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Sep 25 2012

Living Like A Local

couchsurfing, living like a local, feeling like a localAs I mentioned in my previous post, accommodation can be more than just a place to stay.  One of the things I enjoy is living like a local or getting as near to it as possible.  By that I mean staying in people’s homes, which can be with or without them there. I have stayed with locals on a number of occasions and in different capacities.

 

Whilst planning my latest trip to Portugal and Spain, I decided that it was time to experiment by trying out different types of accommodation, some of which were going to be a new experience.  This way of travelling is becoming increasingly popular because people are looking for different ways to experience life as a local (or as close to that as they can get) rather than as a tourist. This means staying in residential areas, mixing with local people, and learning about daily life.  I have experienced it from both sides, as a local and as a traveller.  I have hosted people in my house over the years and, when I travel, I enjoy the meeting and staying with local people and learning from them.

 

There are an increasing number of websites dedicated to helping you have a more local experience and they are gaining popularity.  The ones I am using on this current trip are Airbnb, Couchsurfing and Helpx.

 

Airbnb is a website that enables you to search for accommodation that you would like to stay in for a period of time, which could be as little as one night.  The accommodation on offer varies.  It could be a room, flat, house etc.  There is also the possibility for you to advertise your own accommodation on the site should you be interested in that option.  Airbnb is one of many sites like this, although it’s the only one I have tried so far.  Alternatives include sites such as Housetrip, Staydu, and Wimdu.

 

Couchsurfing is a network of travellers from around the world who welcome people into their homes and lives.  I initially found out about this in 2008 before I went travelling around the world from a book I read called Vagabonding by Ralph Potts.  It joined and used it from time to time on my RTW trip to not only stay with people but also to meet up with others in the Couchsurfing community.  It is a really great way of meeting others wherever you are.  I would like to stress that it’s not about having a free place to stay but about the interaction you have.  I love Couchsurfing because of the friends I have made as a result of it, having stayed with and hosted people.  There are other communities like this that I haven’t tried such as Hospitality Club and Freeloaders.

 

Helpx is a completely new way of travelling for me.  I will be doing this at the beginning of October for a week.  I heard about it from a Helpx host I met when I was on a training course in London last year.  Helpx is different to the previous accommodation because you work in exchange for bed and board.  There are lots of different work opportunities, working hours and types of accommodation available in the Helpx community.  This really interests me because of the opportunity to learn new skills and it gives a completely different perspective while you travel, as well as doing something useful.  There are alternatives to Helpx such as Wwoofing (World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), which I haven’t yet tried.

 

If you decide that you want to stay in a hotel or hostel rather than with local people, there are other ways of getting a ‘local’ experience. I haven’t tried any of these yet but they sound interesting. There is Eat with a Local, which gives you the chance to have a meal with local people. There are also sites such as Vayable, Gidsy and Side Tour that allow you to book tours, experiences and activities offered by local people. As Vayable state, this promotes entrepreneurship and cultural exchange.  It’s really exciting to see these new opportunities unfolding for travellers and local people alike.

 

An alternative to these is to contact the local tourist office of the destination you are interested in to find out about what opportunities they have.  They often have details of local people who offer bed and breakfast accommodation, whether it is agrotourism accommodation, which enables you to experience agricultural life at first hand, or a guesthouse of some description.  They may also have details of experiences and activities that local people offer.

 

As you can see, there are many different ways to live like a local instead of the conventional accommodation and these have a number of benefits.  Firstly, you get a ‘local’ experience, which can give you a completely different perspective on your travel experience; you can end up with new friendships, as it has done with me; there is an opportunity to learn from each other; I believe it has the potential to be a more ethical way to stay because some, if not all, the money you spend on accommodation and shopping is likely to be within the local community rather than to large companies or organisations; and, as Vayable state, it encourages entrepreneurship .

About the author

Teresa Keane

Teresa has been to almost 60 countries. She started travelling independently at the age of 38 when she gave up her job, rented out her house, put her possessions in storage and spent a year travelling the world. It changed her life. She now creates, publishes, & promotes online travel content and is an experienced freelance trainer & EFL teacher.

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