LOCAL IS THE REAL DEAL
In a society full of mass tourism and standardized group trips, our craving for authentic, genuine and local experiences is higher than ever. But…how can we truly fulfill this intrinsic desire?
We all have heard about the expression ‘local traveling’, but to what extent do we actually put this idea into practice? Chatting to the artisans that have handcrafted our souvenirs, learning an indigenous language, cooking a typical local recipe or simply playing with the neighborhood kids in the main square of a small village. These are just a few examples of smaller actions that can lead to a big impact in the travel industry, but still, a lot of us do not know where exactly to start or how to find these experiences.
Culture, connection, artisans, rural spaces, authentic activities… To gather a bigger picture of local traveling and fully grasp the importance of it in the modern world, we contacted a Mapifier expert in the field: Cristina Contreras. In today’s interview, we dive deep into her passion for rescuing the ‘cultural identity’ of small villages and even give you tips on how and where you can start contributing to this important travel movement. Enjoy!
Hi Cristina! Tell us about yourself a bit :)
Hello everyone! I am Cris, a Spanish girl born in Granada who grew up partly in Tenerife and partly in the surroundings of Madrid. At the age of 12, I moved back to Granada, the city where I would later study Tourism. After that, I finished my master’s in Tourism Innovation and Marketing and became the creator of the cultural project ‘Viajar Eslou’. Further, I am a journalist, a passionate traveler myself and a true lover of cultures, people and responsible tourism — which is exactly why I started ‘Viajar Eslou’ in the first place.
Has traveling always been an innate passion of yours or did the travel bug first bite you as an adult?
Truth is that my parents used to put me in planes since I was three years old, so I guess that the traveling gene has been in my veins for a long time. However, my real passion for adventuring around the world really woke up when I made my first trip abroad, thanks to a school exchange that brought me to Hungary.
If you could describe what you do in one sentence, what would that be?
“To rescue the cultural identity of villages in danger of extinction and promote popular traditions that are jeopardized by globalization and mass tourism — while always respecting natural and social ecosystems when traveling.”
That is so interesting! How does this look like in real life?
Well, that is a very broad question. In ‘Viajar Eslou’ I mainly focus on showing the value of crafts and local traditions by connecting artisans and other locals in the rural world with real travelers. As these artisans are usually older people who do not know how to use the internet and there is no generational change in the sector, I work as an intermediary for them. In real life, this means that I coordinate visits and group trips to workshops of artisans around the globe, I organize experiences where tourists can make wonderful handmade creations with locals and, in general, I help travelers have an overall authentic trip. In addition to this, I offer personalized travel advice for solo travelers, too.
My goal with this is not only to help the villages but to create rich experiences full of memories and satisfaction for both sides. As a positive side effect, the work and repopulation of certain rural areas are encouraged, creating socio-cultural benefits and alternatives plans to mass tourism.
This is beautiful! Surely this is very important for the future of our society. Which have been your biggest accomplishments thus far?
If I had to mention any big achievement related to the project, I would proudly say that the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has recently awarded me for the work I am doing in the field of Responsible and Sustainable Tourism. I have also given multiple talks on responsible tourism in schools and universities in Spain, and I have appeared in newspapers, radios, and television. These recognitions are very important to me, as they show me that what I am doing brings real value to the world!
That’s incredible Cris! Do you remember the moment or the reason that made you pursue a career based in the travel sector?
Yes! The reason I decided to start in this sector was my love for the cultural and linguistic wealth of the world. From that first exchange I made to Hungary, I fell in love with foreign people and cultures and knew that I had to dedicate myself to help others experience this feeling of satisfaction and connection you get from an authentic and local travel experiece.
Interesting. So tell me, what does “local” exactly mean for you?
“Local traveling” means to me “to live as a native”. To respect their natural and social ecosystems, adapting yourself to their way of life, customs and traditions. It means living the culture from within, as another member of the community. To travel locally is to discover the hidden gems, to go to the bars where the neighbors gather to eat and chat, to learn how to prepare recipes that only the grandmothers of the villages know or to help boost the local economy by shopping in small businesses… All these, added to the overall respect for the environment, natural spaces and animals, describe what for me is “local traveling”.
In what ways do you think that diving deep into foreign cultures and meeting locals is a more profound experience than mass tourism?
In all ways! In my opinion, mass tourism as we know it today, is a totally empty travel experience since it generally doesn’t care neither about meeting the locals nor about respecting natural and social environments. To get to know a real culture, you have to know its people. That’s why it is so important to make the change into a different way of traveling, where actually the habitants of the place we visit are the protagonists, not us.
Why do you think that so many travelers haven’t done the change yet?
I think it is due to general ignorance, as well as laziness or fear. We live in such a stress concentrated and fast paced world, that it is practically impossible to gather enough local information and design our ideal trip. We don’t have time for that. That is why education and awareness are needed, and exactly this is the reason I started ‘Viajar Eslou’ in the first place. It is essential to evolve towards a much more responsible and personalized tourism.
Do you have tips for our readers on how to travel in a more local way?
Sure! The best option, of course, is to know in advance a native from the destination we are visiting. If we don’t, we can also ask friends who have traveled there before. If neither of these two options is feasible, there are a few tricks you can use. For instance, you could previously search for groups on social networks like Facebook or Meetup. This way, different groups and pages related to local activities in a certain city will appear. Another trick is to simply write the name of the destination in your search engine and add a random fact of the country. I assure you, you will find a lot of interesting information. Other ways to find secret spots would be to use apps like Mapify, which show real recommendations based on other travelers’ experiences, or my favorite one yet: go straight up to a local person and start engaging in a conversation with them!
And which are your top 3 countries to have a local travel experience?
Well, according to my preferences, I would go for Cyprus, Spain and Latvia.
Noted. In regards to Mapify, how do you think we help travelers to have local experiences?
I think Mapify has a large expert travel community. Photographers, bloggers and travel lovers who show their favorite spots of every trip and experience they have. That is exactly what local and authentic traveling bases itself on: genuine reccomendations of a place provided by real people. I think Mapify is great!
As you know, Mapify is now building personalized, authentic itineraries for our Mapify customers. What is your opinion on this and would you recommend travelers to book a trip with us?
Well, I think it’s amazing. Providing travel routes and itineraries based on the experiences of the Mapify community, both team members and users, makes a difference and adds value to the travel industry. It does, because what is offered comes from the knowledge and own experiences of hundreds of travel experts. And not only that, but the fact that Mapify offers routes adapted to the specific preferences of customers is what makes a trip unique and, as simple as this might sound, makes it your trip and not someone else’s trip.
To finalize, what has been your most profound local travel experience?
The travel experience that has marked me the most has been Cyprus, the jewel of the Mediterranean. Not only for its paradisiacal beaches, caves and mountains, but more so for its people. They are incredibly hospitable, humble and outgoing! From a local traveling point of view, Cyprus is a place that engages with its locals, its customs and its cultural traditions in many ways! For instance, I learned to make their halloumi cheese with a local grandmother, discovered the art of “lefkaritiko” by its artisans, observed their amazing frescoes and explored around secret spots like waterfalls and turquoise beaches . Every time Cyprus passes through my mind, I get an instant smile — I’m happy.
And that for me, is the result of local traveling.
Any other comments, quotes or ideas you want to share with our readers?
For all the travelers, I encourage you to change your way of traveling into a more responsible and local one! If you need any guidence, don’t hesitate to contact me.
Thank you so much!