About Jessica Festa
Jessica Festa is the editor of the travel sites Jessie on a Journey (http://jessieonajourney.com) and Epicure & Culture (http://epicureandculture.com). Along with blogging at We Blog The World, her byline has appeared in publications like Huffington Post, Gadling, Fodor's, Travel + Escape, Matador, Viator, The Culture-Ist and many others. After getting her BA/MA in Communication from the State University of New York at Albany, she realized she wasn't really to stop backpacking and made travel her full time job. Some of her most memorable experiences include studying abroad in Sydney, teaching English in Thailand, doing orphanage work in Ghana, hiking her way through South America and traveling solo through Europe. She has a passion for backpacking, adventure, hiking, wine and getting off the beaten path.
Latest Posts by Jessica Festa
Big White Ski Resort in Kelowna, Canada, is home to world-class skiing and snowboarding as well as spectacular scenery. Living in the village, I’ve created a photo essay of Instagram shots capturing some of my favorite slopeside moments for you to recreate on your travels.
1) Living in a completely ski-in ski-out village
2) The only reminder that you’re not going snow-color blind being the bright ski chairs
3) Running with a sundog – a sunny sight caused by refracting ice crystals
4) Cruising through endless fields of Okanagan champagne powder snow
5) Changing pace with a horse drawn carriage ride
6) Ramping things up again, climbing up a tower of ice
7) Watching the sunrise in the morning over the endless mountain ranges
8) Making it to the top of the mountain and feeling like I’m in another world
“The Western Ghats are a very important place in India. It’s home to the richest bird life on the Indian Peninsula as well as thousands of Ayurvedic plants.”
I’m at the Hornbill Camp, taking a tour of the onsite organic plantation with Chris and John, two interns from England. Kerala is renowned for its natural beauty and diverse ecology — which is why its tagline is ”God’s Own Country” — and the property is lush with sweet fruits, earthy nuts and Ayurvedic ingredients: bone-strengthening pineapple; cancer-fighting jack fruit; fiber-rich tapioca; heart-healthy chilies; turmeric with its antiseptic properties; nutmeg which helps upset stomach; clove which aids tooth aches; coffee cherries whose skins are full of antioxidants; and much more.
“Try this,” says Chris, handing me a tiny chilli. I catch a mischievous glint in his eyes. “It’s one of the more milder peppers.”
I catch his bluff. “Okay. But you first.”
He glances quickly at John, and plops the pepper on his tongue, immediately choking and turning red.
“Looks mild alright,” I smirk, punching him playfully in the arm.
Organically-grown rubber trees at the Hornbill Camp.
The plantation’s main crop is rubber, and you can tell which trees make the product from the plastic visors worn on their trunks. This is to protect already tapped areas from getting wet and infected with fungus. What’s really interesting is seeing how with one small cut liquified rubber runs down grooves chiseled into the trunk, dripping into a bucket stretching like puddy once it congeals. Afterward, we stop by the small onsite factory, where the rubber is turned into thin sheets that are sold to manufacturers.
After the walk, it’s time to immerse myself in Kerala’s rich biodiversity through a bird-watching kayaking adventure in the Thattekkad Bird Sanctuary. The camp sits on the Periyar River, the longest river in Kerala at 244 kilometers (152 miles). Here you’ll find over 260 bird species, 24 of which are endemic, like the Malabar Grey Hornbill, White-bellied Treepie and Nilgiri Flycatcher, as well as rare species like the Mottled Wood Owl, Rusty-tailed Flycatcher, Grey-headed Bulbul and Nilgiri Wood Pigeon.
Sunrise over the River Periyar at the Hornbill Camp.
The water of the river is still and serene, bordered by lowland tropical forest. Immediately we see birds flying from every direction — Dollarbirds, Snakebirds, Cormorants, Parakeets, Indian Cuckoos and even an enormous squirrel that looks more like a monkey called a Malabar Giant Squirrel. On the way home, more “animal life” is spotted as a local man paddles with his dog in a wooden canoe.
