The word “travel” encompasses so many different experiences. It can be a week away at an all-inclusive resort where your every need is met. It might be a city break in a high rise hotel or Airbnb. Or it can mean a volunteer abroad placement or homestay where you work and live like a local. No matter how you choose to travel, there are usually both advantages and disadvantages, whether it be the experience you have or the indent it leaves on your wallet.
One of the best ways to have an enriching and culturally immersive experience (without breaking the bank) is by living like a local when you travel. You’ll have far greater insights into the local culture, the opportunity to try authentic cuisine and make new friends along the way.
It is Far Cheaper to Live Like a Local
One of the biggest advantages of living like a local (rather than bunking down in a 5-star, internationally-owned hotel) is that it’s usually much cheaper. You can find all-inclusive homestay experiences complete with home-cooked meals or bunk down with a local as part of a Couchsurfing experience. For those that want a little more privacy and a few comforts from home, you can find affordable Airbnb rooms and apartments owned by locals who will share their insider secrets or opt for a cheap hotel where you’re more likely to encounter local travelers. Supporting local accommodation options is also an ethical choice as you know your money is helping the local economy rather than being channeled offshore.
Feast on Authentic Food
Anyone with a passion for discovering new cuisines will know the disappointment of dining at a “tourist” restaurant on bland food with no soul. But when you live like a local, there’ll be never ending opportunities to feast on authentic cuisine with all the spice and flavor thrown in. When you live like a local, you’ll probably get invited into people’s homes, find out about the best local food haunts and learn that eating on the street or at hole-in-the-wall establishments doesn’t mean food poisoning or stomach bugs. If you opt for a homestay, you’ll probably have your meals cooked for you and dine with the family on what they would normally eat every day, as well as get the opportunity to learn how to cook local dishes yourself.
Discover Hidden Gems
When you set out to travel, there are usually sights or attractions that you really want to see. It might be grand architectural landmarks, spectacular wilderness areas or specific wildlife destinations. But it’s often the things we encounter while getting from A and B that live brightest in our memories. When you live like a local and get off-the-beaten tourist track, you increase your chances of stumbling upon those hidden gems or discovering places that only the locals know about. That doesn’t mean you have to miss out on seeing the big name sights. But you can decide where you spend your time, instead of it being dictated to you by a tour itinerary. Not having a plan can be one of the most refreshing ways to approach travel and once you release yourself from organized tours and connect with local people, you just never know what you might find.
Have a Culturally Immersive Experience
When you live like a local or with a local family, your cultural experience is so much richer. You’ll get to participate in local festivals and family traditions, as well as get an insider’s look into all the little quirks and customs that make each culture unique. You’ll have the opportunity to ask lots of questions about aspects of the local culture or religion that fascinate you and you’ll probably return a more tolerant and open-minded individual. If you’re wanting to hone your language skills, then there is no better opportunity than to live like a local as you’ll be forced to negotiate your daily activities in another language. If you’re staying with a homestay family, the children will probably be more than happy to correct your mistakes and help expand your abilities for when you step out in the street.
Make New Friends
While group tours allow you to meet like-minded individuals from other western countries, what about the friends you could make in your destination? When you live like a local, the connections you make with local people will be much stronger and you’ll probably discover there’s more that unites us than divides us. It’s through these friends that you’ll get some of your most fascinating cultural insights and learn what it’s really like to grow up in another country. Perhaps you’ll gain a better understanding of the hardships other people experience in everyday life or get an insight into the aspects of living that really enrich people, other than the money-centric pursuits often celebrated in the west.
Support the Local Economy
When you opt to live like a local, stay in locally-owned accommodations and eat at locally-run restaurants, you are taking great strides in supporting the local economy. This is what sustainable and responsible tourism is all about, ensuring that your tourism dollars end up in the hands of those that need it most to build a better and brighter tomorrow. Once you opt out of all-inclusive resorts or tours, you get to decide on a daily basis where to spend your money and who benefits from it. For those with a social conscience, there is no more empowering way to travel than to live like a local.
Find Greater Satisfaction While You Live Like a Local
When you combine all of the above, the result is a more satisfying travel experience that will leave you with a refreshing outlook on life. While lying by the pool of a luxury resort will probably reduce stress levels induced by study or work, it doesn’t offer the enrichment of a culturally immersive experience. And with the dollars you’ve saved, you can afford to head abroad to live like a local again and again.