Gone are the days of guided tours and going down the list ticking all the monuments and museums you have managed to squeeze into your 10 day vacation. These days we value cultural experiences in the form of food, drink, social activities etc. The aim is to interact with the locals on a personal level. Be part of their everyday existence and nuances. I find this kind of alternative traveling enriches the mind and also brings people closer together.
Hotels are pretty much out-dated as far as i’m concerned. I absolutely love the notion of having a comfortable home away from home. Thank the universe for AirBnb / Couch Surfing / and Home swaps. My stay in a foreign land has become that much more fulfilling. You can choose a home / setting of your choice, according to your budget and in the best location possible and you don’t have be subjected to the generic hotel breakfast hours if you want to sleep in, and if you would like a midnight snack, or host a dinner party for the new friends you have made, you can totally entertain as you would at home. I use Airbnb a lot and would highly recommend it to everyone.
My very first overseas trip was in high school and it was a bunch of teens and their teachers, hopping on and off buses being herded like sheep by the tour guide, had 10 min to take a picture in front of the Eiffel Tower (and we used film cameras then, so not enough time to get a good shot in), Big Ben etc. As grateful as I am for that very first experience, I knew right then that I don’t ever want to be on a trip like that again, or when I finally travel on my own, it will be done differently.
I enjoy immersing myself in the locals culture and their way of life. Having breakfast at a local coffee shop, while reading their news papers (if its in English of course). Asking the the waitress at your breakfast place, where the best place for lunch is?, and then doing the same for dinner. Before leaving home I look if there are any concerts / social clubs / meetups that I could be part of while there, this is a great way of making friends, who intern will let you in on the gems of their city or town.
I stay away from touristy spots, unless there is something of great interest I would have really loved to see, photograph or learn more about. But my whole trip is set around being a local in a foreign land for a few days. This way I have found that there are places I should or will visit more than one time and have made life long friendships.
I’m totally obsessed with figuring out different public transportation systems everywhere I go, if the place you visiting has safe public transport I enjoy mapping out a site seeing tour for myself along the public transport route, this has also taught me a different language of being able to make your way around a place interdependently. Yes, not all cities have safe reliable transportation, this could also be an opportunity to hire a car and drive yourself around, an experience that can be equally exciting. If you have a valid drivers licence here in SA you should check what the requirements are for driving in the place to plan to visit, and get the appropriate documentation. Road trips are also a great way of experiencing more.
When it comes to bringing back memorabilia, bring home something more than just a fridge magnet or a shot glass. I love bringing back part of the experience, things like wine, rum, honey or jams. Something that I can can remind me of the taste and smells of that city. I also keep a travel journal, where I document all the experiences and the shops, restaurants and sites that stood out. I also keep my subway tickets, concert tickets etc in the journal too.