By Steve Gillick
The desire to ‘go local’ as part of the travel experience is probably as old as travel itself. Travelers in all generations dream of blending in and becoming ‘one’ with the destination, especially as they search for the ‘what else to do’ when they travel. And just as people travel to learn about a destination, many travel to educate others about their own culture and background. In the true context of ‘sharing interests,’ these travelers are doing what tourists have done for thousands of years.
Here are five suggestions for your clients who want to ‘go local’:
1. Don’t cling to the bling. We are not just referring to the gold rings, bracelets, expensive cameras and Tom Ford “Jennifer” handbags, but also to inappropriate dress and behaviour. Wearing a sleeveless top or shorts in a country that embraces modesty and conservative values is simply insensitive. The same holds true with behaviour. There are many destinations where angry outbursts only serve to stereotype visitors as impatient and rude. The art of ‘fitting in’ is acquired through experience but also with the sage advice of a travel agent who has been there and researched the destination.
2. Interaction means attraction. Initiate a discussion. Even if you don’t speak the local language, learn to say hello and thank you. You can get along fine anywhere in the world by using body language, gesticulating (using your hands and arms) and smiling.
3. Small gifts work wonders. For over 25 years I have been bringing monster finger puppets on my travels. Kids love them. Parents love them. They are easy to carry and they have done wonders in opening up dialogue and even easing tension. Find a child—give him/her a finger puppet—they run to their parents—the parents are happy that the child is happy—all of a sudden other parents want puppets for their kids—all of a sudden you’re the star attraction. This has happened too many times to count. I once got on an overbooked flight by giving the harassed woman at the check-in counter some puppets for her kids. (Other gifts work too—but never give money or candy).
4. Taste and try. Make a concerted effort to eat what the locals eat. You may even love it! Try the paisa in Colombia—hearty portions of rice, beans, potato, meat or fish; ceviche—raw fish marinated in citrus juices-in Panama; fugu sashimi in Japan; halo-halo in the Philippines; a taste of mare’s milk in Mongolia, and the sausages with mustard, horseradish and beer in Prague.
5. Give. Going local means sharing in the values of the community. Bring writing or sports equipment to the local school (and then play with the kids at recess). Leave a donation when you visit a building or attraction that’s free. Become a ‘voluntourist’—even if it’s just for a day (dig a well, build a house, teach a class, milk a cow). Displaying an attitude of helpfulness and concern immediately distinguishes you from the regular horde of travelers who are content to watch society as a spectator rather than a ‘player.’
Going local means letting your hair down while you’re discovering a destination: tasting, trying, sampling, doing, helping, giving and smiling.
Steve’s strength lies in the delivery of energetic and interactive keynotes, workshops and presentations. He is an avid travel writer and columnist with articles appearing in www.travelindustrytoday.com, www.travelmarketreport.com and www.sellingtravel.net and has his own destination e-magazine. Contact Steve through his website www.talkingtravel.ca or directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.