Chris Reynolds of the LA Times once wrote an article called “Step out of comfort zone on trips” that made some sense to me. He listed 9 things that travelers can do to learn more at destinations. I quickly added 4 more based on my experience. Here are some of them.
Hire a local guide without a big bus. This can work. We are heading to Costa Rica soon where it is said that you MUST hire a local guide to enhance the national park experience. We learned far more in Ireland by hiring a local man with a car to take us to a remote place we otherwise would not have seen. The problem with this is that your experience is determined by the quality of the guide and what he or she charges.
Start conversations with locals. This is a good rule. Ruth and I do this regularly to learn about places. Chris asks, ” What’s the point in trying to pass as a local?” and goes on to warn, “Take your usual travel precautions, but wear your curiosity on your sleeve.” We were taking a tour of Pipe Spring National Monument in northern Arizona earlier this year. We asked our guide about the availability of water in such a barren spot, and this led to a really interesting discussion about water use. The guide turned out to be a well-educated Native American woman who was giving tours for only a short time. She told us that Pipe Spring would completely run out of water within 5 years, but that the nearby town of St. George, the fastest growing community in the nation, was seriously thinking of building a water park.
“Ask directions”, advises Chris, “even if you already know them.” Locals sometimes like to be the big authority about where they live while around visitors, so playing dumb can sometimes yield rewards.
Make ear contact. Stash earbuds to actually hear artisans working, kids singing, traffic passing, etc. This reminds me of a joke that I pulled out of a Qantas magazine. it pokes fun at millennials in Australia. The question posed was, should I treat my millennial employee like any other employee? Answer: “It’s worth a shot.” But the writer, who claimed to have been treating his millennial employee like any other employee, went on to report that the millennial’s headphones still won’t come off. “Sorry,” Evan Williams, writer of the Qantas article, concluded. “Those really don’t come off.”
Do it as a group. When we were in Broken Hill, Ruth and I hired a local man who was a dud to take us out to a sculpture park at sunset. While enjoying the view, Ruth and I met a couple from Geelong. Grant and Sherril were on their way to Adelaide to see family. They invited us to go to Silverton with them the next day, and we ended up spending the entire day together seeing attractions we otherwise would have missed.
I’ll tell you Chris’s other suggestions and my additions tomorrow.