I believe that the local experience is one of the most rewarding gifts of travel. In my opinion, a local experience can come in many forms. Being taken to a local hangout, beach, or view point that is off the beaten track, indulging in the wisdom of elders over coffee at a cafe, playing games with children, attending a small town festival, and sharing a meal, tea, or slice of watermelon in the home of a local resident are some of the local experiences I cherish most from my time in India.
Leaving home and hoping for these opportunities is optimistic, and helpful - but I suggest that travelers can cultivate and nurture deeply rich cultural experiences. Here are a few things that you can do to pro-actively promote meaningful interactions with the local experience:
1. Connect with your network
If you don't already know someone, you will have to meet some people once you arrive. The easiest thing you can do is smile. A sincere smile universally transcends language and cultural barriers (careful with this one ladies). No one wants to deal with grouchy visitors.
3. Make time to get rural
Building time into your itinerary to get away from metropolitan cities, lonely planet "top picks," and other frequented tourism hubs can be a fun way actively find the local experience. Sometimes this means you plan your activities intending to chat with locals, travelers, shop keepers, and hotel/restaurant staff to get an understanding of how exactly you are going to take the path less traveled.
4. Talk to fellow travelers
I have observed that even just 10 years ago the traveler community interacted differently. We were connecting in hostel lounges and kitchens rather than Facebook and Twitter. We carried thousand page guide books rather than iPad2 and Android phones. Nevertheless, chances are good that the people sitting next to you during dinner are probably ecstatic to share with you a wonderful experience, favorite hotel, or tip to enhance your travel... all you have to do is ignite that conversation with an invitation to talk. Their information is usually more current, accurate, and specific than that forum post or guide book you just referenced.
5. Consider a home-stay, bed and breakfast, or CouchSurfing
If you are ready for a change in pace, check out a home-stay, b&b, or surf some couches. These accommodations derive their value by providing home cooked meals, exceptional hospitality, and local contacts.
6. Get creative
When we got back to town, his family graciously invited me to have dinner at their house where I transferred copies of the day's photos to the computer in their living room. I am certain it was a day that neither of us will soon forget!
7. Travel solo
Traveling with your partner is stacked with benefits; however, one simple fact is that traveling solo makes you more available. A few days ago I was out just after dark struggling to purchase some soap, and just that very moment a gentleman approached and help with some translations. Soap in hand, I could have headed out the door and called it a night. Instead, I engaged in conversation with "Thapy" and seconds later I was in his house meeting his family, and sharing a watermelon smoothie in his living room.
If you treasure the local experience as I do, I am confident that by consciously inviting the world into your heart with these seven (7) techniques, you too will have a more fulfilling local travel experience.