One night, Tom and I were lazing around talking about our favorite topic, travel. We were mindlessly playing the “what-was-your-favorite-travel-experience-game” and we both noticed one thing, both of us kept naming those experiences where we went off the beaten path and lived with locals. No it wasn’t going on a Halong Bay cruise, nor was it seeing the Mona Lisa in the Lourve. It was living with a local named Cho-Cho in Sapa, Vietnam where Tom ate meals with her family and planted rice. It was staying with a local fisherman’s family in Palawan, Philippines where we fished, ate, and cooked together. Whatever it was, it had a common theme, the more local we lived, the more memorable it was. Here are just a few reasons of why you should try local living.
Local Living Lets you REALLY Get to Know a Place
One of the best and most popular websites to experience local living is couchsurfing.com. I cannot even begin to express how awesome this community is. No, it is not about finding a free place to crash, but it is all about meeting locals who can give you the best tips on exploring their city. When I was living in Boracay, although I couldn’t host anyone, I would meet up with people and point them towards my local bar, tell them where the cheapest and best places to eat were, or tell them where to go to avoid the maddening crowd for sunset. Whatever it is, locals know best. On my first day in Rome, my CS host brought me to this unassuming place where I had the best tiramisu of my life (of course I went back on a daily basis!) Not only will you get to know the ins and outs of a place, you get to explore a place, local style! If CS isn’t an option, reach out to friends of friends and ask to connect with them. There is not better way to experience a place than through a local’s eyes.
Local Living Lets you EXPERIENCE Culture
Sure, you walk around temples, you buy loads of Thai pants, eat loads of pad thai and drink your fair share of Singha beers, but do you really think you are fully immersing yourself in the countries culture? I see so many people claim that they are “traveling” when all I really see them do is hop from one tourist destination to the next, pretty much partying their way through each night, and nursing their hangovers during the days. Inserting the occasional day tour (when they can muster enough courage to get out of bed), of course.
Not that there is anything wrong with that because both Tom and I have both done that at some point in our travels. In hindsight, we both realize how that wasn’t really experiencing anything…apart from head banging hangovers. Living with locals immerses you in their everyday life. Tom and I ate instant noodles for a couple of days because the local fisherman where we were staying with had no catch. It was both a humbling and eye opening experience that left an imprint on us.
Living Local Gives You UNFORGETABLE Experiences
Whether it was being the first foreigner to set foot on this far flung beach in Myanmar, sharing a meal with people who didn’t speak a word of English (it’s a good thing I’m an excellent charades player!), or crashing a local’s birthday party on some random island, whatever it is, local living gave us some of the best and most memorable moments while traveling. It gives you those types of experiences that you can brag and boast about because unlike everyone else who joined the tour, you got to rough it out, meet interesting locals, hear awesome stories, as you experience things from the other side of the coin.
Read: 10 Things I Didn’t Know Before Traveling to Southeast Asia
Looking back at those moments where you’ve gone off the beaten track and lived locally, you realize that they are one of a kind experiences that not every traveler gets. Yes, they may not be as easy as doing pre-arranged tours or staying in hostels, but after all, that is what traveling is all about, right? It’s about getting out of your comfort zone and experiencing different cultures and traditions. It’s about seeking life experiences that will change and define you as a person.