Unearth the joys of interacting with local people. Joanna Booth reports

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If you think escorted tours are mainly about sitting on a coach, think again. Peering at a destination through the glass of a window just won’t cut the mustard, and operators are finding new ways to help clients really get under the skin of wherever they’re visiting. And there’s no better way than by interacting with local people.

Opportunities to do this are increasing. For 2013, G Adventures has launched a Local Living style of trip, while Bales Worldwide is introducing a volunteering adventure in Kenya, combining travel with helping local communities.

Trafalgar Tours has a range of Be My Guest experiences, where guests visit local homes, with options including cooking lessons at a Mexican hacienda, afternoon tea on an Irish sheep farm, and wildlife photography lessons on a private ranch in Wyoming.

These interactions can be brief or immersive, so clients can pick what suits them, from homestays and learning experiences to something as simple as lunch.

LOCAL FLAVOUR



Cuisine is part and parcel of culture, so sitting down to share indigenous food with local people is a great way to really get under a destination’s skin. Many operators offer meals in family homes and, increasingly, the chance to learn to cook it, too.

Vietnamese cuisine is growing in popularity in the UK as the destination becomes a more established holiday choice. On The Go Tours’ 10-day Very Vietnam tour (pictured, page 39) includes a bicycle ride to see village life – guests learn about age-old farming practices and traditional medicine, and tend the fields before creating some local dishes.

Clients who loved the historical best-seller The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – currently being turned into a movie starring Kate Winslet – should book a place on Insight Vacations’ Easy Pace Channel Islands. The seven-day tour includes a cookery class on how to prepare a potato peel pie and other ration book recipes, followed by a tasting.

NEW SKILLS



Learning a new skill gives travellers the opportunity to interact with locals and take home a party trick to show off.Collette Worldwide’s 10-day Highlights of China itinerary gives guests the chance to learn tai chi morning exercises with the locals, pick up a little Chinese calligraphy from a master scribe and take part in a tea ceremony.

Those who book a place on Intrepid Travel’s three-day Dreamtime Discovery, out of Cairns, Australia, are taught how to throw a spear, track wildlife in the bush, and hear Dreamtime legends and explore ancestral rock art with an Aboriginal elder.

On G Adventures’ seven-day Ecuador Jungle Local Living tour, visitors stay with a local Quichua family in the Amazon rainforest, learning to canoe and use a blowgun.

Families can sleep under the stars in a camp at Wadi Rum, join a cooking class, make soap and take an Arabic lesson during The Adventure Company’s new 10-day Canyons & Bedouin Adventure, which is suitable for kids over 12.

On Journeys Of Distinction’s 23-day Very Best of South America tour, clients can blend, bottle and label their own wine in the vineyards of Mendoza, Argentina, and then stay on an estancia and watch gauchos demonstrate their horsemanship.

Budding Santa’s little helpers will enjoy Cosmos Tours & Cruises’ three and four-night winter breaks in Norway. In addition to the opportunity to see the northern lights, a killer whale safari and fishing on the fjords, visitors will spend a day at a reindeer farm learning about Sami culture, feeding the reindeer and learning how to throw a lasso.

TRAVEL TOGETHER



Luckily for travellers everywhere, not all forms of public transport are as unfriendly as the London Underground.

Taking local transport can be a great way to get chatting, something guests who have travelled with Wendy Wu Tours on itineraries that include train journeys can attest to. Try the 11-day China by Rail or the 28-day China Encounters itineraries, both of which include overnight travel by train. All

Wendy Wu trips that go through Beijing include a tour of the ‘Hutongs’ led by guides who live in these narrow alleyways, and visit a local family to enjoy a home-cooked meal.

Explore’s 18-day South India Explorer journeys overland from the Coromandel Coast to Goa, travelling by bus, train and boat through tranquil backwaters and cool mountain ranges before hitting tropical sandy beaches. The tour includes a one-night homestay with a local family, too.

Dig Beneath The Surface

HELPING OUT



Some clients want not only to meet local people but also to make a positive impact on their lives.

Bales’ new volunteering tours include the 10-day Kenya Volunteering Discovery, which combines game drives, visits to local villages and markets, and afternoons spent helping to build a school and a health centre for a Maasai community.

Exodus’s 11-day Zambia Volunteer trip includes staying with a family in a community 18 miles north of Lusaka, and helping out by teaching English or sport, or working on the school buildings, before heading into neighbouring Zimbabwe to enjoy game drives and walking safaris.