It’s one thing to travel like a tourist – ticking off landmark attractions and obvious experiences – but quite another to travel like a local.
Here we speak with Mandy Rowe, founder of women’s online travel community Broads Abroad Travel Network, about how she gets under the skin of a destination.
For me, travel is as much about meeting the local people as it is about seeing the local sights.
You can learn so much more about a place and its culture by really chatting with the people who live there.
Be inquisitive, branch out and have meaningful conversations with everyone you meet, not just the people you’re travelling with.
Opt for experiences that will enable you to meet people. Take part in a language class, a craft workshop or even conduct a free workshop if you have a talent to showcase.
You’ll get to meet both locals and like-minded travellers, as well as pick up a new skill along the way.
I once spent an evening teaching a group of ladies how to felt a shawl in San Francisco’s Mission District, and to this day I’m still in contact with some of the women I met there – long term friendships that have become far more precious than my photos of the Golden Gate Bridge.
One of the most enriching ways to travel like a local, is in fact staying with a local. It can offer you an instant sense of belonging, connecting with other people in the community as well as local insights.
Of course, you need to exercise a degree of caution, particularly if they are new contacts. If I don’t have friends or friends of friends who I can trust, I try and stay with members of the Broads Abroad Travel Network.
Hospitality exchange networks are becoming a viable way of travelling. Not so much because they offer free accommodation but because they offer a more authentic travel experience.
Failing that, house swapping or holiday home rentals are another great alternative to experiencing a destination beyond the usual tourist-hotel mindset.
Another way to mingle with like-minded people and enjoy some budget-friendly entertainment is free events.
Personally, I really enjoy lectures and public libraries are a good place to find free events where you can listen to some of the best minds in the world, without spending a dime. You can also often find author talks, book clubs and various classes hosted by libraries.
Free music concerts are an especially good way to experience the heart and soul of a destination – it’s often the first thing I search for when in a new city.
I once found this amazing church in New York where they would hold free weekly musical respite for neighbourhood residents, downtown workers and music lovers. Not only did I get to see inside the church, I also got to soak up live music alongside locals, which made for a truly authentic experience.
Regardless of your own personal beliefs, try to immerse yourself in local customs and religions.
Although I’m not overly religious, I always feel a sense of connection with locals when I enter their sacred temples, churches and cathedrals. If anything, despite language barriers, it helps you to feel a part of the community and better understand and appreciate the culture.
One of my favourite experiences in the UK’s Lakes District was attending a midnight Christmas mass – it was like a scene off a Christmas card.
Similarly when I was in Luang Prabang, Laos, I quietly sat by a temple (shoes removed and shoulders covered, of course) and watched monks chant their evening prayers. It was a mesmerising experience.
To connect with like-minded travellers, or for more information on the Broads Abroad Travel Network (BATN), visit broads abroad.
Women from all over the world can sign-up to this membership-based social network, completely free of charge.