Eat Local and Experience Local should be the first 2 steps to a total immersion holiday for anyone at anytime. Immersion is all about discovering local life as it really is, right down to the nitty gritty, warts and all. Some of it is not pretty, some downright heartbreaking, mostly though it is about the connections we make as individuals, to leave a lasting imprint on others by stirring the imagination, building relationships and engaging in heart-felt friendships.
More and more we have noticed a subtle shift towards immersion holiday experiences. Focussing on the obvious sights and highlights when you travel is great for a photo or two and those picture-perfect memories. However for travellers who expect to fully experience a destination, its culture and its people. And it takes a step or two beyond the ordinary to become a part of the extraordinary.
We look at two easy steps to move any holiday from the ordinary to the extraordinary, and have you exploring the local scenes like a local in no time.
You have to eat, and while you could stay in your hotel and dine on food you could easily have when at home, go forth, explore and experiment. “Eat local” means specifically to “eat where the locals eat.” This is a cardinal rule that should go virtually unbroken. If it’s safe for locals, its usually safe for you to eat.
Try something different. Be adventurous. Eat at popular street stalls that have a variety of mystery meats on offer. As long as it smells and looks tasty enough, we say go for it! My personal choice – choose the dish most eaten in your destination. Snails & frogs legs in France. Fresh caught seafood in Australia, Alaska and any tropical island paradise. Bobote in South Africa. Madras Curries in Madras India. Olives and white port in Spain. Spider skewers in Thailand. Vietnamese Pho. Prawn, pork, tofu or vegetable dumplings anywhere throughout China. The Great Square of Marrakesh at dinnertime – simply marvellous. And the list goes on.
Before you go, take a virtual vacation to the area you are visiting and look around. See what’s on offer. Be diligent. Read the reviews. How long has the restaurant been there. Is it a street stall? Does it look popular? Will this meet your particular desires and tastes? Figure out how to get there and what type of payment they’ll accept. Above all be adventurous – your on an online vacation, you can go anywhere/do anything.
Food isn’t the only thing of course, but we can all agree it is a big part of travel. Local resources and hotel concierges can be helpful, but if you know nothing, they’ll give you the standard tourist run-down. If you are well-researched and clear about what you want and what you know, then you’ll get information to take you to the very best options on your wish list.
If done right, “eat local” adventures can flavour your next journey as much as any experiential opportunity.
Rule of Thumb: If its hot, make sure its really hot to boiling and beyond, after all you are not used to the preparation practices, water or odd bod bacteria present in all foods. If there is flame, make sure the food is cooked through. A little common sense works wonders.
How do you maximise engagement with a different culture and destination, particularly when time is limited? Good question!
Unlike the “eat local” recommendation for hitting up google and the internet, (although this can point you in the right direction), it requires you to be open, friendly and engaging with locals once you’ve arrived.
Start with your taxi driver or the hotel waiter. Ask what they like to do. Where the local hangouts are. Make sure you tell them why you are asking so they know you are interested in local life and learning more about life in the destination!
Most people are proud of where they live, and are excited and energized when someone shows interest beyond the regular tourist. Sure, concierges can help, typically though their professional reputations (and jobs) are on the line, so they don’t deviate too far from the tried and true “resort approved” options.
Wondering what the big deal is about “experiencing local”? It takes a certain je ne sais qua to commit to it. A desire to step away from the normal tourist haunts and discover for yourself the reality of your chosen destination.
Step back in time as you journey along small country lanes in the South of France, dressing as a local and walking through a souk in Turkey that has been in operation for more than a thousand years, visiting a deserted island with locals to discover an island culture both welcoming and fascinating. Play steel drums in the Caribbean, have a drink in any local bar, opt for homestay with a local family to truly understand what it is to be part of their lives, sail in a felucca along the Nile with local fisherman, donate time and energy as a volunteer on an aid project that will benefit the local community – assist at a school, dig a well, teach football, work in the fields, talk to people – or why not touch base with WWF and get involved in conservation of land and animals on the savannah plains of Africa.
Rule of Thumb: Stay safe. Have fun. Experience as much as you can in the time you have available, with as many people as possible.
There are, of course, many ways to immerse yourself. Most involve being in a different destination. Being open to the unknown, with exposure to diverse cultures and people, and most of all being open to growth and potential change of mindset – both yours and theirs.
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