Why 'Live Like A Local' Is Actually Brilliant Advice — And How To Really Do It

Photo: @suttonandgrove

This summer, mbg is celebrating travel that really goes the distance. Our new Transformative Travel series will spotlight how to forge meaningful connections on the road and carry life-changing insights back home as souvenirs. Today, we’re hearing from Jill Matthews, an expert in eco-fashion and conscious consumerism, on how you can actually live like a local on your next vacay.

Last year, my husband Luke and I decided that we wanted to take the plunge: We'd sell our belongings, pack our bags, and travel around the world. We went into the experience with two overarching goals: First, we wanted to learn as much as we could from the cultures and people we encountered. And second, we would use our time on the road to find out what it means to truly live like a local.

To give you a bit of background, for the past two and a half years we have run a blog called Sutton + Grove, where we work with small, conscious brands to share their stories. It's always been exciting to read about these people, but as time went on I began to think, "Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could go and actually meet them?"

On the road, we met makers in Krakow, Poland; Berlin, Germany; Phnom Penh, Cambodia; and Indonesia. Looking back, one thing that fascinated me about a lot of the makers we met on our journey was their outlook. Our Western culture is all about go-go-go—reaching goals and then new goals—but the majority of the people we talked to were just content. They were happy with what they had and what they were doing.

Photo: Sutton + Grove

For instance, when we visited Tess, the owner of a brand called Love Stories Bali, we got a glimpse into Balinese culture. Tess partners with local artisans who specialize in traditional Batik hand-painting, natural dying, and sewing to create sustainable pajamas, and she gives 100 percent of her proceeds to local schools to integrate sustainability into their lesson plans.

During our visit to Bali, we went into these local schools and taught a little art lesson with the kids, visited Ratna—one of Tess's community partners—at her Batik hand-painting and dying workshop, and popped into a local dying shop. Crossing paths with all these beautiful Balinese people, even just briefly, was such an incredible experience because it gave us a glimpse of what it's like to live in someone else's shoes for a day, and their passions came through immediately. You can read about other cultures all you want, but to truly see them up close, to see how they live, how they work, what makes them smile—it is something else entirely.

When you step out of the normal and comfortable and move into the creative and bold, you experience authenticity you wouldn't have found before. And you don’t need to be a blogger, own a business, or have a ton of money to do something similar yourself. All it takes is a creative and open mind and the willingness to try something new. If you're hungry for some out-of-the-box exploration, here are a few ways to find it on your next trip:

Photo: Sutton + Grove

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1. Make online pen pals.

Let's be real: Instagram and Facebook are basically the modern-day pen-pal platforms. They allow you to connect with people from all over the world, so why not reach out to some of the accounts you love to follow in other parts of the world? Who knows, maybe you can plan a meet-up or snag some of their top tips for experiencing something different.

2. Look into organized volunteer trips.

For those of us who crave structure, there are several websites and organizations that are all about setting up organized short- or long-term volunteer trips or work-abroad trips that you can join. Some examples include Projects Abroad, Go Overseas, International Volunteer HQ, Go Eco, and Volunteers Without Borders.

3. Join e-communities for creatives.

Getting involved in online communities like Create & Cultivate, Rising Tide, and Yellow Co. is a great way to connect with creative, passionate people around the world—and they'll often put on conferences and organized trips you can join, as well as more budget-friendly digital meet-ups.

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4. Live like a local and seek out artisans.

Hit up Airbnb wherever you are staying or ask around once you’re in the city if locals know of the best places to stay if you're going on a longer trip. Always, always, always ask around for the best local spots to eat. See if anyone you come across has recommendations for local markets or artisan shops.

5. Seek out communal spaces.

When you are in a new place, look up communal workspaces or visit local coffee shops. These will typically host cool events you can pop into as well.

Next up in transformative travel: Learn how a trip to Japan turned one woman into a lifelong minimalist.

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