Friday, May 31, 2013

Tourism is NOT a Dirty Word

I have a really special treat for you today. I want to introduce one of my sponsors, Michelle to you all. A girl after my own heart, she lives in the South and is determined to prove that the South is 'a soul-stirring mecca of culture, decadence, passion and the unknown'. She proves with each post not only does the South have a ton to offer but she also provides great ways to be a tourist in your own city. Something I think we could all take advantage of!
Here she highlights some of her best tips on how to travel and how to make the most out of your vacation. Be sure to check out her blog, Dixie Lust!
At a local Indian Associations Holi Festival. I may never get to go to India, but I did get to experience Holi - a tradition that's mesmerized me for years.
Build Your Advice Panel via Social Media

A fellow blogger on my "panel" suggested this place, Tacky Jacks, while I was in Orange Beach. I would have never tried it if she hadn't recommended it.
We all want it. The perfect hotel. The perfect pulled pork sandwich. The sunset that puts all other sunsets to absolute shame. Long gone are the days of relying on travel agents and well-traveled friends for travel suggestions. We crave the “insider” experiences, the hidden gems, the locals-only knowledge.

 About a month or so before your trip, build your advice panel on social media outlets like Twitter, Instagram, and Foursquare. Use a mix of restaurant, brand, blogger, foodie, and event accounts. Find out what everyone’s talking about. Hot new restaurant that everyone’s raving about? Make your reservations now. Great band playing when you’re in town? Buy your tickets.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions or seek out recommendations. Use their knowledge to your advantage. My biggest advice is to know how to ask for what you want. Are you into dive bars and hole in the wall restaurants? Don’t ask for “the best restaurants in town” or “a bbq place.” Be specific with terms like “off the beaten path” or “often overlooked.”

As an added bonus, building a relationship with these accounts may come in handy if you need last minute help or suggestions while you’re actually visiting.

Be a Chatty Cathy.

This is my daddy, Papa Bruce, in action - chitchatting with the boat captain the entire time.
My family loves to tell a story about my dad on a skiing trip in Winter Park, Colorado. Our first day on the slopes, we turned around to realize Papa Bruce was missing. After a few minutes of scanning the crowds, we saw him standing over in the distance with another man, laughing and moving his hands wildly as he pointed to the lodge. We couldn’t believe it. How on earth did my southern Louisiana daddy bump into someone he knew all the way up in Colorado? On the first day? When he finally (and I do mean finally…) made his way back over, we bombarded him with questions. Who was that? How do you know him? Do we know him? Papa Bruce just laughed as he responded “Oh… I don’t know. I was just asking him where he got his beer from.”

My father has taught me a lot about travel, but the biggest lesson has been in how to connect with people. The second we step aboard the charter boat he’s asking about the motor, the gas mileage, and how long the captain’s been doing what he does. He asks field guides where they’re from and how they got into the business. He asks the local hibachi chef how long his training took and what his favorite “trick” is. It’s never in a badgering way. It’s simply curiosity and the desire to connect. He never talks “at” or “to” people. He always makes a genuine effort to talk with them, showing them interest and respect.

Travel isn’t just about seeing monuments and physically being in a location. It’s about cultures, ways of life.. people sharing themselves. Getting to know the people that cross your path as you explore adds a complex layer of richness and intimacy to each adventure. Not all your conversation starters or questions will be home runs, but it’s your effort that gets the connection rolling. Sometimes I’m absolutely terrible at small talk and even plain ole’ awkward in new environments, but I’ve never had someone turn down the chance to talk about themselves, their city, their job or their passions. So ask the waitress how her day is, tell the shopkeeper the pottery is the most stunning you’ve ever seen, ask the shuttle driver about the “busy season”, or even ask the other travelers where they got their beer. The conversation will work itself out. You’ll learn and experience a lot more than if you leave it solely up to maps and guidebooks.

Tourism is NOT a Dirty Word
Just a sampling of some "touristy" things that I absolutely loved.
In not only traveling quite a bit but in researching it for my blog, I’ve noticed a trend among travel writers and enthusiasts where being a tourist is touted as gauche and trite. You’re given tips to blend in and act like a local. You’re told not to be so “American” when traveling overseas. And quite honestly I don’t get it.

Should you avoid being rude? Yep. Should you respect cultures that are different than your own? Of Course. But in no way do I believe that being a tourist should be a “travel sin.”  When you travel you are a representative of where you come from. Travel is about making connections and leaving a bit of yourself behind as you take your new experiences with you.

I love living in an area with so many visitors. When I get to hear about their experiences and how different their home is from my beloved city, I see it as a mini travel experience. Without setting foot outside my home, I get to learn about other places – places I may not ever get to visit.

Tourism is such a huge aspect of our economies today. In Louisiana alone, tourism generates $850 million in tax revenues. Without the attractions, hotels, restaurants, and construction, each household would have to pay an additional $550 in state taxes. One in twelve workers here works in a tourism related job. What’s the point of all these fancy statistics? The city you choose to visit probably depends heavily on tourism. As a response, they’re prepped, primed, and ready to make your visit a fantastic one. Visit the visitor centers, take the guided tours, seek out the special attractions. They’re all there for YOU.

I understand you want to experience some aspects just like the locals. There’s no shame in that. But don’t avoid something solely because it’s for “tourists.”

Getting the most Culture Bang for Your Buck (and Time)
Just a sampling of foods from local festivals - all this in ONE place!
Do some research on the city you’re interested in visiting and find out if it’s home to any events or festivals. Food & Wine Events, Heritage Festivals, and even something as small as an art fair often gather up the best of the best and put it in one easy to navigate place.

In my home state of Louisiana, we love to celebrate just about everything. Cotton, shrimp, hot sauce, gumbo, petroleum, sugar cane, the French language, jazz music, … we celebrate it all. How do we celebrate it? With annual festivals! These festivals are jam packed with food booths from local restaurants, live bands and performances, local artists and craftsman, and lots and lots of fun.

Louisiana, while I may be partial to it, isn’t the only place that holds great events like this. If you’re looking to visit a city and see it’s people, music, food, and culture in action without racing back and forth across the city… see the city’s event calendar. You save a ton of time, money, and energy and get to experience so many aspects

What's Your Motivation?
Relaxation! I made time for peaceful relaxation time at sunrise on a recent trip.
Often times when you’re exploring nearby cities or on a budget, your trip is relatively short. Whether it’s a day trip or a weeklong one, it’s common to feel like you need to “do it all.” Cue the instant anxiety and stress that comes along with trying to cram every. single. thing. on to the schedule. You wind up getting exhausted, you get snappy with your travel mates, and you lose focus on what you came to explore.

When planning your trip, ask yourself why you’re taking the trip in the first place. Are you going to relax? Hear certain bands? Visit a museum or monument? Find your motivation for taking the trip and let that be your guide in planning. If your main desire is to see an exhibit at a museum, decide on the date and times that you’ll do so. Communicate your plans to any travel mates you may have to avoid any last minute drama or confusion. It also gives you a clear picture of what time you have left open.

On a recent trip to Orange Beach, AL with my family, I decided my two main focuses were spending time with my family and relaxing after a busy first half of the year. Knowing my focus helped me to eliminate a few things that were on my list of suggested places and even a few of my tried-and-true favorites. With the focus being on family and getting my zen back, I packed in more family dinners and solo beach time and passed on Hangout Fest and some legendary local bars.

P.S. Be sure to check out my guest post about what we do here in Korea and also some funny stories we've accumulated from living overseas!
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