I do not consider myself a tourist. On the train ride to work today an associate of mine sat next to me and asked why I haven’t gone to Brazil yet. Given that I focus on black communities in Latin America, it would seem like a natural fit. I told him it's because I don't know much Portuguese. He replied, “Oh, I see, you like to 'go native'”. I guess he has figured me out. This isn't to say that I won’t travel anywhere unless I know the local language, but I do prefer having a basic understanding of local culture, and using the opportunity to authentically engage with locals as much as possible. These practices lie at the core of my travel philosophy. I call it Next Level Travel.
No, you don't need to learn a new language in order to have an authentic travel experience. But if you want to go from being a tourist to being a traveler, I recommend the following five tips to take your travel up a notch.
Use Google Unplugged
Let locals be your primary source of information about the destination once you arrive. While most questions can be answered in just a few clicks or taps on any mobile device, local citizens will have the most updated and practical information about anything you need to know; from where to eat, what’s happening in town, or how to keep yourself safe. Ditch your device, and talk to people. Ask the front desk attendant at your hotel, ask your AirBnB host, or simply walk up to someone on the street and see if they can help.
Learn Local Culture in an Authentic Way
Learn something new during your visit by taking classes like dancing, cooking, language, or sporting. Or attend an event that is primarily geared toward locals. These events will be unfiltered, raw, and pure expressions of local culture---not watered-down performances for tourists. Be open to new experiences and get a taste of the destination by gaining knowledge about its identity through hands-on experiences surrounded by the people that live that culture everyday.
Join me this August for Salsa classes in Cali, home of the fiery dance and its African roots!
Travel the Region
Instead of spending all your time in one place, branch out to other destinations in the region. Turn your trip into a multi-city tour by setting up base camp in a central city, then take day trips (or longer) out on the road to other destinations within a few hours travel. When building your itinerary, locate your arrival city on a map, then fan out to key sites and locations in nearby cities.
After spending time in Cali this August, we’ll jet off to the lush green hills and secret lagoons in a black community located in the middle of the rainforest, then we’ll head toward coastal fishing communities of jet black sand and mangroves, and we'll end up on a mini-pilgrimage to see black Jesus in Buga and treat ourselves to locally crafted beer.
Stay in a Central Location
Although it might be less expensive to stay outside of the city, I recommend staying in the heart of the city! Find centrally located, safe accommodations that put you at the foot of the city’s top attractions. You will be happy that you an easy walk to most places, and that you can always head back to your accommodations to recharge in the middle of a long day. In the long run, you will save on transportation costs, and time.
Downtown Cali will be our home away from home, located in the middle of the lively city, just steps from the Rio Cali, museums, plazas, and amazing coffee spots.
Build Your Itinerary Around an Event
An international city becomes even livelier when it hosts a large annual event. Plan your trip around annual celebrations specific to the place you’re visiting. It will give you the opportunity to see the best of that city at the peak period of festivities. And extend your stay to explore other facets of the destination after the crowds dissipate.
Cali hosts its annual Alvarez Petronio Festival for Black Music and Culture each August and we’ll arrive just in time to soak up the sights, sounds, and incredible energy.
Taking your travel to the next level is about prioritizing the cultural experience available at your destination. Local people, activities, and flavors are the gateway to an enhanced travel experience. I’d like to show you how to apply these tips and more this summer in Cali, Colombia. Explore the full itinerary and pricing here, and first tier pricing ends April 15.
I recently went live on Facebook where I shared these top tips, answered travel questions proposed by followers, and discussed details about the upcoming trip to Cali. Check it out below: