Live Local -- It's the Only Way to Travel
Photo courtesy of Trey Ratcliff.
A new service was recently launched in Berlin where travelers can hook up with a local to tour the city and learn how to imbed themselves into the local culture of the German capital.
This struck me as one of the greatest travel, and business, ideas I had heard of in recent memory. It serves as a lesson to many Americans traveling abroad. Put simply- many Americans are terrible at traveling.
Here’s some anecdotal evidence: The last time I was in Europe, there was a woman in front of me at Versailles who was genuinely surprised that she was unable to write a check for her ticket.
Chew on that one for a bit… She took her checkbook to Europe.
I’m sure she had a good reason to do so. Perhaps she wanted to pay bills while she was in France and thought it would be great if her cable bill had French postage on it, but it really underscored one of the big problems Americans have while traveling.
Americans Traveling Internationally
Americans spend ever increasing amounts of money to travel abroad and expect everything to be just like it is in America. When it isn’t, they get mad. You know the person I’m talking about. They tell you for weeks how excited they are to go to Europe and complain on Facebook how the country they’re in stinks because the menu choices at McDonald’s are different than they are at home.
Here’s a quick test for you: If you’re in a restaurant in Germany and you can’t tell you’re in Germany, you’re in the wrong restaurant. Glance at the décor. Could you be in Iowa? You’ve made a bad dining decision.
Fight the urge to stroll through Montmartre and eat at the TGI Friday’s you see down the side street. For the Parisians, it’s a kitschy diversion. For you, it’s the restaurant you take your kids to after their little league game. If you can go there at home, don’t go there in Europe.
Eat like a Local
Travelers spend lot of money to travel abroad. Live like a local and your trip will be considerably more rewarding. Stop someone on the street and ask them to recommend a restaurant. You may end up with the best meal of your life. You may end up with the weirdest meal of your life. Either way, you will walk away with a good story to tell.
“I was at this hole in the wall vegan place in Spain…” is a lot better way to start a story then, “So we ordered the cheese fries at Applebees in Brazil…”
One of the most memorable dinners my wife and I enjoyed on our most recent trip to Paris was at a small place called Le Relais de Lisle on the Ile de la Cite. There were fewer than ten tables and we were very obviously the only tourists in the place. French music was being played on the piano and we had a table next to the door. It was cold and whenever someone came or went we got a blast of cold air. We also got a great meal and a feeling of, “Holy cow, I’m eating a real French meal in Paris.” Had we eaten at the Hard Rock, it would have just been food. Instead, it was an experience.
Sleep like a Local
Another way many Americans isolate themselves from what they came to see is by spending extra money to stay at an American style hotel. Let’s face it, when you’re traveling abroad, the purpose of a hotel room is to provide a safe and clean place to sleep. If you spend a lot of time in your hotel room, you’re doing it wrong.
When we were in Spain, my wife and I stayed in a room in Madrid that had a bed, a shower and a toilet. That’s all. It was in a large building and each floor was a separate 3-6 room hotel owned by a different person. Each “innkeeper” lived on the floor they owned. Our representative even loaned us her iron and ironing board. For us, it was an inexpensive launch point in the heart of the city. It was nothing fancy, but it served the purpose well. There was no room service or television, but we didn’t need it. We needed a place to sleep.
If you’re spending a week somewhere, become a resident for a week. Embrace the differences and really experience the atmosphere. Isn’t that why we travel in the first place?
The photo of you next to the famous landmark is a fun part of the trip, but anyone can fake that with Photoshop. The memories gained by living like a local are what make all the difference.