The bed in my cottage tent, which is crafted from local materials, is a welcomed sight after so much activity — especially as I had ridden a bike 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Kochi to get there. I fall face first on the cushy mattress. Not for too long though, as 7:30pm is dinner time.
Relax on your own private deck on the river at the Hornbill Camp.
Meals at the Hornbill Camp are done in traditional Kerala style, with ingredients sourced locally, many from the property. A creamy vegetable soup is the starter, followed by an aromatic buffet of vegetable korma, aloo gobi, chicken curry, ash gourd and tasty vegetable snake gourd. With each bite the spices and herbs I’d seen both on the property and cycling through Kerala come to life: the cashew and clove in the korma; the coriander and turmeric in the aloo gobi; the ginger root and cumin in the curry; and the coconut and dahl in the gourds. For dessert, a cardamom-spiced tapioca pudding showcases India’s “Queen of Spices,” which is not only sweet but excellent for healthy teeth and digestion. Sipping water from a mug hand-carved from local wood, I feel truly immersed in Kerala culture.
That night — after a refreshing shower using India‘s famous Ayuverdic soap — I go to bed hearing nothing but the sounds of Jerdon’s Nightjars and Ceylon Frogmouths. Unlike my apartment in Brooklyn, there’s no WiFi, subways, gangster rap or fighting street kids to distract me from a restful sleep. And while I usually toss and turn fretting over deadlines, bills and parking tickets, on this night not a thought crosses my mind. Not surprisingly, I sleep better than I have in ages.
Tulips in wine bottles. Photo courtesy of Joseph Hernandez.
Want to know where to experience the best food and wine in the United States? Joseph Hernandez, Assistant Editor at Wine Enthusiast Magazine, dishes on budget-friendly vinos, lobster pies, Detroit’s culinary revival and where to savor the country’s most delicious epicurious journeys.
1. What’s one foodie city in the U.S. that you think lives up to its hype?
I’m going to demure, because I honestly don’t think there’s just one. “Second” cities—those cities that exist in the burning star orbit of larger metropolises—are really coming into their own these days. Look at Detroit’s current, slow-but-inspiring revival, or Philly’s own emergence, as cities attracting talent and passion. Hell, Charleston and Asheville are Southern cities with huge foodie cred. As for the Big Guys, New York (particularly Brooklyn) and Chicago shouldn’t be ignored by gastronauts.
2. What’s one underrated food/wine city in the US you wish more travelers explored?
I recently had the pleasure of visiting Burlington, Vermont, and man, can that city cook. The Green Mountain state’s bounty is seemingly on every table, and every restaurant has an established relationship with the region’s farmers. They truly live the Slow Food, farm-to-table lifestyle, with none of the pretensions that seem to have emerged with it.
3. What’s one meal you’ve had on your U.S. travels that’s worth a trip in itself?
I essentially travel to eat, so this question is hard to answer, but the Northeast’s seafood culture is a habit I can’t break. I’m not even talking restaurant-wise. One of my favorite meals was on a trip to the sleepy seaside town of Newburyport just outside Boston. My companions and I got hold of some great Maine lobsters along with fresh, local goods and we made dinner together. I was introduced to my first lobster pie by my friend who grew up there, which is a traditional food you may not exactly find on any menus. It’s rustic, simple and the kind of eating and traveling I enjoy the most.
4. If you could teleport to one restaurant in the U.S. which would it be and why?
There’s a Filipino food joint in Orange County, California called Salo-Salo Grill that my family went to all of the time. The dishes are traditional Pinoy fare, zero to no flair, what some might call “authentic,” whatever that means to them. It’s the food my mom made for me growing up, and oh god, is it good. I’m a huge fan of Filipino food being the next Pacific food du jour, but places like Maharlika and Jeepney on the Lower East Side—and both are amazing!—will never come close. But that’s the danger of food memories, I guess; nothing will ever compare to that memory.
Sakamai in the Lower East Side. Photo courtesy of Joseph Hernandez.
