7 things you miss if you don’t stay with locals when you travel

There are things you will never experience in hotels. But if you believe that using home-stays or airbnb means staying “at home” with people, you’re definetely wrong. Only when they host you not for profit you can have a genuine experience.
Read till the end to find out how to do it.

Versione in Italiano

1. Home-made food

That’s obvious. If you really want to know how people from a country eat at home, you must go to their home! “Home cousine” restaurants aren’t enough. And they won’t allow you the experience of sitting around the table, (or on the floor – it happened to me for example in Vietnam) with the whole family!

I’ll never forget the abundance of the Thai meal I had at Sky’s home, together with his mother and two other travelers: the jasmine rice was grown by her farmer brother.

I was welcomed to Warsaw by a Polish steak tartare prepared by Joanna. When I was hosted by Susanto in Sulawesi, his “nanny” was an amazing cook. Her sambal kacangthe traditional spicy peanut sauce – was addictive! A few drops would make anything delicious!

2. Learning local habits

When you’re in a house where people actualy live (and not just rent it as in homestay or airbnb) you discover things often hidden to tourists.
In many countries you enter into the house only barefoot. At the tropics, the shower is often taken … with a bucket. Sleeping on the floor is sometimes not just due to lack of beds. You may eat with chopsticks, with your hands or with a spoon and fork together! In several countries there is no toilet paper in the bathroom, but a bucket of water or (in the equipped ones) a tap with a pipe.

3. No-tourist neighbourhood

Hotels are generally located downtown or nearby places of interest. Clearly for the tourist, convenience is important. But everyday life can be fascinating.

I was staying in Manadu, Indonesia during the independence day (August 17th). While returning home I found a crowd of people on the street playing traditional games – stuff our grandparents did – such as sack run. When they saw me passing by they stopped and asked to take selfies with me:)

In Edmonton, North Carolina the house – better say the villa – we were hosted in faced a swamp, that we explored a bit thanks to the canoes Mimi and Bob lent us.

In Hpa An, Myanmar I had to climb stairs for three hours to reach the Buddhist monastery on the hill top where they hosted me for the night and from which I enjoyed an amazing sunset.

4. Cooking

Besides eating, at home you can learn to cook local food. In Thailand I did a cooking class, but there is no match between the stylish chef who taught us westerners to blend curry paste and Mrs Pon who cut meat and vegetables on her log, while her daughter and I stir fried everything.

But there is one more thing I love: cooking myself a dish from my country for them. It’s my way to thank for their hospitality and let them know a piece of Italy. That’s why I always pack some spaghetti.

But often I have a hard time finding the basic ingredients. A Sulawesi there was durum wheat pasta (not so common outside Italy), but the only cheese available (I mean the very only one) was a synthetic cheddar and  tomatoes were juiceless. Despite the adjustments to the recipe, you can imagine my joy when I saw everybody being so happy, especially two-year old Rara who had her first ever spaghetti.

5. First-hand tips and advices

It’s ok to check tripadvisor, google or some blog like the butterfly hunter, but the best tips will always come from the people who live there

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Un post condiviso da The Butterfly Hunter (@thebutterflyhunter) in data:

A spectacular restaurant in Jakarta, Bangkok’s best sweets, Batu temple in Malaysia, a lift to Ijen volcano, the concert of a Japanese ska band in Hanoi played Lupin III soundtrack and also how to make a complaint for theft to the Indonesian police are among the many things that I would never have discovered without my hosts.

6. Surprises!

There are things in life and travel you cannot program! Serendipityand inspiration, which I talk you about in this blog. Here are some of them.

In Yodgyakarta Tika took me to a square packed with crazy pedal cars shining in the night.

In Roanoke, Virginia Erin welcomed us playing violin on the porch with her singer-songwriter friend Catherine.

In Huay Xai, Katja and Charly involved me as an Italian “visiting professor” in their English class fot adult Laotians.

7.  People, people, people

I have been around for a while now, and I’m more and more convinced that traveling is not about places but about people. It is people, in flesh and bone, emotions and thoughts, gestures and voices that make places special. Even your home. Yes, because what I said about being hosted it largely works for hosting others at your home.

2015 was the year of the EXPO in Milan, “the world comes to my city”, I thought and then I started hosting people (for free) through Couchsurfing. I didn’t imagine how amazing it would turn.

I understood how valuable are humanity, empathy, sharing. I realized that the fear of the unknown and strangers, which politicians and medias transmit to us, melts down when you meet real people. I also experienced that age and culture differences between open and curious people is not a barrier but a stimulus. That’s why so since then I aslo use couchsurfing around the world when I can.

I had plenty of laughter, food, drinks and party in good company. I met Telma the fashion photographer, Ash who started his career in diplomacy and loves opera music, Maggie who rented a house in Japan to travel around the world, Agnieszka professor in Krakow who fights against academic machismo, Top who makes books for children in Bagkok, Alisa who builds togheter with her friends an eco-village in Sweden and Lena, volunteering in Panama.

And so many more that have just gave me the one thing we all crave for, in travel and at home: special moments, to live and remember.

What about you, have you ever used couchsurfing or stayed with locals? Leave a comment!


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