I am currently in Florence (Firenze!), on the fourth leg of a five-week-ish long trip through Europe. I started in the UK (to see family), went to the South of France, then Milan, now Florence, and then on to Rome and Venice.
So far, I’ve stayed in a mix of lodgings, including an apartment, a two-star hotel, a four-star hotel, and a guesthouse in a turn-of-the-century (but renovated) Florentine casa. Some have been close to the main tourist areas while others have been in areas where mostly locals live. So you might say I’ve had a very tiny glimpse into living “like a local” for a short time.
I know a lot of travel shows and websites like to promote the live “like a local” thing. And I think there is value in that. When you’re a tourist staying only where the tourists stay, eating only what the tourists eat, and doing only what the tourists do, then there is a level of authenticity to the place that disappears. It really depends on what kind of travel experience you’re going for, I suppose.
But there are things that a tourist sees that a local may not. Back at home, a friend from The Philippines is staying in Dallas for a while, and he posted some pictures of Half-Price Books and my mom’s home-cooking on Facebook. To me, those are ordinary and everyday things, but to him, they are extraordinary and awesome.
On the flip side, when I was in Paris a couple years ago hanging out with my cousin and his girlfriend, I rambled on a bit about the amazing history of the city and the monuments and impressionism and so on. My cousin’s girlfriend then said to me something along the lines of, “You know, I know we have these great things, but I guess I don’t see it because I’ve always seen it. But now that you’re talking about it, I see how great these things are.”
So in a way, sometimes living like a local can blind you a bit to some of the awesome things about the place you live. And it takes someone from another place to remind you of the wonder that surrounds you every day. And while I think there is some value in “living like a local,” I think there is more value in “exploring like an explorer,” where even the ordinary is new a fresh and wonderful.
I have about ten more days of exploring Italy before heading back to the US. I have a feeling, however, that after spending five weeks in Europe, things will look a little different to me when I get back home 🙂