Rejecting the “tourist” moniker, travelers now are seeking local connections and genuine experiences that make their journeys meaningful, not only entertaining. It used to be that luxury, fun and relaxation were the top priority on tourist wish lists. Think tanning and drinking pool side at a 5 star hotel. But in recent years, “traveling local” has become the trendiest way to explore the world.
“Traveling local” means that more and more travelers seek unique, genuine interactions and impactful, memorable experiences. Paraphrasing Robert Frost’s poem, they are venturing on roads less traveled … and it makes all the difference.
The vanity of experiences
Recent studies show that millennials favor experiences over things, a shift from previous generations of the 1980s and 90s. Back then, materialism and brands were socially more important – having bragging rights about getting a new, flashy car or wearing the latest couturier clothing. Millennials on the other hand prefer to show off via a carefully orchestrated Instagram post at a unique and remote destination, eating an exotic dish or partying at an underground club.
The 5-star experience is still fun but it doesn’t tell a story. At least, not one that is worth sharing with the world or and your friends. On the other hand, a local travel experience where you get to meet new people, dine with them at their favorite spot, and learn about their culture is a story worth telling.
Getting a ‘local’ perspective
The internet bombards us with information about the world and yet most of us know so little about it, not hands on. We may imagine that we are informed because we are exposed to the facts, but facts are not the same thing as wisdom. ‘Traveling local’ is the only way to attain real knowledge and perspective. When we meet and spend time with locals, we get a glimpse into how they see the world around them. This type of perspective simply cannot be gained sipping cocktails on the deck of a cruise ship. Rather, it is gained through personal interactions and conversations and by breaking bread with strangers.
The feeling people come back home with having traveled local is special. Standing in line with hordes of tourists to see that iconic landmark is just not the same as going to a local bar or eatery where you are the only foreigner.
Traveling local helps us break down deep, preconceived biases and assumptions about other people, cultures and places. We might not even realize that we were making an assumption about a country or a culture until we are there, on the ground, experiencing it first hand. And while the experience of being proven wrong is not always pleasant, it is liberating, and it is profound. As Anthony Bourdain said on one of his travel shows: “I always entertain the notion that I’m wrong, or that I’ll have to revise my opinion. Most of the time that feels good; sometimes it really hurts and is embarrassing.”
Making local friends along the way
In the age of social media, we often lack tangible companionship. Our connections on social media are virtual and at an arm’s distance. The persona we present on Facebook or Instagram doesn’t necessarily reflect who we are, not really. Whereas traveling local enables us to find human connections that are real, not superficial. Traveling, by its very nature, requires that people come out of their shells to some degree. To simply get around from point A to point B in a foreign place, you need to interact, to ask questions and to depend on others to help you.
When we founded CityPals, our goal was to create a platform that enables travelers and locals to connect – easily and quickly. To facilitate companionship between strangers that are geographically a world apart but can find common ground and common interests when exploring a city together. We are constantly amazed by the human connections that are created between local CityPals and travelers on our platform.
Food is Important
Often, hotels and restaurants catering to tourists accommodate them by serving neutral cuisine – dishes that do not push envelopes. The ubiquitous hamburgers, french fries and sandwiches that are on offer on generic menus anywhere in the world. What a wasted opportunity! Food is a direct, profound and marvelous reflection of a culture, and subculture. Not only what people eat but how they eat informs who they are on scale. Sharing a meal elevates a relationship in a way that few things can. Having a local to explain ingredients and culinary customs and guide a traveler to unique experiences is an invaluable service.
The ‘local’ Marketplace
Airlines, hotel chains and other big players in the tourism market are starting to pay attention to this growing trend. Their newest commercials seem to focus on promoting a travel experience that encourages self-fulfillment and exploration. The traditional “sit back, relax and enjoy the flight” has been replaced with “discover the world and journey onwards”.