There are so many choices when it comes to holiday styles, from backpacking to camping to cruising. But have you ever considered the ‘Living like a local‘ option? I am guessing most of you haven’t considered it, as you don’t know what it is or how to get access to it.
What is: Living like a local?
There are enough holiday companies out there trying to give you the ‘real authentic experience’ when it comes to travel. But what it that exactly? So many tourist experiences are manufactured to suit tourists.
Airbnb have cottoned onto the fact that people want to connect with locals, so they have created a new Airbnb Experiences which you can book from their site. But the price tags for one of the experiences range from about £50 to £150. I am sure most of these are a lot of fun, but I don’t think an average Spaniard cycles to a vineyard on a classic bike, very often. So, in short, I don’t think Airbnb have hit the nail on the head yet. I think these are excellent experiences, and make brilliant birthday presents for those people who have everything, but it isn’t the ‘living like a local‘ experience that people are after.
How can you be living like a local?
On the other hand, home exchange companies like HomeExchange.com and LoveHomeSwap.com may have nailed it. But strangely, not many people know about it and those who do are too afraid to do it. Combine this with the way the sites are marketed, and the focus is often on the fact that it is free, rather than focussing on the local experience which is what people are seeking, and you realise why there is so little of it going on.
Real living like a local
We prefer real living like a local. It is the style of holiday we have chosen (combined with slackpacking/glampacking) for our 6+ month sabbatical. Where possible, we have arrange home exchanges (also known as house swaps) with people who live in the countries we’re visiting. I am currently writing this from my 14th floor, Bangkok, home-exchanged, apartment, far away from the Khao San Road back-packer trail.
Also read: Funding slackpacking or glampacking travel
Generally your host would leave you with some instructions, either via email or by leaving you a house manual. This would include things like:
- Where the closest supermarkets / shops are
- How to operate the washing machine / oven etc
- Restaurant suggestions
- Ideas of things to do in the region
- Quirks unique to your home
- People to contact if there are any problems
- And many more
Properties are sometimes in holiday destinations, as people swap our second holiday homes. But the majority of people swap out their own homes, generally in the suburbs. Homes are generally comfortable and well kitted out – it is their primary home after all!
And as you’re often in their home when they’re in yours (but other options are available for non-simultaneous exchange), you don’t feel bad contacting them with questions and queries. And they’re generally happy to help.
Typical activities when living like a local
The type of activities we undertake varies, depending on where we are, or which property we’re in. But they include things like:
- Trip to the local supermarket. Looking for unusual ingredients, googling them, then trying to cook recipes we find online.
- Visiting local markets and tasting things that people suggest to us – even if they sound weird.
- Doing things that the locals do: having a massage or haircut, taking public transport instead of taxis, taking an interest in things happening in the area.
- Walking around the neighbourhood. Getting a good feel for the place. Where possible, this is even better on a bike as you can cover more ground. We walk a lot whilst on holiday, but in hotter countries we almost melt.
- Making notes of the changes and differences you notice to where you live. Some of these may seem mundane, but they’re different … which makes them interesting. I sometimes document these changes formally, but it is fun looking out for them!
- Hong Kong list of differences and interesting facts
- Bangkok list of interesting facts coming soon
- Eating street food or at local eateries where ordinary people eat. Supporting the real locals shops and vendors.
- Communicating with locals were possible. Google translate has made this so much easier. You can translate text or images, which is brilliant for languages with a different script.
- You still have the option to dip in and out of touristy activities. We love local cooking courses, which you can easily book though Cookly.me
Also read: Slower pace: Slackpacking through Asia
Benefits of living like a local
There are many benefits, of which the most important is that you’re getting a far more authentic experience. Generally your host will give you some tips and inside knowledge which will enrich your experience.
The other most tangible benefit is that it is cheaper. Much cheaper than other holidays as you aren’t paying for accommodation whilst being away. Also, as you’re away from ‘tourist town’, so you won’t be fleeced at each purchase.
Many people are concerned about home exchange: leaving their house for someone else to live in, but as you’ll be living in theirs, it doesn’t really worry us. We have found most people to be extremely considerate, treating our home like we would be treating theirs: with respect!