Closed door

Photo by Sukanto Debnath

When you’re traveling in the hopes of getting to know the locals and their culture, tourism infrastructure can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, having a system in place set up to cater to tourists means you can get around easily to see all the so-called “must-sees”. On the other hand, it can also limit you to seeing what the tourism authority thinks you should see, which may or may not give you a real sense of they way locals live.

So how do you go about getting a glimpse of the real country? Writers over at the UK’s Guardian have come up with their own sneaky ways of peeking behind closed doors. Some of the suggestions include connecting with bloggers based in the country before you arrive, or finding people that might share similar passions such as foodies, artists or musicians.

But among one of the more clever tricks was to pretend you were moving to the country. The travelers – who wanted to take a look inside traditional Japanese homes with all their paper-thin walls, tatami mats and whiz-bang electronics – told a local real estate agent they were going to be relocating soon for work, and thus wrangled a tour of some local digs.

Now, I’m not necessarily advocating you do this, since it clearly poses a bit of an ethical problem in that you are wasting the time and resources of the locals. However, it does make me wonder if we might get more out of our travels by simply viewing them differently.

Instead of assuming that we are tourists looking at our destination from the outside in, what if we visualized ourselves moving to that country? There’d be a lot of things we’d want to know about our prospective new homeland. Like where would we get our morning coffee? Or go to exercise, or do our banking, or take our pet? What would we do with our elderly parents and where would we send our children to school? Spending some time asking those questions and hunting down the answers would no doubt cause us to come away with an entirely different perspective on the country than if we simply spent all our time in museums. And it would certainly make us look at our own lives with fresh eyes.

What do you think? Have you gotten more out of your vacations by veering off the tourist trail? What other suggestions do you have for tapping into the true local culture?