With so many incredible countries around the world, I’m still surprised to hear and see people going to the same cities, being attracted by the same countries and posting the same pictures on the social medias. The effect have been multiplied lately, as the tourism is increasing worldwide.
It creates a serious imbalance, as most tourists end up in the same city. Locals have been starting to leave these cities because of the increase of rents to make space for tourists. This is the infamous case of the city of Venice in Italy or Barcelona in Spain, where locals started to make anti-tourism marches.
Anti-tourism marches? That’s definitely a no-go for me, how could I enjoy myself visiting the country, with locals protesting against my presence?
It’s hampering my experience to see many tourists. I don’t enjoy having to have to wait 30 minutes so that I can see this specific artifact or enjoy the view. That’s pretty much what happened to us recently at the Forbidden Palace in Beijing. It’s a mystical place with centuries of history. But there I was, getting pushed and walked on just to see the next room.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t enjoy the place if I don’t get to connect with locals. I need to exchange with them, get to know their city and their country through their eyes. And in these touristic cities, locals are just bored of you, or even worst, they might just see you as a walking wallet.
The difference can be felt even inside the same country, and to me the example of Thailand comes to mind. On one hand, you have a place like Phuket or Patong, overrun by party-goers and where you are very likely to get scammed, and on the other hand, you have a place like the Isaan region, where a local drove us for 50 kilometers in a direction he wasn’t even going while we were hitchhiking, even though we asked him multiple times to go down when we understood the situation.
It’s also not only about the locals, but as well the government’s attitude. For instance you have a government like Georgia, where citizens from around 80 different countries can stay up to one year without a visa ! And you have governments like the US, where they have been tightening the rules year after year to make it tougher for people to visit.
I’m not really keen on starting my experience in a new country with hours of interrogation. Defending myself why I have visited this country or another. Sadly, the Internet is full of stories of people being interrogated at US customs for dubious reasons, such as “Aggressive Interrogation of Artists and Writers at U.S. Border”.
On the other hand, I notice that countries with less tourists, usually welcome us in a much better fashion. They haven’t seen many tourists, and you can feel how concerned they are by leaving travelers a positive memory of their country.
In the end, I believe that the overall feeling is created by a succession of details. That person kindly holding the door for you, or this woman coming to help while you seemed totally lost or even this guy calling all his friends to find someone who can speak English with you to help.
This is what is making me feel welcomed and appreciated in the country. A vibe I love to feel while visiting a country.
Countries suffering from an unfavorable reputation are usually even more welcoming, as I feel citizens want to do as much as they could to change this sometimes unfair notoriety. This is how I felt in Iran for instance, where I was simply overwhelmed by the kindness and friendliness of their citizens even though I had huge doubts about my safety before going. Turns out it was one of the safest places I’ve ever been to.
After having visited more than 70 countries, I sometimes pause and remember the places I traveled to. Often the first things that come to mind are random acts of kindness, and when I think about these friendly countries, there’s always a big smile coming naturally on my face.
Traveling full-time makes me realize that places are undoubtedly beautiful, but I quickly forget most of them, in favor of all these incredible people I met throughout my journey. These cities I passed by are mostly associated with people rather than this museum or that temple.
Taiwan, Georgia, Iran and Mexico might not be the most touristic places in the world, but they are some of the best memories I have while traveling, simply by how well the majority of locals welcomed me.
We love to hitchhike, because it allows us to connect with locals who probably never had the chance to have a proper discussion with a tourist.
One day, while hitchhiking alone, someone picked me up, brought me in the opposite direction to go to his town and invited me for lunch. Why did he do that? He told me he dreamed to receive a foreigner in his home, but unfortunately not many tourists were visiting his country, let alone his town. I was so happy to accept his invitation. 5 years later I can still remember his face, his town, his home, his wife and even what we ate. That, to me, is more powerful and ever-lasting than seeing the old town of this charming European city but where taxis and sellers tried to ripe me off.
You might not be ready to hitchhike in your holidays, we totally understand, but there are many ways to connect with locals, we recommend to do so through hospitality websites such as Couchsurfing (we wrote on how to Couchsurf with a baby!), where you can only participate to meet-up if sleeping in someone else’s home doesn’t appeal to you. Meet-Up is also a great site to meet locals. And of course Facebook can be a way, if you join a group relevant to your travel destinations.
We value meeting amazing people throughout the world probably more than visiting the #1 Instagram spot of the city. Maybe that’s why we have more friends than Instagram followers.
To conclude, I would like to say that my intention wasn’t to tell you what to do, but rather to inspire you to modify the criteria you use in order to choose your next destination. Smiles and a positive attitude contribute positively towards creating great trips. Maybe even more than seeing the city where all your friends went before. I don’t pretend that my way of traveling is better than yours, I firmly believe that there are as many ways of traveling as the number of people on Earth.
With this post, I’d hope to create an honest debate on the subject. The world is so big, but yet, most tourists are concentrated in same places. After a long journey around the world, I can truly affirm that the world is safer than what you might think it is. Don’t let that argument deter you from exploring those relatively unfamiliar places. You might be rewarded with genuine smiles and unique experiences.