Shapiro // © 2016 TravelAge West
There was that time my friend and I were backpacking through Europe and found ourselves stranded late at night in the south of France — one town over from where our hotel was located. We ended up hitching a ride with this crazy guy who blasted heavy metal as he drove way too fast on mountain roads. We may have had some white knuckles that night, but what he shared about the area and all the places most tourists never find was what remained our strongest recollection. That was 30 years ago, and my friend and I still talk about that night.
Then there was the waiter in Cancun who my wife and I befriended. We got along well, and he ended up introducing us to his friends, many of whom also worked in bars and restaurants around town — we ate and drank for free all week. About a month later, he showed up at our door in San Francisco, hoping for a place to stay. It was our turn to show him around our city, and we had a great time. My wife and I still keep in touch with him to this day.
As any frequent traveler can tell you, it’s often the unplanned moments that make the greatest memories. Getting outside the bubble of the resort, the tour bus or the cruise ship can lead to amazing discoveries that are all the more poignant because you made them on your own. I’ve learned that even the seemingly mundane opportunity to “meet the locals” has the potential to alter the course of a trip for the better.
In this issue’s cover story, “We the People,” we take a look at some of the ways that tour operators have brought a local experience into their itineraries. It wasn’t that long ago that some operators avoided having clients mingle with residents, in an attempt to make travel as insular and similar to home as possible. Now, when travelers see an opportunity on a trip to learn about the destination’s local culture, it’s a highlight and a selling point of the tour.
Travel is as much about human connection as it is about geography. Don’t be afraid to present clients with vacation options that will get them outside the bubble — if they choose that path, their trip may be all the better for it.