5. As a New Yorker, what do you wish visitors understood more about the food and drink scene in NYC?
Stop basing your dining decisions on the health code letters in the window. I take it as a suggestion most of the time. Unless I personally know someone made sick by a place, I can’t be bothered with Yelp reviews or a glance at its letter grade. If it passes the smell test–”what is that delicious smell?”–I’m game. The city’s food scene represents so many different cuisines; as a person who can’t travel as much as I’d like to, I prefer using my dining experiences as a way of exploring a culture. Screw what a nameless health inspector thinks. The resto would be shutdown if they killed someone with a dish, no?
6. What’s one lesser-known wine region in the US you think wine travelers should plan to visit and why?
I’m biased, but New York! This state is seriously kicking ass, wine-wise. From the Finger Lakes to Long Island’s North Fork, and even the emerging Hudson Valley wineries, there’s so much good wine being made just outside of New York City. Even Brooklyn is churning out high quality juice, from Alie Shaper at Brooklyn Oenology, to Red Hook Winery enlisting the likes of wine world movers-and-shakers Abe Schoener and Robert Foley, it’s becoming damn-near impossible to find a bad wine from the Empire State.
Champagne. Photo courtesy of Joseph Hernandez.
On A Mission
Neil and I read a lot about the changes in the mountains before our trek, but we weren’t prepared for just how dramatic those changes would be
Uganda‘s Rwenzori Mountains, with their six distinct peaks and deep gorges, were first summitted in 1906 by the Duke of Abruzzi, with renowned photographer at the time Vittorio Sella capturing beautiful shots of the glacial peaks. Photographing these peaks from the same angle as they were taken on this expedition was the main goal for Dr. Losin and Dr. Dappen, as they wanted to visually document the effects of global warming. Sadly, these glaciers have diminished over 80%, with the prediction being they’ll be completely gone in 20 years. These changes impact the lush flora and impressive biodiversity the Rwenzori Mountains are known for.
“But the Earth’s climate is changing,” Dr. Losin wrote in an article for National Geographic. “Glaciers all over the world are shrinking as the world gets warmer. If we followed in the Duke’s footsteps, a hundred years later, what would we see? My buddy Nate Dappen and I decided we had to find out.”
When trekking through the Rwenzori Mountains it’s impossible not to notice the Dr. Seuss-like landscape, with rare biodiversity, endemic species and flora sprouting in rich patches. A large variety of climates like tropical rainforest, alpine meadow, grasslands, montane cloud forests, afro-alpine moorland, bamboo forest, snowy peaks– along with the heavy rainfall of over 3 meters (9 feet) per year, high altitudes and extreme variances in temperature — allow for an otherworldly scene of lobelias, giant heathers and senecios.
Plants and animals that could previously only survive at certain altitudes can now thrive at higher altitudes, because the temperature is rising at all elevations. These changes in the distribution of plants and animals have major consequences to the environment and to humans.
As you get higher into the mountains, the weather becomes intensely rainy and cloudy, something Dr. Losin and Dr. Dappen had to take into consideration, as it not only made the trek difficult, but also challenged their desire to recreate the shots from 1906. And while the trip didn’t go 100% according to plan, especially as the mountains’ shy nature hidden behind clouds makes it hard to always see their peaks, their efforts weren’t for nothing.
That being said, what they found was extremely alarming.
“Neil and I read a lot about the changes in the mountains before our trek, but we weren’t prepared for just how dramatic those changes would be,” explains Dr. Dappen. “For example, one of the huts we stayed in on Mt. Stanley would have been covered by over a hundred feet of ice during the 1906 expedition that we were retracing. The numerous glacial lakes that had formed in just the last century also astonished us. Further, some of the routes that our guides took climbers on just a year before our expedition no longer existed. Another shock was seeing many of the amazing plants and animals of the Rwenzori’s thousands of feet higher than they could survive just a few decades ago. The list goes on and on. Despite all the change, these mountains are still spectacular. If you have the time, it’s worth visiting this place before the glaciers disappear completely.”
Can The Damage Be Reversed?
