Sunday, May 22, 2016

Travel like a local


Picture this: a charming Frenchwoman named Charlotte is taking a Spaniard named Carlos and an Italian named Luca out for a drive in her antique Citröen. She is showing them around her native city of Paris and taking them to her favorite spots, many of which are off the beaten tourist track.

Contrast this with the traditional scene of tourists clambering out of a huge bus and following a guide carrying an umbrella over his/her head. The trendy traveller no longer waits in long queues at the Parthenon in Athens, the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Colosseum in Rome, but looks for alternative experiences that go beyond the postcard.

Hence, an increasing number of tourists are turning to locals for advice, rather than the pages of a travel guide or excursions organized by travel companies. Aside from seeking a genuine experience, some travelers aim to practice what they call responsible and caring tourism by following the recommendations of local inhabitants on how to best spend their stay --and to do so in appreciation of local traditions. A number of websites are following up on this trend with routes designed to make sure that visitors get to see the sites from a more local perspective. Some websites, for example, offer inside tips to get the best coffee in town, or on the most convenient way to travel if the public transport system isn't working, or on things and places that can be enjoyed for free. These websites provide long lists of recommended cafés, restaurants and entertainment spots, while their lists of excursions are sometimes so diverse that considerable time is needed to find the most suitable one for each traveller.

Aside from traditional walking tours, some local tourist guides also offer to provide tours of their city on roller skates, by bicycle or even while jogging. Of course, many of these excursions incorporate the usual aspects -including architecture, nature, food, photography and shopping-- but with an interesting twist, with the option of taking a traditional cooking class or going out on alternative nightlife or artistic photo tours. One might also choose to have dinner with a local family and try out the area's traditional foods while spending a leisurely evening learning about the host's native city.

One way to select an appropriate excursion is to read about the tour providers and find one who shares the same interests as you. Therefore, before this trend goes viral and is replaced by a new one, go out for a novel experience rather than a bargain package deal!

Here are a few websites worth checking out:
Elina Ruka is a writer and photographer from Riga, Latvia

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