Top Tours That Let You Live Like a Local

Many tours allow guests to cook a meal with a local family. // Photo by letterberry/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Travelers looking to immerse themselves in the local culture of their destination have a wide selection of options. From culinary experiences such as sitting down to dinner with a Lanna Family in Thailand, to walking tours that include stops in local markets in Italy and Spain, it is up to the traveler to decide what best suits their interests.

Avanti Destinations offers multiple tours with opportunities to connect with locals, especially on a culinary level. Travel Agent spoke with Harry Dalgaard, president of Avanti, about some of the operators’ latest itineraries. “Many of our ‘meet the locals’ experiences involve eating and cooking together,” says Dalgaard. “Sharing a meal and learning how to make a local specialty are such natural ways for people from different cultures to connect. No matter where you’re from or where you’re traveling, everyone loves good food!”

“We started by offering a meal in a gracious Roman woman’s home three years ago, and because it was so popular we added similar meet and eat'-- or learn to cook -- in a local’s home experiences in other locations throughout Italy. Then we found them in Germany, Greece, Spain, as well as China, Japan, Brazil, Peru and Colombia.”

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Some of Avanti’s newest “meet the locals” food-focused experiences include the “Austria: Coffee and Strudel in a Local’s Home (Vienna),” where guests meet with a local resident near the Hundertwasserhaus for an invitation into her apartment for conversation, homemade strudel and coffee or tea. This experience is priced at $59 per person.

In addition, travelers to Thailand looking to connect with the local community can book Avanti’s new “Thailand: Private Daily Life of a Lanna Family (Chiang Mai)” experience. The small group encounter takes a group of up to seven people on a five-hour tour to a host family outside of Chiang Mai. Clients will have a welcome drink, see traditional architecture, spend time in an orchard and herb garden, learn how to make bamboo baskets and banana leaf cigars and later help the family prepare a home-cooked northern Thai lunch or dinner. The tour is priced at $125 per person.

Also offering experiences with a “meet the locals” focus is Tauck. Travel Agent spoke with Ann Kinner, content editor at Tauck, about some of the operator’s offerings.

“Our on-tour local experiences range from visits with private families to visits with local artisans in their studios and workshops to visits and presentations by chefs in their kitchens to visits with owners of private wineries to private presentations and opportunities with folks like Celia Sandys, Winston Churchill’s granddaughter, and many more.”

Tauck’s Budapest to the Black Sea River Cruise includes an onboard lecture by a local expert meant to provide insight into the country's culture and history. Later guests will dock in the Baroque city of Vukovar, once home to 18th-century mansions, to visit the home of a Vukovar family who have recently returned to resume their lives in the city after the 1990s conflict. Travelers will share homemade refreshments with the family, as well as hold a discussion about life in post-war Croatia. Other experiences during the cruise include a visit to the city of Pécs in Hungary, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, dinner at the Parliament building (the "People's Palace") in Bucharest and passage through the Iron Gate on the Danube River. This 12-day itinerary is priced at $5,290.

Adventurous families looking to connect with the local community of their destination may be interested in Tauck’s “Tanzania: A Grand Family Safari” trip. Along with a hike in Kilimanjaro National Park, game drives in the African Bush and a visit to Ngorongoro Crater, clients will also have a chance to meet the students and teacher at a new primary school that Tauck helps support. Later, guests will learn more about the local Maasai traditions and daily life through crafts and local conservation projects in classes at the Discovery Center, as well as walks with the Center's Maasai staff. The 10-day “Tanzania: A Grand Family Safari” trip is priced at $6,870.

The International Kitchen (TIK) offers several tours with a “meet the locals” vibe as well. We spoke with Adrian Hall, director of business development at TIK, about some of their itineraries that offer unique experiences focused on connecting with the local community and culture.

“One of our trips that does this best is our three-night program ‘Authentic Experience in Piedmont,’ where our travelers stay at a charming family B&B in a rural part of Piedmont foreign tourists would rarely find on their own,” Hall says. “This is a unique opportunity to stay with a local family and experience life like the locals do. Here the owner and host, Francesca, welcomes our TIK clients like old friends, introducing them to her family and friends in town, visiting local shops and food producers to buy ingredients for the cooking lessons, and dining together Italian family style on the terrace overlooking the rolling hills of Piedmont.”

Also on this new itinerary, guests will take hands-on cooking classes focusing on the basics of all Italian cuisine including fresh pasta and desserts like tiramisu, visit the Abbey of Vezzolano and the local village of Cocconato, as well as have a chance to dine in an Egyptian museum, cinema or art gallery. The three-day program is priced at $850 per person.

Hall also told us another of his favorite trips for meeting locals is in southern Italy through TIK’s “A Culinary Adventure in Puglia” experience.

“In Puglia our clients stay on a 'masseria,' which is a local word for a farm centered around an old manor house. Our TIK travelers spend a week at Masseria Salamina, which dates to the 1600s and has been producing extra virgin olive oil for over 400 years. Today it is owned by a brother and sister, Chiara and Filippo, who carry on the traditional olive production in addition to growing most of the food used in their restaurant, and of course for our cooking classes.”

He went on to tell us that when not cooking with Chiara, travelers spend their time with another local, Augusto, who guides guests to local eateries serving authentic Puglian seafood, grilled meats, and fresh vegetables. Also included on the itinerary are stops to villages including Ostuni, Matera, and Polignano a Mare. This six-day program is priced at $2,700 per person.

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