According to Dappen, it takes thousands of years for glaciers to form, occurring when more snow falls than can melt. As it accumulates, the snow is compressed into ice. Because it’s such a slow process for glaciers to form it would take many thousands of years before the Rwenzori Glaciers could be restored — and that’s if there were even ideal conditions.
These melting glaciers aren’t the only symptom of climate change in the Rwenzori Mountains, but also shifts in wildlife patterns.
“Plants and animals that could previously only survive at certain altitudes can now thrive at higher altitudes, because the temperature is rising at all elevations,” says Dr. Dappen. “These changes in the distribution of plants and animals have major consequences to the environment and to humans. One scary example of this is with mosquitoes. Mosquitoes carry a parasite that causes malaria. Ibanda, the mountain village where climbers start their hike into the Rwenzori’s, used to be too high for mosquitoes to survive. Historically, residents of Ibanda never experienced malaria. But in the last half century, the climate has warmed enough for mosquitos to invade higher altitudes. Malaria is now common in high elevation villages like Ibanda.”
This is important to consider, because although it’s not possible to restore the Rwenzori Glaciers we can work to stabilize the climate and avoid other problems like this from happening in the future.
The Bakonjo People
While it’s sad to think future generations may never get to see these unique mountains in person, most directly affected by the melting ice are the Bakonjo people. These people not only call these mountains home, but associate religious meaning to them, as well. “Rwenzori” literally means “rainmaker,” and these mountains’ ability to bring heavy rains to the area allows them to create new life. If you are so lucky to get the opportunity to climb the Rwenzori Mountains it is the Bakonjo people that will be your guides.
How You Can Help
While we can’t reverse the negative impact we’ve had on the Rwenzori Glaciers to date, there are changes we can make in our behaviors now to help preserve what’s left of our beautiful world. A few to start with:
Even though the Rwenzori glaciers may not be here for long, we can still learn from them. One of those lessons is that our actions, good or bad, are affecting places and people that we have never heard of.
- Lessen your carbon footprint during your commute. Walk or cycle if you can, or opt for public transit. If you must drive, try carpooling.
- Make changes in your diet and start buying organic, locally-grown foods as much as possible.
- Compost organic matter and recycle glass, plastic and aluminum.
- When traveling, stay in one city as much as possible (slow travel) and opt for eco-friendly accommodations.
- Get involved with organizations working to make the planet greener, and help educate the general public.
Dr. Dappen also has a suggestion. “I think that the most important thing that people can do, is to support their representatives in congress to implement legislation that addresses climate change. Climate change is such a volatile political subject that most politicians are scared to touch it. Let your representatives know that climate change is an issue that’s important to you and that you’ll support their efforts to address it.”
Human activities are affecting every part of the planet, and it’s time for people to start thinking more about how their actions are impacting others and the world. What’s really shocking about the melting Rwenzori Glaciers is that their disappearance is the result of human behavior happening on other continents, especially from industrialized countries. So despite the fact Uganda has little to do with climate change, they’re suffering from it on a large scale.
“One of the most common responses we’ve gotten from our film Snows of the Nile is “I didn’t even know those mountains existed!,” says Dr. Dappen. “Even though the Rwenzori glaciers may not be here for long, we can still learn from them. One of those lessons is that our actions, good or bad, are affecting places and people that we have never heard of. I think that taking this into account makes me feel like more a part of the global community and encourages me to be a better member of the community.”
The Stay Thirsty Grant
The Rwenzori Mountains expedition spearheaded by Dr. Losin and Dr. Dappen was made possible by Dos Equis’ Stay Thirsty Grant. With the grant, $25,000 is awarded to the person or team with an idea for a globally-inspiring adventure. Have an idea on how to educate or change the world and need help making it happen?
And to learn more about the devastating effects global warming is having on Rwenzori Mountains and see footage from the Stay Thirsty expedition, check out the trailer at the top of the post (to see full video you must purchase for $2.99).
Featured image via Jorn Eriksson
Despite warnings of violent crime and terrifying conditions, I booked a trip to Guatemala — and loved it! Not only did I find the country to be safe for travel, but also full of memorable experiences and natural beauty that could be explored on a budget. Want to know more? Here are 10 reasons why Guatemala should be your next trip.
