Local Local Local Travel
As with the food movement, so goes the travel movement—local, local, and local.
Big global tour companies and humongous travel agencies are slowly being left behind. People want the local flavor and are getting it inside of small tours, by hiring local guides, and finding people on the ground to give then that unique experience.
Choose local guides over Internet sites every single time. Find someone who leads small tours or local people who can lead you around.
Recently I was outside the New Acropolis Museum in Athens Greece, where a woman approached one of the guards with a voucher from an Internet site that has been getting a lot of play lately. She pleasantly asked the guard at the museum if he could help her with her voucher that was for a private tour of said museum.
The guards see this all day everyday and I am amazed how they keep their cool. She admitted that she paid for the tour online—they took her credit card info, and charged her card—but she never got a confirmation. She had tried to contact them repeatedly but the wait times for customer service was hours.
She was stuck outside the museum hoping against hope that there would be a magical person there to help her. The guards just shrugged and she walked away defeated.
Do any of the following. Ask your hotel to recommend a local. Ask the local TI (Tourist Information) for someone to lead you on a tour. Go on one of our trips or any of the small group tours that are out there.
Small experienced tour companies and their tour leaders work hard to take care of all the details and they know the ins and outs of each place. They have spent years refining their trips and have previous customers you may talk to. You cannot actually do the trip they are offering on your own at the price they are offering it—I know this because I put trips like this together.
You will be so happy that you spent the money that it becomes a dream trip. (Tip—find one that does not allow their tour leaders to take kickbacks. This is where the tour leader recommends a restaurant or a shop for you to go. If you buy anything there the shop owner gives a cut to your leader. This practice is usually with the big tour groups. Ask your proposed tour operator if this practice is in place on their tours. If they hedge or do not answer you, look elsewhere).
Here is a fine example of seeking out the ‘local’. A friend of mine, Maribel, is an American married to an Italian. She started her own cooking lessons/ school in Bologna Italy using her Roman Grandmother’s recipes. She has taught our groups how to mix and roll pasta dough and ultimately transform it into tortelloni and other pasta shapes. To watch Maribel make pasta dough is sublime, a Zen moment. Care and love are the operative words that come to my mind when watching her. I asked her to comment on the local movement in her own words.
“I’ve lived in Bologna for the last 20 years. While I grew up in Puerto Rico, one of my grandmothers was from Rome and I learned many dishes and Italian customs from her. I now teach students how to make fresh egg pasta the way we do in Bologna, with the traditional wooden board and rolling pin.
Teaching small groups gives me the chance to make personal contact with my students. It feels like I am dealing with friends instead of it being work. In large groups, I feel like I am giving a presentation. It is only in a small group setting that I can adapt the lesson to the individual’s questions or level of expertise.
One other reason that traveling around in a small group is better is that in Italy, many food shops and/ or restaurants are quite small. Large groups simply cannot enter. That alone is a good reason to avoid large tour groups.
In my line of work, I have been lucky enough to meet many exceptional people, lovely people from all walks of life and different countries. Funny people; people who are going through difficult personal times but trying to make the best of it; people who are on the top rung on the company ladder; people who are on a ‘trip of a lifetime’; people travelling with three generations wanting to roll pasta together; as well as people on their honeymoon. I love being part of their day. I love being able to make a difference!”
Here is another example of finding the ‘local’. Rachel is a guide in the Priorat wine region of Catalonia Spain. She is British, married to a Spaniard. Not only does she have a degree in Modern European Languages but also an M.A. in Museum studies. She specializes in small groups and I asked her for a few words on the subject.
“I think small groups are the future of tourism. The mass tourism cult of the Sixties and Seventies here in Spain (beach holidays mainly) is being changed by small groups and culturally aware visitors who are looking for a more authentic experience.
The place where I live, Priorat, is a small region, with few inhabitants, quaint 8-9 room hotels, and winding mountainous roads. Even the wineries are smaller establishments where we usually tour with the owner and winemaker and they like to talk one-to-one about their wines. Small groups fit in perfectly!
Thirty years ago this area was economically depressed. Based on the fact that people are now looking for quality wines (and wine styles have changed here) things have improved for us here. The growth of cultural and wine tourism coupled with small groups looking for high-end wines has created opportunity for the area.
I recently guided the founder of an old well-known winery in Napa Valley California.
This decent, down-to earth man and his wife came to Priorat to learn more about the people here behind the wines. He was in tune with nature and on a similar wavelength with the more organically conscious winemakers of Priorat. Spending time with people like this couple is an added benefit of my job!
Furthermore, the area has a special place in my heart. When I was studying in Barcelona, a friend of mine was concurrently doing her Thesis on “The Role of British Women in the Spanish Civil War”. My friend came to Spain in order to find a cave in the mountains that had been used as a field hospital during the battle of Ebro in 1938. She found it in a tiny olive-producing village in the Priorat region.
In 2001 I followed her to the same village for the unveiling of a plaque to commemorate the hospital, along with the surviving veterans. I met a very nice man who was the manager of the olive oil cooperative in the village of La Bisbal de Falset where the cave was located. I married him three years later in the same cave!”