You’ve chosen to travel independently, or you have some time to spare on a trip and want to really understand the place you’ve dreamed about for the last 6 months. As anyone who has been to somewhere like Paris and left unfulfilled would tell you, visitors don’t automatically experience the authentic fun, chat and culture of any place they may find themselves. The obvious answer is to have contacts all around the world and just friend-hop. But this isn’t an option for the majority of us, and even then you would need to know these friends very well, to consider imposing on their time or even home. There are other options though, and most involve the holy grail of pre-planning combined with the blessing of spontaneous enjoyment. Let’s take a look at how to be a true traveler rather than a tourist. Source: chicagogreeter.com
Your Own Personal Tour Guide
Who hasn’t wanted to be shown around a city or beautiful region by a local? It can be risky to accept offers from people you don’t know, no matter how friendly they seem, so booking ahead is the best option. And it really will get you an exciting experience. In US and Australian locations, these guides are known as “Greeters” and often concentrate on specific districts of your chosen city, and this concept has spread around the world. They are knowledgeable and can satisfy your need for history, fascinating insights into the local culture and perhaps the best local burger spot.
Another advantage to this is flexibility – if you need to make a pit-stop of any kind (I’m talking kiddie comfort breaks here) you can just ask your personal guide to take a break! Some of the highlights are Greeters in Marseille focusing on this year’s UEFA tournament, for football fans only. Elsewhere, you can catch a Greeter in Chicago with a past as a city planner, ready to give you the best possible tour of that great city of architecture, all for free. More often than not, these greeters may end up being your new friends. Source: thefuturekept.com
Good Old-Fashioned Research
This may be a little less glamorous than some of our other tips, but good planning really should play a part in every trip you take. The trick to finding information that is up to date and genuine is where you go and what you read. A good place to start is Cereal magazine, a bi-annual travel and style journal you can read online and in print. Their city guides are rightly famous, and feature beautiful photography and correct contact details for the shops, attractions and cafés… Surprisingly, UK clothes labels often have useful guides, especially if you’re visiting London, so a quick search for Whistles or Reiss brands will take you where you need to go. Blogs are also a good idea, if a little hit and miss.
The point is to not only look for attractions, but depending on your time and mood, to find out what locals enjoy doing, in order to really immerse yourself in the culture and lifestyle of the places you’re visiting. Did you know that Bagh Chal is an ancient strategy board game still played in Nepal or that Russians have been playing Gorodki for centuries? Board and card games and their origins may sound a little redundant in the age of technology, but they provide a chance to act like a local for a few hours as well as actually bond with fellow travelers and locals. When looking for a restaurant to have dinner, look for places that seem packed with locals, especially in more touristy locations. They have to be good if people keep coming back. Research is not only about books and guides – ask locals, even if it’s just your hotel’s staff.
A More Immersive Experience
It could be that the “chat” we mentioned earlier is really what you’re looking for. If so, an immersive experience could be the way to go. Questions of safety are a given, so always go with your gut if you’re unsure and err on the side of caution. However, there are a host of Airbnb-style sites out there that can connect you with a local person for a specific experience. Withlocals is a site which works on the Airbnb model, with hosts offering to cook you dinner in their home, or “home restaurant” as the site has it. You can also learn new skills – up-cycling workshop in Bruges, anyone?
Triip works in a similar way, linking you with hosts who have devised tours of their city or region, often combined with photography, eating delicious things or canyoneering (wow). The difference between these guys and a Greeter? They’re definitely not for free. If you’re interested in languages, it’s one of the best ways to experience another culture: try the Scuola Toscana in gorgeous Florence.
Take a Chance on Social Media
This one’s a bit unorthodox for some, but the world of social media can be useful for all sorts of things. It could be as simple as a message to Facebook friends or friends of friends in the country you’re about to visit, or a message on Twitter asking for suggestions for places to eat dinner. This has become quite a phenomenon, as this Twitter-hitch-hiker will attest. According to recent research, 46% of Twitter users use the site to get local information while on holiday – and they’re smart to be doing so.
Once you have a recommendation, it goes without saying that Google Maps will be invaluable (though we find that in London especially, a mini A-Z is more discreet). I would also like to make some suggestions for useful travel apps. If you’re spending time in a new place and something happens, these may be useful to have, especially if you don’t speak the local language. The aforementioned Tripit allows you to plan an itinerary and share it with a group, lessening the chances of losing an overexcited travel companion.
There you have it, the sky really is the limit for your next authentic travel experience, especially if you go canyoneering. Meaningful and truly exciting travel is so available to everyone these days, it would seem a pity not to explore the possibilities, especially now that the internet is connecting the world. Enjoy getting out there, and remember to keep your wits and your phone about you. Feed your curiosity and there’s no doubt you’ll have a great time.
One of the most iconic images of Maine is that of the Portland Head Light. This lighthouse was completed in 1791 and sits on a head of land at the main entrance to the shipping channel into Portland Harbor. The lighthouse is located within Fort Williams Park (free to enter) and is a great place to explore, have a picnic, and just enjoy the beautiful Maine scenery. And the best part is that we now live here and can see it anytime we wish!
Our cross-country road trip is a combination of moving from Oregon to Maine, visiting with our family that we have not seen in over two years, and gathering the little bit of junk that we left behind.
Before leaving for our around the world adventure over two years ago, we got rid of pretty much everything we own. Everything we had left, which included photo albums and other “important stuff”, fit neatly into a 4×8 U-haul trailer and was left at Kerri’s sister and brother-in-laws house in Utah. We also left some books at my mom’s house in Oregon, but due to lack of space inside our Cheap and Cheerful Audi we are going to have those shipped to us once we reach Maine (thanks mom). We could have rented a trailer, but we had no trailer hitch at that time. That came later.
