A week on a Caribbean beach, cocktail in hand, might be just the vacation you need. But if you’re looking to immerse yourself in a place, Matthew Kepnes recommends deep travel.
And he says you don’t need to travel the planet for a decade to experience deep connections with the places you visit. “These ideas are universal. I just used them for a much longer time than most people would,” he says.
It can be easy and comfortable to talk to your traveling partners. And part of the purpose of your trip might be to strengthen your relationships with the family members or friends who are with you. But to really get to know a place, you need to have conversations with people who live there.
Kepnes says that with the sharing economy, there are lots of opportunities to connect with locals.
- Couchsurfing isn’t just about finding a place to spend the night. You can use the site to find weekly events in many cities, usually in a coffee shop or bar. And Airbnb offers experiences with musicians, artists, chefs and other locals who want to share their passions.
- Eatwith can help you find food tours, cooking classes and dinners hosted in a local home.
- At Meetup, you can connect with people just about anywhere who share your interests or passions.
- Many places offer walking tours that connect you with the local history, culture, food, art or music scene.
- You can always strike up a conversation. “You’re only limited by your willingness to go and do it. You have to be comfortable saying, ‘let’s go talk to people,’” Kepnes says.
Forget what you think you know about a place
Kepnes loves Estonia. “People think Estonia is a weird, ex-Soviet place, because the last time the news media talked about Estonia was when the wall fell,” he says. “It’s actually a tech-savvy, wired, connected country.”
He encourages travelers to look beyond what they see — or don’t see — in the media: “Our media doesn’t talk as much about international issues, so we don’t know a lot of places exist, or exist in ways that are interesting.”
Every destination is different, so it’s tough to point to specific sources, but he says blogs and books are great ways to learn more about places to travel. “There’s so much information online these days. You get a really good picture of what a destination is like. Making an effort to read a little bit can go along way,” he says.
Give each place at least two or three days
You know the stereotype — if it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium? “Americans try to cram too much in on a short trip. I understand the mentality of why people do that — who knows when you’re going back?” Kepnes says.
But you can get more out of travel if you see and do less. “I think that if you really want to travel deeply you should give every city two to three days at a bare minimum,” he says.
But if you really don’t like a place, move on
Flexibility is key. Whatever plans you’ve made, you can always change your mind. “If you don’t like Paris, go to the countryside. If you love Paris, stay and skip the next destination,” he says.
That advice holds even for shorter timeframes. If it’s blisteringly hot in Rome the day you plan to see the Forum, try the Vatican instead.
Leave some time unscheduled
When you’re visiting a place you might not see again, you don’t want to miss a thing. “But if you move from one main attraction to the next, you’re just taking pictures. If you want to understand the ‘why’ of a place, try to pick two or three things from a list and let the rest of the day unfold,” Kepnes says.