1. It’s Safer Than You Think
Obviously this will depend where you go — Guatemala City in particular is avoided by most tourists due to its high rate of violent crime; however, traveling through areas like Lake Atitlan, Antigua, Tikal and the Earth Lodge allow for a memorable Guatemalan experience without the worry. Of course, no matter where you go in the world you should always exercise caution. For some ideas, check out 17 Safety Tips for Solo Travelers (much of this is also applicable for non-solo travelers, as well).
This delicious and satisfying meal cost only $3.75 USD.
2. It’s Affordable
For most western travelers, Guatemala’s exchange rate allows for an extremely budget-friendly vacation. Think dinner and a beer for about $6, hostel dorms from $3, private rooms for $13 and popular tours like Hiking India’s Nose and Pacaya Volcano for $13 including transportation and guide. Even if you splurge for a hotel for $20-$30 a night you’ll typically also receive free breakfast, wifi and drinking water, as well.
Pepian de Pollo, Guatemala’s national dish
3. The Food
Barbecued meats, hearty dips, freshly-made tortillas and Mayan staples like chilies, corn and beans are the focus of Guatemalan cuisine. While for the most part the whole country is budget-friendly, one tip is to look for the restaurants offering set menus where you can have a soup, meat, rice, vegetables and guacamole for about $4. The national dish is Pepian, a hearty stew with slow-cooked meats, vegetables and chunks of potatoes accompanied with a side of rice. No matter what you order, make sure to pair it with a local Gallo beer or Quetzelteca rum (or Zacapa if you want to splurge!).
Watching the sunrise over Indian’s Nose was truly surreal
4. The Hiking
With a landscape dominated by volcanoes and mountains there’s no shortage of scenic and challenging hikes to enjoy. My favorite trekking experience in Guatemala was a sunrise hike up Indian’s Nose from San Pedro. The steep uphill 45-minute hike — and the early 4am meeting time — is worth the effort as you sit above a blanket of clouds hovering over the emerald green Lake Atitlan, watching hot pinks, oranges, yellows and purples streaking the sky and mixing with black clouds over San Pedro Volcano.
Photo taken while laying in bed in my treehouse accommodation at Earth Lodge
5. The Views
Whether you’re driving down the highway or lounging at Zoola’s pool on Lake Atitlan Guatemala has no shortage of striking natural views. My favorite view was from the treehouse of the above-mentioned Earth Lodge, where from my comfortable bed and private patio hammock I enjoyed clear aerial views of Ciudad Viejo, Hocatanengo Village, and the volcanoes of Agua, Acatango and the active Fuego. Gliding vultures that appear close enough to touch enhance the visual.
Woman weaving on Lake Atitlan’s Santa Catarina
6. The Locals
For the most part, Guatemalans — especially in areas where tourism is the bread and butter of the economy — are very friendly and receptive to visitors. This allows you to not just interact with locals and get to know the culture, but also practice your Spanish. Tip: Guatemala is full of language schools, and you might want to consider taking a course during your trip.
Earth Lodge is a great place to just relax, meditate and enjoy the view
7. Budget-Friendly Holistic Offerings
Guatemala seems to attract a very hippie-style traveler, and you’ll find many lodges and venues offering yoga, delicious vegan meals, permaculture classes, massages and other holistic health and wellness offerings for very cheap. My personal favorite holistic offering was staying at the secluded Earth Lodge near Antigua, located up in the mountains and not accessible by car. Their most expensive accommodation is the Treehouse for $35 a night, totally worth the splurge to wake up to unobstructed views of the surrounding volcanoes. The property is located on a farm, and meals incorporate ingredients sourced onsite and from the market in Antigua. Enjoy complimentary morning yoga, a dry sauna, sports offerings like badminton and volleyball, scenic hiking and just lounging in hammocks with a Guatemalan Gallo beer and enjoying the natural beauty around you.
