Because this (and others) are miles and points blogs to help readers travel more for less, you might think that the best part of travel is the first class seat and the luxury hotel suite. Some people might think the the best part of travel is experiencing the “awesome” foreign airline lounges in the airports. Some people might think the best part of travel is racking up the miles. But that is not what I am thinking!
One Of the Best Parts of Travel…
I personally feel that this is the best part of travel, but I realize that everyone has different objectives with travel so did not want to minimize others’ favorite parts. However, I certainly feel that the best part of travel is the meeting of the local people.
I have had the privilege of flying in some awesome cabins and staying in some very nice hotels but my favorite part about the whole travel experience is to meet people in the various places I visit and spend time talking to them. The facts of the country and culture that you can learn in just the space of 5 minutes is more than you would learn in a guidebook – and a lot more entertaining!
This thought had come to me the other day when I was talking to a friend I had met in one of these countries. I was reminded of his amazing life story and just realized, once again, how meeting people in my travels is really the best part.
Getting off the beaten path
I have mentioned before that I am not a tour type of guy. I have done them but I really prefer to go at my own pace and see the exact things I want to see. 🙂 Another reason to not do the tour scene (or at least to use your personal time in a great way) is to get off the beaten path to explore some of the country.
It is amazing how culturally sterile some tours are. They will take you to the tourist hotspots, into the shops that cater to Americans (and even sell I LOVE NY t-shirts), and eat at restaurants that have an American flavor to their food. While all of that is nice, it is almost keeping the country and culture you are visiting at bay instead of allowing you to embrace it and enjoy the experience.
I remember on our trip to Marrakech (Morocco) years ago, we were looking for some landmark and just started walking down some streets to see what we could find. While we were walking, a young boy came up and asked if we wanted to see something cool. We said sure and followed him along. He ended up taking us to some underground bakeries and the vats where they make their dye for the garments and leather. These places were places that the locals frequented and not a lot of tourists got back into. By taking a few moments (and a few coins as tip), we were able to catch some cool, unedited Moroccan culture.
When I was in Iran, I was wondering the streets of Tehran one night by myself and came upon some street celebration off of the main road. Being able to just take it in and observe some of the customs made things really come alive in this exotic place.
You have no idea how much you can learn about a place just from talking to the local people. It is also great to see how they form a bond with you as you communicate. After you get to know them a bit, they may ask you to their house for a meal or to have you sit down for coffee and conversation. During that conversation, you will learn a lot about that person and some are things that they tell with such a casual air that you realize it is more of a commonplace thing than exceptional (which is what we feel when we listen).’
I made this one friend who had lived in a Middle Eastern country during the war. Because of some of the things his military unit had done to preserve some of the innocent people, some of the bad people on the other side wanted him and his partners dead. To avoid it, he took off walking and ended up walking hundreds of miles through desert to find a place where he could live peaceably. These travel still yield amazing stories and the realization that he covered a distance to save his life that we as runners might never cover in a few month time.
Take opportunity for conversation
One of the great things about running races in foreign places is the chance to get next to a local during a (long) race and learn about the places you are running by. It also gives plenty of time to hear their life story and explain things about their country and culture – you might even pick up some words in that language!
Be ready for dinner or house invitations
I have stayed in different countries where some of the national people really enjoyed their time with us and chose to invite us over for a meal. I remember one visit to a house in Trinidad where the family put out their best meal and we only found out later that they had been eating very small meals for a couple of weeks to be able to afford the high-quality, local meal they put before us. Their house was a very small home, but you could tell their was a lot of love in it. It was one of those situations that reminds you yet again that having stuff does not give happiness.
Eat the real local food
While I like my routine foods, I also like to see what type of meal is popular or tasty in a different city or country. Once I have found it, I start to sample the food to see what I will like the best and begin to place our orders. Some of the places that contain the most popular local food are normally located near a park or center of a town/village. That also adds to the local color by allowing you to partake in the same fashion and of the same food that the local people do everyday. It’s ok – you won’t die from the food! Plus, you will even have some stories to tell upon your return (like the time I ate the meat near the brain in an anteater!
Getting out of your hotel and away from the Americanized aspects of your destination can really open up your destination for you. Not only will you get to see the real country but you may also meet friends and hear stories that will give you a better appreciation for the people and the country.
As you make your travels throughout the world, take some of these tips and really find out more about the country, culture, and people by focusing more on the destination than the travel modes. Sure, we can get a kick out of the way we fly and the places we stay, but by making our trip more about the people and the destination, it can become more than just a fun experience but a trip to truly remember.
Do you have some tips and pointers to enjoying the travel experience more?