So you’ve made it to your vacation getaway: the white-sand beach or the quaint rural village, surrounded–strangely–by people much like yourself, seeking a week or two of hedonistic energy or meditative, restorative reflection. Wherever you find yourself, you may well become a little tired of repeated soaks in the pool and other aspects of the standard tourist regimen. If you’re seeking an approach to embracing new experiences while on holiday, read on for a few general suggestions.
Ask a Local
What is, to some, an exotic getaway for relaxing with umbrella drinks or partying the night away is, to others, home sweet home. Too many tourists insulate themselves from local residents and local culture, and thus both disrespect them and deprive themselves of a deeper, richer trip. Why not pull yourself from the beach or the pool for at least an afternoon, and see what normal life in the area is like?
You can ask anyone on the street for tips on good food and entertainment. A taxi driver or service-station attendant will likely have some useful opinions. Learning to passably convey at least a few phrases in the native language becomes an invaluable skill for such investigations. Yet language barriers needn’t be chasms warding off communion with the locals. Try strolling around and zeroing in on the street-food shack with the biggest crowd, or the tucked-away bar emitting the liveliest music. Eating, drinking, and dancing with the natives, you may catch a few magical glimpses of your holiday destination through their eyes–as a genuine, vital, and colorful home.
Research, Research, Research!
It may be tempting to restrict your pre-trip investigations to the best clubs or spa packages. But taking the time to research your destination ahead of time can yield enormous dividends in the form of transcendent experiences. The islands of the Hawai’ian archipelago, for example, are not simply backdrops for beach-side lounging or world-class surfing: They’re the home of a still-vibrant and complicated Polynesian culture. Some pre-trip research might lead you to a Hawai’ian cultural museum, or to seek out remnants of indigenous resource-partitioning, as at the Limahuli Garden and Preserve on Kaua’i.
The web is full of good resources for such preparatory work. Everyone has their own specific areas of interest, but a good approach is to acquaint yourself with a region’s basic history, ethnic and religious makeup, cuisine, and geography. You’ll pat yourself on the back for your studiousness when you’re savoring an obscure local delicacy or enjoying firsthand a once-a-year festival of regional culture.
Balance that pre-trip research with adventurous spontaneity. If you can establish that the hinterlands of your destination are safe enough for such exploration, then plunge in. Don’t over-burden your schedule with excessive planning; leave yourself happily open for sudden discoveries and unforeseen adventures. You can’t fully experience a place by imposing your own timetable–let alone your own conceptions of time–upon it. And, inevitably, you won’t come away with the richest memories by sticking to the guidebook’s dictums or letting your camera do the navigating and the experiencing.
Remember, an afternoon spent genuinely participating in local culture–a game of bocce in an Italian square, say, or fraternizing with fishermen along a Caribbean pier–often registers more intimately in the annals of our memory than yet another hazy lounge-fest at the resort. The same goes for sampling local ecology, which may not rank high on the radar for those who don’t consider themselves outdoors enthusiasts. Nonetheless, taking a leisurely stroll or a guided tour in a local national park or nature preserve can focus your attention on the natural landscape itself–and maybe bring you to a deeper sense of calm than you ever thought possible. Next time you’re in the Florida Keys, for example, consider sniffing out not just the best places for an ocean-view cocktail but the biologically diverse national wildlife refuge complex preserving the chain’s less developed reaches.
Dose yourself with a little basic history and language, and approach your holiday getaway with an open mind. Sure–savor some well-earned relaxation. But while you’re at it, savor a little adventure, too, and discover the genuine destination beyond the tourist sheen.
Victoria contributed this guest post on behalf of Customer Care Australia. Victoriaa is a freelance travel writer. She enjoys finding exotic and bizarre locations around the globe.