How do you define ‘local travel’?
comment 11 Written by on March 12, 2010 – 6:16 am


Photo: Copyright – Livian Guesthouse, Buenos Aires

This week has seen the launch of It’s aim is to bring together supporters of local travel and it will act as a platform for the debate that is already going on around the web. I was involved in some of the early discussions and it got me thinking about trying to define ‘local travel’.

Some months ago, I received an email from PR rep for a hotel in Buenos Aires. I can’t remember the exact wording but it was along the lines of – “I’ve seen your blog and I have the perfect ‘going local’ hotel for you”.

“Uh oh, here we go,” I couldn’t help thinking. Did this mean ‘local travel’ was now a buzz phrase? Were all hotels going to be jumping on bandwagon, just like every hotel that recycles now calls itself an eco lodge?

As it turned out, on this occasion, my cynicism was misdirected. Not only was it a lovely property (, but also – and to my surprise – it did have what I’d describe as a ‘local edge’. It was the lifelong family home of one of the owners, it was slightly off-the-beaten track, and the hosts arranged art events, parties and asados (barbecues) to which all guests were invited. Ok, it wasn’t couchsurfing, but it did give you a little more of a slice of life in Buenos Aires than the swipe-card, ‘good-morning-madam’ service in the average chain hotel.

The trouble is, in theory, every hotel could jump on the ‘local’ trend just by virtue of having ‘a location’. So where do we draw the line?

Personally, I don’t think there should be too many rules or lines. As soon as you try to define ‘local’, you get yourself into problems. How long do you have to have lived in a place to be considered local? Or is it less about years, more about lifestyle? If you use a travel-networking site and meet a rich Argentine who lets you stay in their penthouse and takes you to the polo, does that still count as getting ‘the local perspective’? Or perhaps just ‘a’ local perspective? Or is local travel more about where the money goes? And, in that case, how much of that has to be kept in the local economy for a place to be considered a ‘local company’?

For me, ‘local travel’ is more about awareness, personal judgement calls and rethinking the way we have become accustomed to travelling (ie the set routes, cocooned environments and the only-for-tourists experiences). It’s more complicated than a buzz phrase.

Will this make it more than a passing fad? I hope so.

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11 Responses to “How do you define ‘local travel’?”

  1. I agree that it is a hard thing to define and to be honest I’m not even sure it should be defined. Ultimately it’s a very personal thing, some people automatically tend to that style of travel whether it has a name or not, others don’t. And whilst I wholeheartedly agree with there being resources on the web for the “local traveller”, the danger of it becoming a label and getting picked up by evil corporations is only too real. On the other hand, having a name does give wider coverage and allows the more genuine traveller access to a better experience whilst travelling.

    When you meet the 20 year gap year student in Plaza Serrano who insists on describing himself as a “local traveller”, that’s when know to find a new name :o)

  2. You make some insightful points, Vicky, although I don’t think we get into ‘problems’ by defining ‘local travel’, we simply begin to explore the complexities and nuances of the concept or genre of travel that I envisage will grow.

    For me, it’s about experiencing a destination, culture, places, and people, through the eyes of a ‘local’ whether they’re rich or poor, old or young, left or right, a national or expat, and so on. There are always going to be so many different experiences based on all those different perspectives, and no single experience will be more ‘local’ than another if seen or experienced through the perspective of someone who lives there.

    The important thing is to get off-the-beaten-track and out of the tourist zones and by doing so, give something back to the ordinary people who live there, not necessarily those who work in tourism and hospitality. So it’s also a question of sustainability as much as it is of experience for me.

    The guidebooks (and here’s where I have to declare myself as having been the author of over 40 guidebooks for various publishers) don’t *always* get it wrong. Many books are written by people who’ve lived in the place for a long time, and increasingly in recent years many books have been including interviews with locals and boxes covering off-the-beaten-track neighbourhoods to explore. And one source of our research has always been locals, especially ‘qualified’ locals – we got restaurant tips from chefs, bar suggestions from locals, shopping tips from fashion designers, etc.

    But, for me, one of the problems with guidebooks is that the inclusion of a place in a handful of guidebooks ultimately changes the nature of the place and its people. Guidebooks also take the fun out of exploring and discovery to some extent. Some people become so obsessed with ticking off the must-do experiences and highlights in guidebooks, they don’t do enough exploring of their own. They would probably discover the same, similar, and even better places, by interacting more with locals and having a richer experience for doing so.

    And these are reasons why we’ve embarked on Grantourismo this year, and we’re not using guidebooks this year – to encourage people to ‘go local’.

  3. Gosh, sorry for the novel! I think my response to your post was almost as long as your post! 🙁

  4. Haha, don’t worry Lara. Love to hear your thoughts. I agree that the ‘problems’ that occur when we try to pin down ‘local travel’ are a good thing. They get people really talking about travel, whereas I think there has been a tendency to sleepwalk into it in recent times. I maybe didn’t make it clear enough that I think the debate is vital and could actually stop it getting misunderstood or narrow.

    I’ve definitely noticed a trend for tapping into local knowledge in guidebooks and other media, particularly among the more clued-up brands. I agree that guidebooks are brilliant resources but we should think outside them too.

    Good to see Grantourismo promoting local travel too!

    By Vicky Baker on Mar 16, 2010 | Reply
  5. Agreed! Although, don’t underestimate a 20-year-old gapper. They could just as easily get the idea.

    I’m just teasing. I know what you mean. It could just become the ‘in’ thing to tell people and that’s a bit of a worry. Although not, I guess, if this means the general principles have caught on.

    By Vicky Baker on Mar 16, 2010 | Reply
  6. The question on this post really got my attention because I started thinking about that to me the definition for local travel is to get to know people from that culture, going off-the-beaten-path places and try the traditional and local cuisine. Nice post!

  7. It’s interesting to read that the debate about the need to define (or not) what we mean by local travel is now more actual than ever. Last May, after reading a very interesting article by Stephen Chapman of Make Travel Fair, I wrote a blog post called “Words matter: on “local travel” and other catchphrases” ( Contrary to what I understand some of you think, I do believe that defining the issue is very important or we will end up in the same relativism that, in the end, produces buzz words rather than “principles”.
    Of course I am not saying that there should be a “universal definition” or a set of rules, but just that we should agree more than we do now on where to draw the line.
    Nice post as usual Vicky!

  8. Perhaps, a local traveller can be best described as someone who travels with the purpose of meeting locals and a genuine interest to get to know them. Defining local travel by the type of accommodation is to shallow, in my opinion. After all, you are always staying somewhere – locally. Apart from that, even in couchsurfing networks guests (especially if they travel in pairs or groups) tend to stick together and don’t necessarily learn from the local community. Leaving alone the fact that many – if not the majority – of couchsurfing members actually are no locals at all but people drawn to the place they live in for purposes of study or work. In Barcelona, for example, the most active couchsurfers use to be from Argentina and other South American countries …

    I will also post about this important and overdue discussion on my sustainability blog at Feel free to comment.

  9. It’s interesting to read that the debate about the need to define (or not) what we mean by local travel is now more actual than ever. Last May, after reading a very interesting article by Stephen Chapman of Make Travel Fair, I wrote a blog post called “Words matter: on “local travel” and other catchphrases”
    Daniel North

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