“If travel is your job – then how do you take a vacation?” I frequently get asked this question but unfortunately, I don’t really have an answer for it. All I do know for sure is even after 7 ½ years on the road, I still love traveling – seeing new things and finding new experiences. However I’m human, I do get tired of the same old touristy things to do and each year it is a challenge to find things that wow me all the time.
I’m always on the lookout for non-tourist activities and have become really adept at finding more unique experiences beyond the tourist trail in order to keep me excited about travel. And the good news is that many of the activities I do which are less touristy (and ultimately less expensive) can be applied to anyone’s vacation plans too.
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Are You in a Vacation Rut?
Let’s step back a decade – I was like most of you – saving up my 2 to 3 weeks of vacation to escape and lay on a beach and drink margaritas and party at Senior Frogs – I didn’t want to think – I just wanted to have it done for me. Much like we have routines in our weekdays and day-to-day life – we have routines in our vacations too. In a recent article about how Americans travel, I learned that often people do ‘Groundhog Day’ vacations – we go back to the same place over and over. A 2013 Cheapflights.com survey revealed that 85% of Americans will most likely return to places they have already visited for vacation instead of heading to new destinations.
We want a vacation to be an escape and we normally look for a hotel that is decent, go to nice restaurants, lay around, read, and take a tour that the hotel recommends. Maybe we even do package things that keep you safely tucked away in the resort where you don’t have to think or learn.
Get Out of Your Vacation Routine!
I made a business and social movement (MeetPlanGo.com) out of telling people to step out of their daily routines, quit their jobs, and take a break to travel and learn. And I think the same can be true for people on vacations – it’s time we get out of our vacation ruts and routines and start to travel. We don’t have to simply look for cheap family holidays and packages instead we can find travel experiences to add to our vacation itinerary.
This is the first of my series on finding ways to infuse more local experiences into your vacations or long weekends. I’m starting with lodging and over time will cover transportation, food, and itinerary choices too.
How many of you stayed at a hotel on your last vacation? There are other alternatives out there that can utilized even for a week’s vacation or a long weekend. Skip the hotel and try some of these options that bring you closer to culture and may save you money.
Short-Term Apartment Rentals
Yes – it is possible to rent an apartment for 2 to 7 days at a time. Short-term holiday apartments are really popular in Europe and becoming more popular around the US and South America now too. Apartment stays mean you have a kitchen, and a kitchen means you can save money and cook for yourself, but it also means more local experiences. Stay in a place with a kitchen and you’ll be forced to get out and explore local markets and shopping. I find grocery stores and markets to be the one of the most fascinating things when I travel. I could wander them for hours and hours.
Forget the over-touristed Grand Bazaar in Istanbul and go local instead! I spent a few hours at a local market in Istanbul shopping for produce and taking photos. Every single vendor and person there was a joy to interact with. I was constantly stopped and asked if I would take a photo or simply try food – as a foreign traveler, I was definitely in the minority. Plus the best part is that I walked away with bags of produce and only spent about $10 US.
Stay with Locals
Do you want to go a bit deeper into the local environment? Stay with a local in a spare room of an apartment or house. Some cultures call these types of local options guesthouses or pensions. Now these are becoming even more mainstream as places like Airbnb.com offer the ability to rent a room in someone’s apartment for a short stay like a vacation. It’s sort of like a traditional Bed and Breakfast on steroids.
Most of these options will place you in a ‘real’ part of town – away from the tourist hubs but close to local transportation. They will also include a lot of interaction with the homeowner in the form of advice, tips, and insights into local culture. If you are doing a solo vacation this is also a super way to meet other people and feel safe too.
Speaking of safety, don’t fear the fact that you are staying in someone’s home. Sites like Airbnb, Wimdu, and VRBO have review processes for both the owner AND the tenant which does a good job of keeping everyone in check. Do your research before you go, but don’t fear staying with a stranger – it may just be the best experience you’ve ever had!
I stayed in a Buenos Aires guest house via Airbnb. Bettina and Irina welcomed me into their little guest house in a very local neighborhood of Almagro in BA. I had my own room, a shared bathroom, and shared common areas. They taught me how to make mate and steak the Argentinian way in their kitchen and even invited me to Christmas dinner! I took their advice on what to do around the area, and which milongas to go to, and thanks to them learned how to use the less expensive local transportation.
Resources: Airbnb.com, Wimdu.com, Couchsurfing.com
Get even more engrossed in day-to-day life on your vacation as you take care of pets, meet neighbors, and become a part of a neighborhood or area for a short or long period of time. This option is completely free (minus housesitting membership fees) and you can use the money you save to do other things.
I’ve housesat a number of times and find that it’s probably the most immersive form of travel I’ve done. In Brussels, I was able to do day trips out to surrounding towns and get back in time to take care of the pets. And as a solo traveler, I enjoy having pets around to keep me company!
Resources: TrustedHouseSitters.com, Your own social channels,
If you have a home in a popular area, then you can also consider swapping homes via services like HomeExchange.com for your family vacation. This takes the cost of lodging out completely as you stay in someone else’s home while they stay in yours. Once again the sites that promote this have an extensive review system with should take care of safety concerns.
And the best part is you are immediately immersed in a local community for your vacation!
These are just some of the new emerging options that are available to any type of traveler – a longer-term traveler or for short-term vacations. They all will help you save money and travel ‘closer to the ground’. Traveling closer to the ground means getting closer to the culture and spirit of a destination. And yes some of these more local lodging options make you feel a little uncomfortable at first, but keep in mind that the goal is to engage in more authentic, challenging, and participatory local experiences.
Which one will you try out on your next vacation?