How to Change the Way You Vacation

“Why would you want to vacation in Nepal?”

This was a question that I got asked multiple times when I told people of my travel plans for the summer. It’s a fair question, I suppose; it was the summer of 2015, so Nepal had just been hit with the Gorkha earthquake. The country basically consisted of rubble, debris and heartache – not exactly qualities the typical family looks for in a vacation spot.

However, my family has never adhered to the typical definition of “vacation.” We’ve never been on a group tour of the city, we don’t typically travel to somewhere only to lie out on the beach, and we definitely don’t just sightsee.

So maybe we don’t actually use traveling to “vacation.” Instead, my family uses traveling as a way to see how people of other cultures in these various countries actually live. By abstaining from the typical tourist activities and partaking in day-to-day life events with locals in each of the countries we visited, I was able to develop a unique world perspective and an appreciation for differences.

Although it is the only type of vacationing I have ever known, I believe others should attempt to adapt the way they vacation because of the endless benefits this method allows.

My Experiences

The first major trip I made with my family was to Thailand at the age of eight. Some of our itinerary included learning from a family in Chiang Mai how to shrimp fish and harvest rice, eating with them in their humble home and volunteering at a local school.

Visiting Nepal when I was 17 took my experiences to another level. When we decided to go to Nepal shortly after the earthquake occurred to volunteer at a small school, my dad informed me and my sister that we would be staying with a family – who we would later find out spoke practically no English – in their home in the Himalayas.

I’ll never forget the “what did you get us into” look I gave my dad when our Nepalese host pointed practically straight up to the top of a mountain and said, “That’s my house right there.” Maybe I was just out of shape, but I never thought I’d make it to the top of that mountain. It took everything in me not to burst into tears. We turned each corner only to be faced with more stairs and no end in sight.

I survived, despite what my lungs told me, and the next few days totally changed my outlook on life. The family we were staying with (and everyone else in Nepal) had just experienced a tragedy greater than almost anyone could ever imagine. Yet they welcomed us into their home, cooked us amazing meals on the fire and let us observe and experience their world, all with the most genuine smiles on their faces.

Not to mention that they ran up and down those stairs with ease to get to the village’s only market – not complaining once.

I would not be the person I am today if it weren’t for that trip. This travel experience allowed me to become more humble, appreciative and socially aware. It’s one thing to read articles about other countries and their experiences, but it’s another thing entirely to experience it firsthand.

How to Gain These Experiences

I am lucky enough to have a father that actively tried to expose me and my sisters to all this world has to offer, but it may seem a little overwhelming to others who have never vacationed this way before. It doesn’t have to be.

  1. Use Airbnb. Airbnb allows you to stay with locals in their homes wherever you visit, providing for an extremely unique experience – something you won’t get staying in a five-star hotel. Staying with locals will give you inside knowledge on cool spots to visit, a real life perspective on what it’s like living in that place and friends around the world.
  2. Research volunteering opportunities. There are countless websites, such as International Volunteer HQ, Raleigh International and Greenheart Travel, that provide opportunities to travel and volunteer in a variety of foreign countries. Volunteering abroad allows you to get a feel for how people around the world live in addition to giving back. There’s nothing like it.
  3. Explore. It sounds dumb, but some of my favorite memories from traveling are walking around the city, trying hole-in-the-wall restaurants, attempting to communicate with locals who didn’t speak English, experiencing street music and not worrying about getting lost. If you act like a local, you just might get the local experience.

My family seems to have a tendency to seek out the unknown, and I’m forever grateful for it. This world (and the people in it) have more to offer than any of us will ever fully be able to experience, but getting out there and trying to see as much of it as I can is one of my main goals in life. I hope you consider making it one of yours, too.

Photos courtesy of Savannah Phillips.