Mixing with locals: the key for a true cultural experience

Our expectations of travel and cultural exchange have grown ever more sophisticated. For many of us, pitching up at an all inclusive package holiday with some beer and sun cream and then refusing to budge from the pool simply isn’t enough. We look for something deeper and more representative of the fabric of the country we are in. But no matter how noble our intentions of actually discovering the ‘real’ aspects of a culture and penetrating past the obviously touristic are, it is a surprisingly difficult challenge.

You can turn up armed with an assortment of travellers’ guides and try desperately to access the beating heart of a city or a region, but there is still a vital piece of the puzzle missing. You may end up finding some hidden treasures and well kept secrets, but you are still the outsider and the observer rather than an active participant in the spirit and soul of the culture.

There may just be a fascinating solution. Withlocals.com is an intriguing new website that connects travellers with locals to build an international community and network of exchange. A host from a specific area will offer a specific expertise, local knowledge, activity or experience that can range from driving his tuk tuk in Bangkok to taking a trip way off the beaten track, to learning how to cook regional dishes in a tiny local restaurant buried deep in a mountain range. The traveller thus has direct access to the essence of the region, the host has an opportunity to either make a small sum or have the favour repaid in the travellers country and a community of genuine experience begins to take root.

And perhaps the most exciting aspect of all is that none of this is organised centrally – which by its nature would defeat the whole purpose. Withlocals.com connects people and then allows personal interaction and developing relationships to define the nature of the experience. If you ever wanted to really feel and engage with a place and a culture rather than just witness it, this could be the perfect way to make it happen.

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