“People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home” – Dagobert D. Runes
Do you ever think about the people you encounter in your hometown? The blonde woman who runs the organic bakery, the older gentleman selling newspapers and candy on the corner, the couple around the block who wave to you during their morning jog? Most likely you pass by them, stopping quickly to give a wave or small nod, and continue on your way. They’re still locals — the people travelers are often ecstatic to meet when visiting a destination abroad; however, they’re less interesting because they’re not foreign.
Now think about how you interact with the people you encounter on the road. Suddenly, the small business owner, athletes and street vendors are as exciting as meeting an A-list celebrity. For some, meeting locals is the highlight of the trip, as it gives genuine insight into a destination’s culture. By conversing with these people, you gain insider knowledge in a firsthand way.
When we’re home, our sense of curiosity and wonder tends to go into hibernation. We no longer search for the best street food or the most colorful handicraft. We scurry past art galleries without pondering, through grocery stores heading straight to our go-to items, into cabs keeping our mouths closed. We walk down the street with our heads down and keep our questions to ourselves.
A common complaint among people is they don’t have enough time to travel; however, it’s possible to re-create the feeling of being on the road in your hometown by igniting your inquisitive spirit. This starts with getting to know locals and asking them questions. Head into a quiet cafe and chat up the owner about what made her want to start her own business. Talk to a local bartender about where he learned his mixology skills. Visit a local artisan and inquire where they get their inspiration for their pieces. Everyone has a story; it’s up to you to pull it out. Best of all, it’s not unlikely to make a new friend out of the experience.
Living in New York City, it’s always funny hearing visitors talk about meeting locals in NYC. To me, these people aren’t locals in the way I think of the term, the mosaic tile- maker in Morocco, the choripan vendor in Argentina, the button collector in Australia. At least, that’s how I’ve tended to think in the past.
Recently I decided to change that. Getting into a taxi, I met a driver named Eduardo who came here from Cuenca, Ecuador, one of my personal favorite travel destinations. He talked nostalgically about 18th-century architecture, the nearby villages selling Panama hats and leather goods, the aromas of grilled meat skewers and potatoes wafting through the streets. It brought back fond memories for me. The highlight of the ride was getting to practice my Spanish, which had gotten rusty as I hadn’t been to South America in over a year.
By the time I reached my destination, I had forgotten I was still in New York City. I paid Eduardo, not in the hasty manner that I normally do, swiping my credit card through the machine with a quick “thanks”; but instead with a friendly smile, a sincere “thank you,” and the feeling of accomplishment that comes with getting to know the culture of a place even more, even if it is your hometown.