Ask anyone who has traveled extensively which journeys they have enjoyed the most and I think you’ll find a surprising common answer. An answer that no travel agency advertises – because they can not provide it. I know this answer is true for me – and I have traveled extensively.
The answer is; having a knowledgeable local show you the area you are visiting. Let me tell you of one of my experiences to demonstrate. I had traveled the world many times since leaving my birth place in Austria at the age of 4.
At age 50 I was finally on a plane headed for Vienna on a visit to my father, my first return trip to the country of my birth. I had been to Europe so many times but Austria was never on the travel itinerary. My father lived in Africa and had only recently returned to reside in Austria himself, after a three months visit to me in Australia.
I was surprised at the emotions of nostalgia that passed through me as the plane circled to land at the Vienna airport, returning me to my birth country. Surprised because I had always thought of myself as a “fair dinkum Ozzie”; having lived in Australia since the age of 7.
I had a wonderful stay for a week with my father – one of the highlights was a guided tour by my father of the Kunst Museum. However I noted that the tour taxed my fathers failing health and I declined any further offers to tour me around Vienna. Instead I visited the impressive city on my own, did a little shopping and had a fine time.
On my return to Australia I told everyone that I had a lovely trip and described Vienna from a tourist’s point of view.
A couple of years later I met a charming Austrian couple [let's call them couple X] on the island of Gotzo – Malta. We were staying in the same hotel and we hit it off immediately. Gotzo was a fantastic trip as close friends of my mother’s were spoiling us with tours of Gotzo and Malta daily. They were locals and had an in-depth knowledge of the history and current affairs of this fascinating part of the world. I introduced couple X to my mother’s friends and they invited them to tour with us as well.
Before leaving Gotzo couple X insisted that if I come to Vienna again that they would love me to stay with them. As it happened my next stop was Vienna and I took them up on the offer, after spending some time with my father.
Couple X showed me Vienna from a local’s perspective and what a memorable joy that was. Although my first trip to Vienna was a good trip the second visit accompanied by knowledgeable locals was fantastic. They took me to their favourite music venues, restaurants, shops, churches, forests and filled me in on every little detail that I had totally missed on my first trip.
A year later I picked up couple X in Sydney, Australia and drove them to the Gold Coast – the Southern Coast Queensland, showing them all my favourite haunts along the way. For the following two weeks they stayed with us and I toured them around the Gold Coast. We went to the beach daily in the mornings, had lunch at our favourite cafes and then usually headed home for an afternoon sleep. In the evenings we dinned in our favourite restaurants, followed by a variety of the great entertainment offered on the Gold Coast. We also spent a couple of days visiting the Gold Coast Hinterland, where I introduced them to Queensland’s incredibly diverse fauna and flora.
They enjoyed the trip so much that they came again a year later and are planning to come again this year.
This couple travel a lot and they have stated to me that their most memorable and enjoyable travel adventures have always been the ones where a local can tour them around.
Understandably we don’t get the opportunity to have a local tour us around wherever we want to travel. However the internet affords us the opportunity to find local stories about the places we want to visit.
So the next time you are planing a trip, consider looking further than the usual travel brochure. Do searches for websites that describe the place you intend to visit from a local’s perspective. Reading local stories will give you a flavour of the people and places that you are interested in traveling to.