The Pull of Place: Traveling Like a Temporary Local
Written by Lisa Montanaro | October 15, 2010

What is it about a place that tugs at our heartstrings and pulls us towards it? For those of you that love to travel, as I do, the pull of place can be very strong. For some people, a vacation is a time to relax, take a break from the daily grind of life, and “veg” out. For others, however, it is an opportunity to immerse yourself in another culture, taste unfamiliar (and delicious!) food, marvel at beautiful art and architecture, and appreciate and better understand history. For me, travel has always been about the latter. Yes, there are times when I go on vacation just to be on vacation. But to be honest, they are rare. Usually, I can take any place I visit and find the adventure in it and treat it as an enriching travel experience. I see travel as a learning experience and the world as my laboratory.

While I have many favorite locations that I have visited, I must admit that I am a bit obsessed with Europe. The beauty, culture, languages, food, people, art, architecture, and history combine in a way that is just breathtaking and irresistible to me. Indeed, it is one of my lifetime goals to live there at some point, even for a short period. Until then, I need to satisfy my Europe lust with visits to soak up the place, breathe it in, study it, love it, and try to bring as much of its spirit back home with me to the states.

To date, I have been privileged to study abroad in The Netherlands, as well as visit on vacation the following countries: England, Ireland, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, France and Italy. Most recently, my husband and I took our second trip to France. We spent our honeymoon there 13 years ago in 1997 and wanted to revisit that great experience. On our honeymoon, we stayed in the region of Brittany for a week, and then Paris for a week. This time, we spent a week in the region of Provence, and a week in Paris. While our honeymoon was a wonderful experience, we have evolved in our travel style, and now visit like “temporary locals,” so this trip was downright amazing.

What does it mean to travel like a temporary local? It means traveling to a foreign location with an open mind and willingness to have new experiences. It means trying to speak the language of the country you are visiting and have conversations with the locals. It means trying the food that the region is known for, and preferably, at non-touristy spots. It means trying to blend in as much as possible by respecting the traditions, habits, and values of the culture you are visiting. In other words, not traveling as the quintessential “ugly American,” a term that may sound harsh but is often well-deserved. (Trust me, I’ve experienced Americans traveling in Europe and often times, the whole vibe is not, well, pretty! Loud, demanding, close minded, and dressed a little too shabbily.). One of the benefits of world travel is the eye-opening realization that there are different, and often times, better alternatives to the way we do things here in the states. Appreciating and respecting those differences can add a whole new layer to travel — and to our lives back home.

On our recent trip to France, we did a self-guided bike tour in Provence, which allowed us to visit many beautiful towns and villages, such as Villeneuve-les-Avignon, Uzes, Arles, Les Baux de Provence, Saint-Remy-de-Provence, and Avignon. What a great way to slow down and really experience a region! We stopped and spoke to the locals, ate at little off-the-beaten-path cafes and restaurants, practiced our French, shopped at the many Provencal markets, had impromptu picnics, and even made some new friends along the way. Plus, biking 156 miles through the Alpilles Mountains in 5 days afforded us the added bonus of being able to eat whatever we wanted and not worry about calories (a mindset that we also carried over into our week in Paris!).

Traveling like a temporary local doesn’t mean you will never experience frustrations. We definitely had our share! Before we even took off on this adventure, our smaller dog got sick in the car on the way to the airport, and vomited on our passports (no, I am not joking!). Traveling to Europe from the East Coast often means an overnight flight, which leaves you exhausted when you arrive. The French have a high tolerance for waiting on long lines, which they deem just a normal part of their culture. One of our French friends said that because they have such generous standardized benefits, they respect that each person waits his or her turn to get his or her due. Due to long lines, however, we missed the first train down to Provence, and had to wait hours in the train station for the next, which is not an easy task to do on no sleep!

On the way back to Paris after our week in Provence, we experienced a national strike, which caused our train to be delayed by 6 hours. Thankfully, we had an entire week of practicing the slow, relaxed Provencal way, so we just stored our luggage and spent a wonderful day in Avignon. We watched the “manifestations,” a term that French use to describe the parades and rallies that accompany their strikes (strikes are very common in France). On the train, which was packed to the hilt due to the strike, we weren’t able to sit next to each other. But, this resulted in my husband meeting a wonderful gentleman from Paris, who took us under his wing, giving us tons of insider suggestions that helped enhance our “temporary local” experience in Paris. He even took us to lunch near Notre Dame a few days later at a little spot we would never have found. What a treat!

But the few lows were more than overshadowed by the amazing highs. We rented an apartment in Paris in a very non-touristy area. If you’ve never rented an apartment while  on vacation, I highly recommend it! What a wonderful way to experience living like a local. We had so much more room than we would have had in a hotel, and at a lower price. Our landlord was a gracious host, offering suggestions and making us feel at home. The apartment was classic Parisian in style. We could fool ourselves into thinking, for just one week, that it was our little Parisian pied-a-terre. We chose a neighborhood that the Parisians live and work in, Rue Montorgueil, which happens to be a pedestrian-only cobblestoned market street centrally located in the heart of the city. From our apartment, we could easily walk or take the Metro to see many of the major sights. Nearby, there were bakeries, cafes, fruit markets, and other great local shops all within a few blocks. And when we walked in our neighborhood or had dinner locally, the only language spoken was blessedly, French, which was music to our ears as it meant we were among the locals.

There are already things about our trip that I miss: the wonderful light and vistas of Provence (you can see why so many artists moved there to paint!), the food (baguettes, croissant, chocolate, wine, cheese… yum!), the Parisian style (I think they are born knowing how to wear a scarf), the emphasis on manners (it is so nice to be greeted with ‘Bonjour, Madam’ every time you walk into a store or restaurant). Thankfully, we have our memories and will cherish them. All I have to do is close my eyes and I am back there. And of course, I have 500+ digital photos memorializing the trip too!

So, until I have the opportunity to live in Europe longer than a “temporary local,” I will continue to allow Europe to pull me towards it, and to teach me valuable lessons about different ways of experiencing life.

Meet the Author

Helping others be the best versions of themselves gets me jazzed!

I’ve worn many hats in my lifetime—often at the same time—while enjoying fulfilling careers. I’ve been a performer, teacher, sign language instructor, lawyer, career counselor, law professor, coach, consultant, mediator, entrepreneur, speaker, trainer, writer, and author. 

I’m an eternal optimist and life-long learner, constantly researching ways to improve personal and professional effectiveness. And it brings me great joy to then pass on the results of that persistent curiosity to my clients and audiences. 

Of all the career hats I’ve been privileged to wear, my favorite is owner of this business since 2002. Why? Because it provides me the opportunity to work with wonderful organizational and individual clients. On any given day, I get to connect deeply with audiences, work with dedicated teams, improve workplaces, watch clients have a-ha moments, and know I’ve made a difference in their lives and careers. And that is very satisfying.