In the course of my world travels, I have run into a lot of advice from other explorers. It mostly boils down to this: travel like a local.
I hear it a lot. We see it in travel magazines, on Pinterest, all forms of social media – this overwhelming outcry for “authentic” experiences, and to “live like a local” whenever you are adventuring away from home. And I get the appeal. It makes sense. After all, no one wants to have a manufactured experience of a country that they have spent thousands of hard-earned dollars to visit. Instead, we want to capture the feeling of a place, to see it through the eyes of someone who understands and appreciates it.
Except, that isn’t how “locals” see their cities at all.
Case in point: a few years back, my husband and I were strolling through Paris, and I had to admonish him for walking with his head up, gazing lovingly at the boulevards and grand buildings that Haussmann built. It’s “touristy” to look upwards instead of straight ahead, to moon over the beauty of a place instead of focusing intently on where you are headed … isn’t it?
This, and a lot of experiences like it, prompted an epiphany on a recent trip. We were in Barcelona and planning to meet a friend for dinner. She asked where we wanted to go, and I said, “Take us where the locals go.” And her response? Confusion. “Locals eat at home on a Wednesday night,” she said. Touché.
It got me thinking. Traveling like a local is preposterous! What do locals do in their cities? Well, they go to work, and they vacuum their houses and they do the laundry, make dinner and go to bed. That doesn’t sound like my kind of trip at all! There’s a reason that we go on vacation, and it is generally to not have to do any of those things.
Then, I read an article a few days later by some famous writer who was giving travel tips. One such tip was, “Don’t go to museums,” because that wasn’t an “authentic” thing to do. Maybe so, but I happen to like museums. And because I don’t live in Europe, visiting the Louvre or the Rijksmuseum, or the Uffizi Gallery is a treat. Some people travel to a certain place because of the museum that is there.
And, lo, the epiphany. We aren’t always traveling to “feel like an Italian” or to “live like a Parisian,” because those are ideas that exist in the mind. Spaniards and Dutchmen and people of every nationality in between go to work and mop their floors and wash the dishes on a Tuesday night, just like we do at home. Life isn’t simply made glamorous based on location; it is only glamorous for people who have the luxury of seeing the touristy things that locals don’t have time for – or have seen so many times that it is no longer exciting.
Instead of “traveling like a local,” ask a local where they go on their days off. Ask where they take their wife to dinner for date night. Ask where they grab a beer to watch European football or where they take family members visiting from out of town. These are the good places, tourist places that are local-approved.
And pay it forward. Sharing your impressions of the city you are visiting with the people who live there is a gift to them. Allow them to see the city fresh, with your tourist eyes.