Living Like a Local on Your Vacation: An Impossible Dream, and What to Focus On for True Cultural Immersion Or What Anthony Bourdain Taught Me

Like all of his fans and colleagues, the loss of Anthony Bourdain has me examining WHY we loved him so. In the end, it was FAR beyond his love for food; it was the way he connected to people through food. That was how he let each journey touch him, even bruise him. Where there was joy, he let us know. Where there wasn’t, we became informed of what he learned. His travel objective was clear: “As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life — and travel — leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks — on your body or on your heart — are beautiful.”

How Can You Be Marked By Travel, and How Can You Leave Your Mark on the World in a Positive Way?

Chef Bourdain certainly got down to the nitty gritty on his travels many times. You had the feeling he was getting the essence of that particular experience. But, your way of travel may not be getting you the results you intend- either for yourself, or for the places you visit. Strongly put, your method of travel may, in fact, be contributing to the decline of a culture, rather than supporting it.


Each year, as a luxury travel advisor and founder of Enlightened Journeys Travel, I have taken the unpopular stance that crowdsourcing should be limited or eliminated. I make the argument that asking others for your dream based on their experiences is limiting your own experience.

At best, you are relieved of research; at worst, it is completely wrong for you and a waste of time.

Who wants that?!

Asking strangers for ideas for your travel dream is like taking a test without studying the subject: you may get a few things right, but are missing the deeper access to full knowledge. Click To Tweet

How Crowdsourcing Methods Lead You Away From What You Want

To add to the personal cost of a wrong choice to you, crowdsourcing methods by OTAs (online travel agents) such as Expedia and Airbnb are, unfortunately, leading you away from exactly what you want – the cultural immersion that your dream trip requires to be satisfying.

  • How many times have we heard the buzz words “live like a local”?
  • How are we directed through advertising that the path to this is through “local” sources like renting space in apartments or by hiring guides in the destination?

On paper, the ideas seem extremely “sustainable”.

How Living Like a Local Becomes a Distant Memory

But upon further examination, they could be contributing factors to homogenizing the exact experience you seek: As more of these living situations and tours are offered, the product itself evens out to attract more customers by offering less in terms of authenticity, and more in the way of amenities, common denominator experiences, or the comfort levels you are used to in the Western world.

Living like a local becomes a distant memory, as your options become standardized and, therefore, “mass” tourism.

What Happens to Unique Places when Mass Tourism Comes In …

Additionally these “cheap digs” bring more tourists that truly unique places can’t keep up with, let alone protect themselves from the change that follows.

Locals become disgruntled and less likely to be open and inviting to tourists.

Take Iceland, for example.

It has become the selfie/Instagram darling and has attracted hordes of tourists.

This influx, not prepared for nor controlled, has left residents in the uncomfortable space of a higher cost of living because of the dining needs of the brunch set.

Another Example: Nashville

Another example, highlighted by Rebecca Stone, a senior research analyst at travel intelligence website Skift, is Nashville.

This city is the current darling of the party set for whom Vegas is passe. But the culture that took decades to develop and gives the city its charm-and draw- is losing that uniqueness that residents have built, in pursuit of drawing more visitors.

The dilemma is being a travel destination without losing the soul of the place.

Today, the rise of apartment letting for tourists is now receiving backlash.

The lofty idea of empowering locals by giving them the opportunity to let their space is a myth.

More often than not, neighbors are unsettled by unknown people in their buildings; many times, individuals are buying or leasing apartments for the sole purpose of Airbnb-ing them, and do not contribute to the community of the place.

Add to that the danger of running them as alternatives to hotels without the safety net of accountability in place (or a financial contribution to the local economy or infrastructure), and you have an erosion of the exact things that make a place special.

The consequence to the traveler is the loss of the dream of “living like a local”.

But let’s examine that concept as well: In a few short days, how is that really possible?

At most you are observing rhythms of the life beat around you; you are an observer. Which may valuable to you, but not necessarily to the place you visit.

Living Like a Local on Your Vacation - What Anthony Bourdain Taught Me

The Possible Solution for You – and the Place You Visit

So if living like a local isn’t really attainable in the average vacation stay, and we want to avoid overtourism that leads to lost uniqueness, what is the solution?


Part of the Responsibility Lies in the Location Itself.

Learning to control tourism to minimize its effects is a part of government policy in some locales that are learning from others’ (or their own) mistakes.

This may men limiting the number of tourists that can come at any given time (and raising prices to compensate).

Another solution already happening in the crowdsourcing world is cities from Paris to NYC are taking a very close look at Airbnbs, and have ordered the closing of illegal ones, while limiting the number of days a legitimate participant/owner can rent their space.


Another Part of the Responsibility Lies With You, the Traveler

To sustain culture in a destination, you must be willing to accept people and HOW they live.

Genuine engagement may be a better approach than a product sold on the internet or on the street (open top tour bus, anyone?). Just knowing a guy, a stranger – or even someone close to you – to give you recommendations may not be the “right” person for you, nor may even be in a position to provide added benefit to the community and its culture.  Recently a client of mine was introduced via email a friend’s friend who often visited Morocco from France.  She asked for “must sees” and he provided a list.  The problems was, these locations were all over the map and often repeats- waterfalls, seaside.  She was given information without discernment. Some of the recommendations were tourist traps, which she did not want.  Others would add in long drives, which she wanted to avoid.  In the end, with my help, she and her husband had a well designed itinerary based on their specific wants, needs, and travel style.

Social enterprises of honest home visits, cottage industries of handicrafts, cooking instructions, community visits -and stays, if you want them- done well and thoughtfully are goals locals are becoming increasingly involved in, because ultimately, they are the stakeholders not only of the tourism dollars brought in to the community, but also for the protection of their culture.


So how do you be thoughtful and wise in your travel choices while truly seeing the world as it is and get as close to observing and feeling local life as possible?

Work with a well-traveled travel advisor who, like me, is knowledgeable and certified in sustainable practices in travel, and can make that dream of connecting to a locale come true, quickly, in the limited time you have. You will avoid the pitfall of the “living like a local” misnomer, and instead have the transformative experience of deeply connecting with the locale and its people instead.

Outside the comfort zone? Yes, as most genuine things are.


Thank you, Chef. And may we all be inspired to let travel change us and help us to leave our own positive mark!

If you’d like to have more ease in your travel planning, I’d love to help!

You can stay informed and inspired in planning your travel in 2018 by reading more of my blogs. You can also follow me on Facebook. Twitter @enlitndjrntrvl, and Instagram @enlightenedjourneystravel. Sign up to receive the blogs and a newsletter filled with more insights and offers so you don’t miss a thing.

luxury travel advisor Theresa Jackson on one of her adventures journeys

At Enlightened Journeys Travel, we design handcrafted travel itineraries for your immersive journeys of a lifetime.

Keep exploring – Life’s an adventure!

I look forward to opening hidden doors in exclusive travel for you!