Yummy chocolates at Antigua’s ChocoMuseo
8. The Chocolate
Guatemala is one of the world’s richest cocoa-growing countries. In fact, chocolate is said to have originated in Guatemala, used by the Mayans who worshiped the cacao tree and called chocolate the “food of the gods.” While you can find chocolate all over Guatemala, Antigua is particularly interesting for chocoholics. Not only are there chocolate shops on every corner, but this is where you’ll find the ChocoMuseo, a museum and cafe offering free samples of fine chocolate, chocolate-making classes, chocolate fondues and drinks, and interesting displays talking about the history and culture of chocolate in Guatemala.
Coffee cherries abound in Guatemala’s many coffee plantations, many of which visitors can tour
9. The Coffee
Coffee production in Guatemala began in the 1850s, and today the country is one of the world’s leading coffee producers. In order to keep quality high, Anacafe (Asociacion Nacional del Cafe) was established to represent all of Guatemala’s coffee producers. The group helped establish the eight different coffee zones in the country and its “Rainbow of Choices.” No matter where you are in Guatemala spend some time in a local cafe people watching and sipping this elite java, or book a coffee plantation tour to learn more about the crop firsthand.
One of the many beautiful street views in Antigua
10. The Beauty Of Antigua
Forget for a second that Antigua is overrun with tourists and language students and think about the bigger picture. You’ll walk down cobbled streets, weaving in and out of weathered colonial buildings in pinks, purples, blues, greens, yellows — some with a rainbow speckled exterior. Relaxed plazas and parks abound, as do dramatic arched structures, ruins and cathedrals. Here you’ll find more trendy restaurants, bars and cafes than in other places, and tourist attractions like the ChocoMuseo, Catedral de Santiago and free salsa lessons everyday at 5pm at Salsa con Gloria y Moi Dance Academy enhance the experience. Bonus: Antigua’s location near numerous volcanoes — some of which include Agua, Acatenango, Fuego and Pacaya — allows for some adventurous day trips.
Sunset in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. Photo courtesy of thombo2.
Grand Canyon meditation. Photo Courtesy Of Moyan Brenn.
One of the main reasons I enjoy travel is it allows me to step out of my comfort zone and take on new challenges; however, I would be lying if I said stress didn’t creep up on me every now and then. For example, things like being overwhelmed by the endless amount of exploration possibilities, staying on budget, and — since I prefer a slower style of travel these days — finding a place to live or work can all take their toll on me. These are the moments when a little red flag goes up in my head and I know it’s time to slow down, take a deep breath and step back from the situation. One of the ways I like to do this is through meditation.
First off, let me clear the air by saying meditation doesn’t mean you have to spend an hour of your day cross-legged in solitude on a mountaintop—unless you want to of course. Meditation can be done while you’re on a plane, lying in bed or walking around exploring. It’s a fairly easy thing to do, as well, since there technically isn’t a right or wrong way to meditate.
Meditation also has an extensive list of physical, mental and emotional benefits. Lowered stress levels, improved sleep habits, strengthened immune system and getting in tune with your inner self are just a few.
Interested in trying meditation for yourself? Let me clue you in on some of the ways I incorporate this ancient practice into my day-to-day life as a traveler.
Mindful breathing is probably the easiest way to incorporate stillness into your day. All you have to do is find your breath, focus on it and try to let your thoughts pass freely through your mind. My favorite method of mindful breathing is the 4, 7, 8 breath count. To do this take a deep belly breath through your nose for a count of 4, hold it in for a count of 7, bring all of your awareness to that breath then slowly exhale through the mouth for a count of 8. Repeat as needed. This is great for when you’re feeling stressed but don’t have a lot of time or aren’t exactly in a good spot for seated meditation, for example, a crowded bus ride or busy café.
Not only does this apply to tuning into your thoughts and feelings, but also to music or guided meditations. Sometimes I just can’t seem to guide myself into that peaceful state and need a little extra help. That’s when I turn to YouTube or iTunes for guided meditation where there are tons of free options to help lead you into a meditative state. The best thing about this is that you can download these onto your smartphone (if you have one) and use them on the go.
