The concept of “local travel” is still sometimes misunderstood. Many people think it refers to travel that is focused on the area right around one’s home base, in contrast to “global travel” that targets places far afield. However, while staying local when you travel is indeed one important facet of local travel, its equally critical counterpart is what some people think of as “going local” – exploration of faraway places, anywhere in the world, as if one were local to that place.
This kind of local travel might involve foregoing must-see monuments in favour of sitting in a cafe and talking to new friends about culture. It might involve skipping the popular river-boat dinner cruise to retire to an unknown local bistro where taste is the headline sensation. It might mean abjuring a whirlwind see-it-all bus tour to pedal along residential bike paths at a more human pace.
In short, local travel is about shifting your travel values so that your are mindful and supportive of local people, the local environment, local culture and local economy. It’s about putting yourself in the shoes, hearts and mindsets of locals and making choices that benefit them as much as they do you.
Local travel can also be defined by what it is not. So we’ve asked the staff at The Travel Word to think about the opposite of local travel. What is the very antithesis of local travel? Here are our thoughts.
Sad Seaside Mass Tourism
In my opinion, one of the most devastating mass-tourism developments in terms of economic, social and environmental impact is big seaside holiday resorts in developing countries. They often minimise, if not entirely eliminate, all contact with the local culture, as the guests tend to stay on the resort grounds most of the time. Even if locals work inside the resort, their jobs are often seasonal and relatively poorly paid once we take into consideration the rise in property prices, goods and services that usually follows such developments. Even worse, while the costs associated with infrastructure improvements around such developments tend to fall to the local government, a large portion of the profits “leak” out of the community to international companies abroad.
The negative impacts on the environment can be just as serious. Aside from the building site, which itself disrupts local ecosystems, the strain on resources is one of major concern. Swimming pools, lush gardens and excessive in-room water use in areas where drinking water is scarce are, unfortunately, no exceptions. Such things have a direct impact on how a society functions, affecting local people’s lifestyles and ultimately their quality of life.
~ Jakub Riziky, Intern, The Travel Word
Mega-Cruise Ship Mayhem
Time spent aboard those colossal party cruises is my own personal idea of travel hell. You would have to drug me to get me to embark on a mega cruise, and I’m pretty sure I’ll feel that way until I take my last breath. What could be more mind numbing than sweltering under the sun atop a giant floating hotel? In port cities, the passengers emerge looking slightly green after rough and windy nights. They have just three hours allotted for shore excursions, so their pace is frenzied; they must swim with the dolphins, ride the horses into the water, eat in any chain restaurant they can find!
It makes no sense to me that people travel this way, never getting the real flavour of the places they visit. To me that’s the opposite of local travel and something that’s best avoided like the plague.
~ Laurel Angrist, Editor, The Travel Word
Zoo-Like Poverty Tours
Township tourism is increasingly fashionable in South Africa. There are very few city-based tour operators that haven’t at least considered working it into one of their travel packages. When it started, township tourism blew the tourism market open by allowing travellers to see behind the First-World facade that cities such as Cape Town and Johannesburg tend to project. For the first time, travellers were able to get a feeling for what life is really like for most South Africans. Sadly, many of these experiences have gradually eroded into something almost unrecognisable. What was once the very definition of local travel is now often very staged and inauthentic.
Local travel is supposed to be about getting out of the tour bus and really exposing yourself to new experiences. For a township tour to be a true local travel experience, you should be mingling with the local community, tasting the local food and having real, memorable experiences. These days, it’s much more common to see busloads of tourists being herded through the same five or six standard, scheduled stops. When the tourists step off the bus, the local people repeat the same staged show that they put on for every group that passes through and then expect to be tipped for their trouble. Once the posed photos have been taken and the stock standard souvenirs have been bought, the tourists pile back into their air-conditioned van and move to the next stop, where the process starts again. With many operators, the magic of township tours seems to have been lost.
If you’re planning to go on one (which you should!) make sure that you’re picking the right company and the right guide. Skip the fancy bus and give local transport a go. Don’t bother with the traditional tour landmarks; spend your time at local hangouts or learning a local skill instead. You’re guaranteed to have a much more memorable and local travel experience.
~ Jennifer Aston, Director, whl.travel Africa regional office
The Resort Ghettos of the Mediterranean
Two summers ago, my family planned to visit me in Mallorca, Spain. The plan was to travel to the neighbouring Balearic Island of Menorca to catch the annual San Juan festival. A group of my friends was going as well, so we all decided to make things easier by booking Menorca flights and a package through a travel agency. For me, the package included the ferry to the island and accommodation during this yearly spike in traffic. Sounded like a good idea.
At the travel agency, the photos of the hotel showed a standard apartment-style lodging with a pool. What the sales material didn’t convey is where the hotel was located – a 20-minute bus ride from Ciutadella, the main city. Back when mass tourism hit Menorca, an entire of resort suburb sprang up outside the city. Nowadays, it’s a clear example of overdevelopment, as the resorts shut down or struggle to fill themselves through cut-rate package deals and discounts. My guidebook said it best: the area had become a “resort ghetto.” It was so nondescript it could have been any mass-tourism destination anywhere. It had lost its sense of place.
~ Cynthia Ord, Newsletter Editor, The Travel Word
Bikers Versus A-Bus-ers
I used to lead European bike tours for a small operation based out of Paris. Our focus was on a true experience of a place and its people – through small family-run hotels, sensational back-alley bistros, local mass transport (usually trains and ferries) when more than two wheels were required and, of course, all the little cycle-friendly lanes that were twice as revealing and many times more appealing than any of the big-name places to which they were connected. We practiced slow travel, meeting the local farmers at little driveway-end stalls, tippling with local small-scale vintners in their off-the-beaten-track basements in wine country, revelling in the silence of undisturbed nature along limited-access forest paths.
Along the way, though, nearly every turn of the pedal was dogged by the exact travel opposite: fume-spewing tour buses lugging large groups of culturally inept and insensitive tourists around. They snarled roadways in little villages ill-equipped for vehicles that size. They idled loudly and noxiously at roadside rest stops boasting stunning natural vistas and/or picnic tables. They brought only frowns anywhere they discharged their swarms – disturbing independent travellers with the noise, the congestion, the blocked views, the inanity; they peeved local merchants who grumbled at the lack of time given for bus passengers to visit the community, and bemoaned the lack of cultural literacy exhibited by the few who did break ranks.
Think of every time you’ve been somewhere – a museum, a restaurant, a plaza, a park… anywhere that allows for contemplation, appreciation of some quality of one’s surroundings – and then remember your reaction to the arrival of a loud group. Would you ever want to be part of that group? I know I wouldn’t. Ever. And so I always do my best to travel local, and to encourage everyone to do the same.
~ Ethan Gelber, Editor-in-Chief, The Travel Word