“Live like a local” seems to be the centerpiece of many travel companies marketing copy as of late and has replaced “authentic” as the industry buzzword of the year. I understand what the companies that employ this phrase are trying to get at. They are trying to communicate that you will not be stuck in tourist traps, you will meet and hang with locals, and that you will be privy to unique experiences. I am all for that, however, this particular phrase has always sat with me in a weird way. Isn’t it somewhat presumptuous to think you can travel to a country you have never been to and within hours “be like a local?”
I know that when I moved to Washington, D.C. ten years ago, it took hard work and months to form a community, and it wasn’t until a few years ago that I continuously referred to it as home. Furthermore, there are many living in the United States who have been here for decades, but now with the hateful rhetoric being spewed against immigrants and policy enacted to legitimize it (like Trump’s end of DACA), they feel like outsiders. They feel nothing like a local in the only country they have ever known.
It’s important to recognize that to even be able to go abroad and travel freely (particularly with a US passport) is a privilege that billions around the world are not afforded. To assume you can live like a local in a country so different from your own is disregarding the impact of how the historical and lived experience of those that are actually from there shape a destination.
The reality is that there is nothing wrong with simply being a visitor and/or nothing to be ashamed of if you are traveling with the right intentions. If you are being disrespectful and peeing on local’s doorsteps, traveling to irresponsibly rage with little consequence, and only stick to the large tourist sites or “Instagrammable” places, well that is being a vapid tourist.
If you travel to a destination, recognize that you are an outsider, eager to learn and be inspired by its people and culture, seeking various perspectives on a destination, and supporting the local economy by frequenting the mom-and-pop shops, to us that’s being a respectful traveler.
This is what we strive for at El Camino Travel. We are humble travelers who immerse ourselves in a destination, guided by those who live and breathe their city. We see the city through their eyes and understand their lifetime of experience is not something we can easily claim.
We know that in order to have an unforgettable travel experience, you do not have try so hard to be a local.
CEO and Founder of El Camino Travel
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