Traveling Like a Local

At 37,000 feet, we raced through the air at hundreds of miles an hour.  I peered out the window, hoping the night time darkness intersecting with unique atmospheric and Sun conditions will produce a Northern Lights display.  Alas, it was not my night.

I didn’t want to sleep.  I suffered from FOMO – fear of missing out, mainly, missing out on those lights!  Scattered snores indicated others had no such concerns.  Flashing lights from the movies and shows others watched on their back-of-seat screens told me they were engrossed in the latest distractions.

Sitting quietly and thinking and wondering is something I’m not doing enough of these days, and a ten-hour flight gave me a wonderful opportunity to remedy that.  What did I think about?

  • What were lives like for people living on the shores of Canada’s Hudson Bay far below us?
  • Did people in Greenland bother watching political news with the same ferocity we did at home?
  • Is Iceland as picturesque to its inhabitants as it seems to be for the rest of the world?

In other words, what was local life like?

I fully admit to a tendency to spend a lot of time trying to figure out things like this.  I like to understand how people think, why they act as they do, and what motivates them.  One of the best things about travel is that it can help us understand how we’re more similar than different across cultures and political boundaries – but only if we are curious about it.

Food carts!

When we travel, Pirate and I go local whenever we can.  From shopping like a local (small grocery stores in neighborhoods) to eating like one (lunchtime crowd at a pub or market) to talking to people about their activities (interesting tales to tell), we enjoy learning about their versions of daily routines.

Here’s the big secret we uncovered, doing this – they worry about the same things we do at a daily level.  They enjoy the same things we should enjoy more of.  (We haven’t mastered their in-the-moment satisfaction yet.)  They laugh and cry and celebrate and mourn like we do. Seeking out those experiences convinces us even more how united the world is rather than divided.

The only way I’ll learn about what’s below me when I fly high above is to visit, to ask, to try it out.  This isn’t to say I plan to shiver in 37 degrees below zero – Celsius – on the shores of Hudson Bay any time soon, but I can certainly be nosey and talk up a tour guide or chat with someone sitting on the bench next to me when I travel to other climes.

Generally, people are nice.  People are giving.  They’re as curious about us as we are about them.  They want to know how we think and how we live as much as we want to know about them.

At the Amsterdam airport waiting for our flight home, a young woman sat down next to me and asked where I was from.  She’d been watching us with expressive eyes and a hesitant smile.  “The U.S.,” I said, “Portland, Oregon in the Pacific Northwest.”

“Ah,” she replied, her grin growing wider, “American.  I love your accent.”

Half an hour later, we’d jabbered ourselves hoarse.  It appears the desire to find out more about living like a local isn’t only my passion after all!

How do you learn more about traveling like a local?

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