“If you want to know the place, Go see the local book store.”
When traveling internationally, I find that Airbnbs offer the best “local” experiences because we are immersed in the community. “Su casa es mi casa” is my motto. My passion is cultural immersion. We become travelers, not tourists and there is a big difference in the impact we can make.
We shop locally, usually in the neighborhood markets. The variety is astounding and the markets are lively and colorful.
We walk miles through the neighborhoods and take local transportation. In Mexico City, we took the metro everywhere. We enjoyed getting off at every stop, exploring the neighborhood, and getting back on the metro. With a population of over 21 million people in Mexico City, the metro was always crowded, so I didn’t take any photos on the subways.
In Budapest, Hungary we rode the local water taxi up and down the Danube. In Kotor, Montenegro we did the same. The local water taxis were always cheap and plentiful and they docked all along the rivers and lakes in large cities because they transported workers to and from work. Prague had e-bicycles, every large city had local buses, and it was always a mystery where we would end up. Once in David, Panama, we rode the bus just to sight see. We ended up stopping for lunch at the bus driver’s house because we were at the end of the line. The local transportation whether it is a bus, train, chicken bus, metro, taxi, water taxi, ferry, or a horse (yes, we rode horses to get from one location to another in Nicaragua) is plentiful and cheap.
We have stayed in over fifty Airbnbs throughout the world, and although some have surprised us, so far none have disappointed us. We’ve lived in castles, glamper RVs, apartments in high rise buildings, some with crazy tiny elevators we didn’t know how to work, country cottages, and one very unusual Airbnb in Quebec City, Canada in which there was a glass shower in the middle of our living room. The host came every morning to cook us breakfast, so I had to take a very early morning shower before he arrived. Ron paid for our Airbnb at the host’s sex shop the next morning.
Yet, the best experiences we have in living like locals are the connections we make with the neighborhood residents. For example, in Fiji we wanted to see what a Kava ceremony was like. We asked the housekeeper at our Airbnb where we could participate in a Kava ceremony and she walked us to the bus where she took us to the local market to buy all the necessary ingredients for the Kava ceremony. She explained what to look for in picking the best Kava roots, what kind of cups to use, and the basics of the ceremony. When we returned to our house, she performed the Kava ceremony for us. What an amazing experience!
We smoked hand rolled cigars with a farmer in Vinales, Cuba. In Nicaragua, we made Nacatamales. In almost every country we visit, we get our hair cut. My mother had a beauty shop when I was growing up and my grandfather owned a barbershop and I know for a fact that a beauty shop is the best place in the world to see how a local community functions.
We visit local cemeteries, my favorite cemetery was in Havana, Cuba…oh the stories of the dead! In Budapest, we asked our host to direct us to the local bath, where we basked in the warmth of the pools and enjoyed the company of the residents. The local park benches are also a favorite place to get to know the culture. We met a lovely woman in Cuba who worked in the park and adored Barack Obama, and outdoor diners and locals waiting for street food always bring out the best recommendations for restaurants and food.
Living like a local when we travel has been a wonderful experience. I can’t imagine traveling any other way. The key to living like a local revolves around human connections, which provides us with an opportunity to immerse ourselves in other cultures. That, to us, is what travel is all about!
How do you travel? What are your tips for living like a local?