nicest family ever! They truly showed me Kiwi hospitality.
Eurotrip (Bordeaux, Lisbon, Barcelona) — After my New Zealand solo trip, I realized that traveling “solo” is actually fun because you get to meet way more locals when you are alone. So in summer 2010 I went on my first backpacking/business trip through Europe. On this trip I decided to meet up with my peers.
First I went to Lisbon, where I met up with Joao, local Medical school student, who took me on a walking tour of Lisbon and then drove us to a local beach outside of Lisbon. I had such a blast learning from Joao, native born Portuguese, about the history and current life in Portugal, about the things that they do as students, concerns they have… It was really funny to learn quickly that they have exactly same concerns as we do in the States: what do I do with my life? Do I really want to be doctor or lawyer, like my parents encourage me? When and where do I want to settle down? How do I plan into my life at least a year of round the world travels?
After spending only 2 days in Lisbon (definitely going back:) I took an overnight train to Barcelona, where I was met by my local host Maria Florit, student at ESADE Business School. I met her when she was studying abroad in the states the previous year. Maria lived in the residential area of Barcelona and for some time I felt like there were 2 Barcelonas: one with overcrowded streets, full of tourists, pick-pocketers and overpriced restaurants and another one with cute little cafes, open air evening movies and small bars where most local students hang out. I got to chat there with local Catalans, who were supporting Holland for the World Cup 2010 final, and learn about the historical tensions between Catalans and Spaniards.
Off from Barcelona I took off to Bordeaux where I met up with my old friend from small town around Bordeaux. For my birthday he took me to St. Emilion, where I had the best wine and cheese in my life! He also worked for Societe Generale and I used to work at UBS, so we had a lot to chat about during the 2 hour ride:)
It’s difficult for me to look back on my travel experiences without seeing the faces that have inspired me to think outside of the box and have really enriched my life. Think back to all the times a travel memory is brought up in conversation. Are you just talking about the lovely statue you photographed? For me, the stories I rave about over and over again and get all the laughs and “wow’s” all involve the great friendships I’ve made and experiences I’ve shared. In each place I visit, the best souvenir for me is a new friendship and a brand new perspective.
Bangkok, Thailand – My trip to Bangkok, Thailand was eye opening and so very intriguing. Aside from the elephant rides, the jungle safari, the floating market and being bit by a monkey while feeding it bananas, I remember all the hospitable faces and helpful locals. The locals were extraordinarily friendly. One of the girls on our trip had a local friend who invited us to her home for an afternoon pool party. Little did I know, I had entered into a home with maids, guest houses and infinity pools. Our host was friendly and even took us to experience a different side of Thailand only the more privileged frequented.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates – Before going to Dubai, I didn’t know too much about the city except for what was in the news. At that time, Dubai was in the news for being the place where everything was possible. The biggest, the tallest, and the fastest anything can be found there. I had no clue what to expect and my imagination of the Middle East had images of Aladdin and camels. It wasn’t until I had the chance to meet a few locals who brought us out to a local restaurant did we get a chance to learn more about Dubai. Underneath the glamour of what we saw to be a Vegas–like tourism destination, there was the local view of the changes to their city. It seemed that in a place of tradition, there is an ever increasing gap between what is “traditional” and what is “modern” and “westernized.” To hear a local’s perspective is incredibly valuable. In exchange, our new friends had even more questions for us. They seemed even more excited to learn about the United States, what it’s really like and not just what they see on TV.
Hong Kong, China – Although I am originally from mainland China, Hong Kong was a world of difference from the northern China I knew in early 1990s. When I had a chance to live in Hong Kong for 6 months during college, I specifically requested to share a room with a local student and determined to close the gap on the differences between what so little I knew about Hong Kong only from watching television shows. I tried to learn Cantonese – failed miserably. I tried to grasp Cantonese comedy – I pretended to understand. I sat in on my local friends’ Mahjong session – I got it! Let’s just say, some things are universal. We partied at night and she even helped me get local rates on cell phones! Later on, she even became one of the first Triptrotters in Hong Kong!