We wanted to take an inside look into how the best authentic travel experience can be arranged and so we reached out to the Manager of Trip Designers at new travel startup Travelove.
Travelove recently conducted a survey in order to find out people most memorable travel experiences. The in-depth interviews with respondents from across Europe showed interactions with locals and time spent with them privately were the most memorable moments, by far more significant than any self-sightseeing activity or tours in a larger group.
Take Barcelona as an example. You can just go to the Sagrada Familia Church, wander through the Gothic Quarter and mingle with crowds at La Rambla. With a guide and a bunch of other tourists, or fully on your own. You’ll see the sights and will spend the remaining time relaxing on the beach. But there’s an alternative to this classical way of traveling as a tourist – traveling as an actual traveler. You can have a local Fernando take you through the lesser known quirky quarter El Born and then eat at one of his favorite restaurants, meet another local called Eloi who is passionate about Gaudí and his works of art, or take a trip to the outskirts of Barcelona to cook local specialties with Sonia.
How to plan a trip like this? The Travelove Trip designers always follow a specific process and you can too, although be aware…it takes the local trip designers at least two months to complete the perfect trip, so save enough time for your own trip planning!
1. Read as much as you can about your chosen destination
Start with learning. Read guidebooks, online blogs, watch documentaries and absorb as much knowledge as you can about the place you’re going to visit. Put the stories you hear and the facts you’re told into context.
2. Search for off-the-beaten-path things to see and do
Hopefully you’re good at googling, because that’s one of the best ways to search for authentic places to see and things to do where you won’t bump into tourists on every corner.
3. Ask everybody: friends, friends of friends, online forums…
People who have travelled to the place you want to visit will already have some insight, but if you can reach somebody who lives there long-term, even better. Ask for unique things to do, practicalities, and what to avoid.
4. Read a few books and watch some movies
Now this is perhaps the most fun part unless you’re travelling to a location that’s only covered by uber-artsy movies. Getting into the culture and reading/watching stories, albeit fiction ones, will help you relate to locals more easily.
5. Buy maps and study them
Believe us, it’s too late to have a look at a map only once you’re on the spot. You’d lose precious moments that you could dedicate to immersing yourself in the environment. Make sure you know the layout of the city or an area and generally know hot to navigate it.
6. Find accommodation
Use more than one booking site and look at reviews. Do you fancy a hotel or something more authentic? Perhaps there’s a nice inn or a traditional house you could stay at? If your budget is tight, you can solve it by trying Couchsurfing – a friendly local will offer you his/her couch for free. An apartment rented through Airbnb might be a nice alternative as well.
7. Search for locals on the spot
Some Couchsurfers are used to taking their new international friends around and showing their city to them. You can also hire locals for guided tours or other activities. We often use some of the websites listed below. Just be careful – the guides can be of varying quality. Some of the big portals are Viator, Vayable, EatWith etc. We prefer smaller portals that are oriented on specific countries and offer true locals experiences such as trip4real, Localers, Bonappeteur, Guidilo etc.Getting in touch with a local person who might be willing to help with the planning is another option. There are portals specialising in this such as Likealocalguide or Plansify. You can also try a short volunteering activity to reach out to the locals in a very memorable way. Check out e.g. Grassrootsvolunteering for that.
8. Solve transport
Of course you could get around by a taxi. But is this what you really want? If locals use tuk tuks, you’d be a fool not to try them out. Research what options there are.
9. Double-check everything
Use review sites like TripAdvisor to check the credibility of a place you want to stay at, of a local you want to meet, of a service you want to try… you don’t want a lousy hotel room ruin your impression of the city you’re eager to visit.
10. Use planning tools…
… otherwise you’ll spend too much time putting a good itinerary together. Examples are Tripomatic or TripIt.
Once there, ask at your hotel’s front desk for recommendations (even though they might recommend rather touristy things). Go visit a local tourist info center, where they might give you further assistance. If you’re not too shy, just stop people on the street and ask them.
If you want to save time with all this check out trips designed by locals at MyTravelove. You just pick what you want to experience and the final suggested itinerary will be delivered to you on a silver plate and all the searching, booking and organizing will be taken care of. Before your trip you will receive a custom guidebook made just for you, you could call it your very own, personal Lonely Planet.