When the Chamberlain family went on an extended vacation to Europe years ago, their itinerary was packed with places to go and sites to see. They drove as fast as possible to make their vacation worthwhile. In retrospect, however, they wish they had slowed down.
“The next time I go,” says David Chamberlain, “I want to take my time. I want to hike the Alps. I want to smell the place. Be in it. Live it. Most of all, I want to get to know the people.”
David tells of an experience he had when relatives from Germany came to visit his parents in Utah. Unlike the Chamberlains’ high-speed tour through Europe, these Europeans didn’t stay at fancy hotels or rush around to all the most famous sites in Salt Lake City.
Instead, they went to Utah to spend time with relatives they had never met before. This extended family spent time together and, in the process of becoming acquainted, they saw aspects of Utah that most tourists probably do not see.
The Utah family members had plenty to show their German visitors and provided personal insights into their home state that a typical commercial tour would not have included. They camped near the city of Oakley, visited old family homes, and toured Temple Square.
“When you get to know the people who really live in a place and know the place,” says David, “you get the true local feel. In the end, you’ve truly experienced the place because you’ve connected with the culture. No expensive tour can give you that.”
Find ways to connect with the locals. You’ll find that they know of many undiscovered locations and festivities that will enrich your trip. The heart and soul of a place is not always found in famous landmarks, but it is often found in the people who live there. No matter your destination, connecting with local people is a surefire way to enhance your travel adventures.
For example, Norway is famous for its beautiful fjords, but Kristin Ausen of Porsgrrun, Norway, finds that most visitors don’t know how to cross-country ski. For her, it’s a very important part of life. In the winter, she and her friends spend entire weekends in the mountains, skiing to their hearts’ content. They pause during their treks to build bonfires and warm up with hot chocolate.
Since the skiing season doesn’t last long, they take advantage of the opportunity to sojourn through Norway’s hills and pine forests while the snow lasts. Even melted snow can’t stop them from doing what they love. In the summer, they use skis with wheels on the bottom and “ski” down the roads instead.
In South Korea, people work hard, but they also take time every day to unwind and have fun. Businessmen use midday breaks to go virtual-golfing or bowling. College-age kids take a break from studying to go to karaoke bars, where they can gather with friends, rent a room, and put on elaborate shows. They’re not shy at all about singing.
Public bathhouses are also very popular. The houses are split between men and women and have many different saunas catering to different relaxation methods. Some saunas are made of coal, some are extra oxygenated, some are quiet so you can sleep, and some are very, very hot to encourage sweat.
Nery Ralon of Mesa, Arizona, lived in Chennai, a city in Tamil Nadu, India, for four months. When discussing his trip, he says that one of the most profound experiences he had was seeing the people dance.
“Indian culture is deeply rooted in dance,” says Ralon. “Throughout my trip there, I noticed that people could not control their dancing bug. I would go to a village to fix a well, and all the young men would gather together and show off their dance moves. I would go to an orphanage, and the kids wanted to dance. People would go to leprosy colonies, and adults and senior adults—many of them afflicted with leprosy—would dance.
“Dancing and music is in their soul. When they dance, it is about being free—free of stigma, free of prejudice. They dance because it is in their heart.”
In South Africa, where locals and tourists often visit the same game reserves, the locals slow down and show a deep love for their homeland.
Charne Van Jaarsveld says that for her and her family in Vereeniging, South Africa, hiking and going to the game reserves were special events. Living close to the parks meant that they could go often and for longer periods of time to really become acquainted with the area and to see more interesting animals than the casual visitor usually encounters.
How to See beyond the Sites
Do your homework. When planning your trip, don’t just settle for the most popular attractions. Do some digging. Bring out the maps. Plan a detour. Try to create some flexibility in your schedule.
Ask the experts. If you have friends who are from or have lived in your vacation destination, ask them what they most love to do there and consider those things when planning.
Ask the locals. If you haven’t figured it out before you leave home, ask around when you arrive at your destination. Talk to street vendors, shop owners, or taxi drivers, and ask them about their favorite places or activities.
For more ideas, visit independenttraveler.com and search for “5 Simple Ways to Make the Most of Your Vacation.”
Photo credits (from top):
Morgan Mae Schultz
US Consulate Chennai