Imagine you’re in Senegal.
You find yourself inside a typical white tourist van, windows closed, air conditioning on. Secretly holding the camera, you carefully view everything from a distance as you wave at children passing by. But here’s the catch: you’d much rather be sitting in a rusty taxi, having a chat with the local driver. You’d rather be stopping at the bustling markets and tasting those juicy mangoes. You’d rather be playing with and picking up words from the kids you just waved at. You’d much rather be in the middle of it all and transform into a ‘real local’. I mean, come on, no one wants to be merely a spectator, right?
Here are five ways you can really have the local experience when traveling.
DITCH THE HOTEL
Did you know that it is perfectly possible to spend a night with the locals instead of at a fancy hotel? There are various initiatives such as homestays. In this way, you can truly taste the genuine African hospitality and feel fully integrated into the host family. Help out for a few hours in the countryside, play a game of soccer with the kids, get to know the cuisine and even take part in preparing a meal.
Be forewarned, you probably won’t get a hotel-type king-sized bed with room service, but it definitely will be an unforgettable experience.
PICK UP SOME LOCAL PHRASES
Salaam Alekum. Walekum Salaam!
Nengendef . Ma nifi!
Try to learn some local greetings. A small effort, really, but one that makes a world of difference. The locals will be pleasantly surprised and immediately see you as their friend. Showing respect and interest in their language and culture is also the perfect way to start up some amazing conversations.
SUPPORT THE LOCAL ECONOMY
By traveling locally, you also unconsciously support the local economy. If you sleep in a locally operated guesthouse or opt for a homestay, your money will directly go to the locals. Also try to buy local art and crafts straight from the artist’s hand. That way, you know where your money is going, and let’s admit it, it’s so much more fun to know the story behind a souvenir! Win-win situation for you and the locals!
TRAVEL WITH A LOCAL GUIDE
Trying to tour Africa on your own can sometimes be challenging. There is often no well-organized public transport, the cultural habits are completely different, and of course, there is the language barrier. So why not let a local guide show you the way? This can be the perfect person to tell you more about the regional history, explain the customs, and introduce you to the local cuisine … trust me, you will get to experience places and things you simply would not be able to otherwise. And all of it in a safe and responsible way!
TAKE PUBLIC TRANSPORT
Did you know that all the best conversations in Africa occur on public transport? Yup, true story.Taxi drivers are often more witty than some politicians and your neighbor on the bus will definitely be curious about your story. Taking a local ‘taxi-brousse’ or a ‘clando van’ is an experience in itself and very much a part of the culture. So it would be a shame to only watch this from your white air-conditioned van, wouldn’t it?
Text and photos by Stefanie Orlans
So try out some of these tips during your next adventure and let me know how it goes! Happy traveling, rebels.