Local travel. The best and only way to travel abroad.
My very first stop some 2.5 years ago when heading off abroad was to pole dancing camp in the Caribbean. I arrived solo and was very quickly taken in by possibly the world’s nicest person and subsequently the camps organizer, Krystal. She swiftly introduced me to the two token English girls knowing I would soon be making my move to live in England and to the surprise of us all another girl who had arrived solo, Patty who introduced herself as being Peruvian. In which naturally all of us looked at one another a little shocked and questioned at once … “They have pole dancing in Peru?”
In that moment I had met 3 new people completely unaware the large role they were to play in my future travels.
In my opinion the undoubtedly best way to travel is with a local. The best travel experiences I have ever had have never been wandering through a new city with the Lonely Planet Guide in front of my face (though I have never really travelled like that anyway!) but the times I have been shown a city by someone who lives there. In the past 2.5 years I have been lucky enough to see the Giants play in the VIP stands, stay in a swanky Chelsea apartment in New York, cruise around San Francisco Bay on private boat and attend music/entertainment awards in Dubai all with those who live in the city I have visited. Additionally I have dined at incredible restaurants, been taken to local markets, danced at some of the best clubs/bars and more importantly I have experienced the city in the way that a local does. To leave with the feeling that you understand what makes a city tick is truly at the heart of what makes travel so great and is my absolute favorite way to travel.
Since having met Patty some 2.5 years ago we have not been in the same place at the same time. When I mentioned I would be in Peru late last year she very excitedly invited me to stay with her in her home town (and the Capitol) Lima. Since I had been living in Cusco, Peru I chose to fly over for the Christmas period to visit Patty as it is always much nicer to spend Christmas with a somewhat familiar face. I incorrectly assumed that we would catch up briefly and I would spend the rest of my time exploring the coast. I am not one to expect or assume that anyone I visit would go out of their way for me, and am always genuinely overwhelmed when they do. If I could think of a word with greater power than ‘overwhelmed’, it would most definitely apply to the experience I had in Lima.
I arrived into Lima airport expecting to see Patty’s face waiting on the other side. Instead as I wandered out with my bag looking for a woman who resembled this person I had met over 2 years ago, an older Peruvian lady screams out my name, armed with a Facebook picture of me in her phone. This adorable lady was Patty’s mother and she had come all the way to the airport to pick me up though having never seen me in her life. She quickly explains that Patty has dance commitments and that she will be taking me to attend the flash mob that Patty is performing in the shopping mall. Shopping mall? Dancing flash mob? – I am in absolute heaven! Later that evening we attended Lima’s annual Christmas event in the Presidents home in which I experienced traditional Peruvian dancing and Christmas carols. My first day in Lima, this City I had heard so much bad press about, was absolutely magical!
During the course of the week I was taken to the Peruvian countryside to visit Hare Krishna Temple, Paracas to see the seals & penguins and Huacachina to dune bash and sandboard. Each morning I would awake to the breakfast table set up for me like I was dining at a restaurant. I was taken to eat some of the best food that has ever passed my lips and was gifted more chocolate than I knew what to do with. We spent Christmas in a Children’s Hospital and I got to work on my Spanish with some of the cutest little children. Each night I would return to sleep in my massive king sized bed, shower in my own bathroom and enjoy that little comfort you get so little of when travelling – personal space. I could go on forever but in short, I was spoilt absolutely rotten. I walked away feeling there was no way I could thank this family enough. I had made the commitment to fly over and visit and in return I received what was easily the best week I have had since arriving in South America. I felt that not only did I see the best of Lima, but I captured a small glimpse of what it is like to live in this city. And better still, I witnessed firsthand the genuine and incredibly giving nature of Peruvians.
To travel closer to the heart of a city does not require you to know someone prior to arrival. During my travels I have steered away from hostels and instead have prioritized having my own apartment, home stay or AirBNB. I have chosen to spend less time with other travelers and more time with people who are from the city itself. With my new found Spanish skills, I have and will continue to attempt to immerse myself in the culture to try to see this continent through the eyes of someone who resides here and not leave having just ticked off a bunch of tourist attractions. For me, to really travel is to leave with an understanding of the incredibly varied culture of a country.