The recent trend for having an ‘authentic’ travel experience has put emphasis on exploring the culture of a country. Looking beyond the stereotypical tourist attractions and engaging with the local population can open your eyes to new and unique memories. Moreover, positively interacting with locals can promote sustainable tourism by creating mutual understanding between both local residents and visitors. This is especially important given the recent anti-tourism summer protests in some of the most visited cities in Europe. In my own experience, it is the interactions with locals which give lasting personalised experiences, which cannot be replicated by tacky souvenirs.
My family’s recent holiday across Sardinia, is only one example of how locals can become the most significant part of your travels. The local people helped them from train to train, giving directions and helping them with their suitcases. In the final stage of their journey, a local barman drove them the six kilometres to their accommodation in Tresnuraghes, and refused payment. Throughout their time here, they were made to feel welcome by the local residents, who invited them to a local festival and shared their food and wine.
My family’s spontaneous adventure gave them a feeling of inclusion in the local customs. This open-minded approach to exploration means you will meet local people who will enrich your travel experience.
Sadly, however, the Westernisation of popular cities highlights the impact of mass tourism. The emergence of fast food chains, for example, has obstructed authentic culinary experiences.
I know a lady who travelled all around the world, from Paris to Tokyo, and yet did not speak to any locals or try any local cuisine, choosing only to eat in global fast food restaurants and stay in isolated hotels. To me, this completely limited her learning and experience. It is easier for tourists not to engage with both the cultural heritage and local population, but if you are not going to engage with new experiences, why travel at all?
Ultimately, the locals are the DNA of a country. Interacting with them is important as this is the best way to fully experience what a country has to offer; local knowledge is a great asset to take advantage of while travelling.
My own memories of speaking to a local man in a Florentine café about Italian literature and my family’s travels in Sardinia have left lasting impressions, which cannot be replicated. When interacting with locals, the best travel experiences are the ones which are fantastically spontaneous.