After driving across Idaho we reached Layton, Utah and enjoyed visiting with Kerri’s sister Alison, brother-in-law Scott, and the nieces Cassie and Rose. During our stay in Utah we had a trailer hitch installed on our Audi A6, which turned out to be a bit of a hassle, but I won’t bore you with the details. Let’s just say that Audi’s are not the easiest cars to work on and it left the people at U-haul scratching their heads on how to get the rear bumper off. Luckily, someone documented the procedure and posted the instructions online. We also had a new key made at the dealership since the key that came with the car was broken and missing the buttons. Those Audi keys are not cheap and it cost us $208 for a single key. Crazy!
Once we had a trailer hitch installed we picked up a 4×8 trailer and dug out all of the crap we left behind 2 years ago. Our first reaction after seeing the boxes was, “Why did we keep this?” Even though we got rid of lot stuff, we feel we could have done better. The majority of the stuff we have left is going right back into storage once we reach Maine. Perhaps we should have got rid of everything and had a seriously clean start!
After saying our goodbyes in Utah we drove south towards New Mexico. Since we were pulling a trailer we wanted to avoid steep hills and snow, so we took a slightly longer route. The weather was great and we arrived in Cortez, Colorado just as the sun was setting. We found a cheap room at a Super 8 and ordered a Dominos pizza. Life on the road!
The next morning we packed up and continued towards New Mexico. On the way we took a slight detour and visited the Four Corners Monument, which marks the convergence of Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico. We were a little shocked to find the price to be $5 per person to visit a survey marker, and unfortunately the fry bread food carts weren’t open.
After visiting Four Corners we stopped at Aztec Ruins National Monument. We are suckers for old ruins and couldn’t resist stopping to explore. They even had a Junior Ranger program for kids and after completing her booklet; Sydney was excited to get sworn in as an official National Parks Junior Ranger. She now wants to visit every National Park and monument in the United States. Yikes!
After our detours we arrived safely at Kerri’s parents house in Los Alamos, New Mexico and unloaded our trailer’s contents into their garage. It was cheaper to rent a trailer in segments that it was to rent it to go all the way cross-country. We had just missed a snowstorm and there was snow piled up around town, but the weather was really warm when we were there. We did some hiking around the area and Sydney got a new Junior Ranger patch for visiting the Bandelier National Monument. I have never been a fan of high altitude and spending a week at 7000 feet was rough. I can’t wait to be back at sea level again! We had a great, but breathless, week visiting with Kerri’s parents and after picking up and loading our U-Haul trailer we were off to visit Kerri’s sister Erin and brother-in-law Ralph in Albuquerque.
We stayed just one night with Erin and Ralph and the next morning we were on the road again. After passing though a whole lot of nothing, we arrived in the bizarre town of Roswell, New Mexico. Roswell is said to be the location of an alien spaceship crash in 1947. Of course, the US military says it was a crashed weather balloon. Whatever the story, we toured the world famous Roswell UFO Museum. The museum was pretty cheesy and was not as exciting as we had expected.
Since New England is getting hammered with massive snowstorms, we decided to hang out in warm and sunny New Mexico for just a little longer. Tomorrow we plan to visit Carlsbad Caverns where Sydney can get a new Junior Ranger badge and we can explore someplace new. Afterwards, the plan is to drive across Texas. Yeehaw!
Our cross-country road trip from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine is taking a southern route that we have nicknamed, “putting a smile on America.” Our route starts in the northwest, dips down to the south, and then continues up to the north creating what looks to be a smiley on the map. The reasoning behind our extended route is to avoid the harsh winter conditions in the north, but more importantly to visit with family members that we have not seen in over 2 years.
The first stop on our cross-country trip after leaving Portland, Oregon was to the small town of Ontario, Oregon to visit my mom, brother, niece, aunt, and friends. We spent nearly a week in Ontario and the Boise area visiting with everyone while struggling with the below freezing temperatures. Having come from summer in the southern hemisphere, we have not yet acclimated to winter in the northern hemisphere. Hopefully we acclimate soon as Maine is having blizzards and below zero temperatures!
After leaving Ontario we drove through thick fog in freezing conditions, but once we hit Boise we had blue skies and the temperature warmed. The stretch across southern Idaho is not exactly scenic, so when we saw the sign for Three Island Crossing, a famous point along the Oregon Trail route, we had to stop. Our daughter, Sydney, has been studying the Oregon Trail as part of her homeschooling and we thought it would make a good school field trip stop.
Once back on the road we drove through a whole lot of nothing, some more nothing, and then crossed into Utah and finally saw mountains, which is better than nothing.
We are currently in Layton, Utah visiting with Kerri’s sister, brother-in-law, and the nieces. We are also having our car modified with a trailer hitch and trailer wiring so that we can carry all the crap that we left here across the US to Maine. We must have been crazy to think this was a good idea, but only time will tell.
Our cheap and cheerful car is doing well, but our fuel economy is not so good. Our Audi A6 wagon is said to get 27 miles per gallon on the highway, but we are consistently seeing only 20 MPG. Perhaps it is the studded tires, or maybe the car needs a tune-up. Hopefully it doesn’t drop to 10 MPG once we had a trailer!
On Sunday the plan is to head southeast towards New Mexico to visit with Kerri’s parents. This leg of the journey will take us over the Continental Divide. Normally this is not a big deal, but when we are towing a trailer and snow is predicted in the forecast, it could get a bit hairy.
Wish us luck!