Take A Class
I recently took a series of Kundalini yoga classes, which focused on intense breath work and meditation, quickly falling in love with how at ease I felt afterwards; however, there are other more budget friendly options for group meditation.
Be One With Nature
Nothing cramps my style more than monotony, which is why I find myself switching my scenery up often. Getting out into nature to meditate is by far my favorite option to do so. Sometimes I use the breathing techniques mentioned above while taking a stroll and other times I like to find a quiet spot in a park or near the beach and do a seated meditation. Again, find what works for you and makes you feel most at ease. This is also a great option if you are staying in a hostel or traveling with other people since having alone time in your room may not always be an option.
Pencil It In
There’s no need to wait until you’re ready to pull your hair out to meditate. Scheduling it into your day — whether it’s five minutes or an hour — is a great way to reap the benefits meditation and mindfulness provide when practiced regularly. I find the best time for this is either first thing in the morning or right before bed. Nothing beats starting or ending your day in a calm state of mind.
If you’re new to this don’t be put off that your mind isn’t 100% quiet and that you may keep wondering what you’re even trying to accomplish. When this happens, just take it from the top by finding and focusing on your breath. Go with the ebb and flow of your mind, stop to smell the metaphorical (or real if possible) roses, and over time it will become second nature to snap into your own awareness.
Everyone has a story to tell, even the local barista! Photo courtesy of Symic.
“People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home” – Dagobert D. Runes
Do you ever think about the people you encounter in your hometown? The blonde woman who runs the organic bakery, the older gentleman selling newspapers and candy on the corner, the couple around the block who wave to you during their morning jog? Most likely you pass by them, stopping quickly to give a wave or small nod, and continue on your way. They’re still locals — the people travelers are often ecstatic to meet when visiting a destination abroad; however, they’re less interesting because they’re not foreign.
Now think about how you interact with the people you encounter on the road. Suddenly, the small business owner, athletes and street vendors are as exciting as meeting an A-list celebrity. For some, meeting locals is the highlight of the trip, as it gives genuine insight into a destination’s culture. By conversing with these people, you gain insider knowledge in a firsthand way.
When we’re home, our sense of curiosity and wonder tends to go into hibernation. We no longer search for the best street food or the most colorful handicraft. We scurry past art galleries without pondering, through grocery stores heading straight to our go-to items, into cabs keeping our mouths closed. We walk down the street with our heads down and keep our questions to ourselves.
A common complaint among people is they don’t have enough time to travel; however, it’s possible to re-create the feeling of being on the road in your hometown by igniting your inquisitive spirit. This starts with getting to know locals and asking them questions. Head into a quiet cafe and chat up the owner about what made her want to start her own business. Talk to a local bartender about where he learned his mixology skills. Visit a local artisan and inquire where they get their inspiration for their pieces. Everyone has a story; it’s up to you to pull it out. Best of all, it’s not unlikely to make a new friend out of the experience.
Living in New York City, it’s always funny hearing visitors talk about meeting locals in NYC. To me, these people aren’t locals in the way I think of the term, the mosaic tile- maker in Morocco, the choripan vendor in Argentina, the button collector in Australia. At least, that’s how I’ve tended to think in the past.
Recently I decided to change that. Getting into a taxi, I met a driver named Eduardo who came here from Cuenca, Ecuador, one of my personal favorite travel destinations. He talked nostalgically about 18th-century architecture, the nearby villages selling Panama hats and leather goods, the aromas of grilled meat skewers and potatoes wafting through the streets. It brought back fond memories for me. The highlight of the ride was getting to practice my Spanish, which had gotten rusty as I hadn’t been to South America in over a year.
By the time I reached my destination, I had forgotten I was still in New York City. I paid Eduardo, not in the hasty manner that I normally do, swiping my credit card through the machine with a quick “thanks”; but instead with a friendly smile, a sincere “thank you,” and the feeling of accomplishment that comes with getting to know the culture of a place even more, even if it is your hometown.