Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

How to Get Genuine Local Experiences

by | December 11, 2020

Diving into the local culture is an important component of WOW trips.  After all, the best trips connect you with interesting local people and help you experience their worlds.  So we’re sharing some of our readers’ favorite moments as a reinvigorating reminder of the reasons we travel—and of what’s waiting for us when we can get back out there again. (For a personalized trip recommendation so you can start dreaming of your own special moments, talk to us at Ask Wendy.)

Go where the tourists aren’t

 Dancing with the Chiawa Power Kittens girls dance club in Zambia

Girls show off their dance moves at an empowerment club in Zambia. Photo: Tim Baker

“We just returned from a trip to Zambia planned by Cherri, and I feel as though I’m returning from a dream. Mfuwe Lodge in South Luangwa Park was wonderful! We fell asleep to the sound of hippos munching on cabbage…in fact, one night our neighbors (the hippos) got a little rowdy with their antics. What a memory! We next traveled to the lower Zambezi. Cherri understood that we were not only interested in a safari but also in understanding life in the area and what is being done to raise up the life of the people living in the lower Zambezi. Cherri and her husband met us and took us to a number of projects they work on: a clinic, a coop farm, girls’ clubs…. It was such a special, meaningful day. Cherri also arranged for a day of fishing on the Zambezi, then enjoying our catch at dinner!” —Deborah Wente

Read reviews of Cherri, and then contact her to maximize your trip to Africa. You’ll be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Spend time with the people who live there

Valena Zalanului, guesthouses, Romania

Valena Zalanului, guesthouses, Romania.

“We were attracted to Romania by the biennial George Enescu Festival of classical music. Raluca secured us tickets and also suggested a week or so in Transylvania and several days in the Danube Delta. We found Transylvania to be much more than Dracula: We had dinner with a Saxon family in Vescri, complete with geese parading by and freshly picked vegetables; a trip to an iron mason who made us a trophy horseshoe on his forge; a dinner with a Hungarian herbalist; and, probably most fascinating, a meal with a gypsy family where we could ask any questions we wanted to about their lives in Romania. In Bucharest, where the Festival was held, our local guide whom Raluca selected for us, Andrei, shared stories about living under Communism and what is currently going on in his country. We visited Ceaucescu’s palatial home, saw the hidden gems of Bucharest, and ate several gourmet meals, including a seven-course meal designed for the Enescu Festival where each course was explained to us personally by the award-winning chef! The Danube Delta was a fascinating surprise. It is the largest wetland in Europe, and our guesthouse was accessible only by boat. We rode privately along canals both wide and narrow, into small inlets and lakes, observing swans, ducks, pelicans, and loons close up, with no one else in sight. Romania is a gem and deserves much more acclaim. We thank Raluca for making our three-week visit spectacular.” —Susan Duncan

Read reviews of Raluca, and then contact her to maximize your trip to Israel. You’ll be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Hit up the best local sources

“A year ago we booked a small-group tour of Jordan and Lebanon, and I had assumed we would use the travel agency who planned that trip for our own extension to Israel afterward. I worked with that (very reputable) agency for most of the year but could not get them to design the trip I wanted. After months of delays, and sleepless nights because I didn’t feel like they were listening, I said to my husband, ‘I’m going to write to Wendy Perrin.’  And so I did.  The very next day I heard from Jonathan, and he understood exactly what I wanted. Within days we had a wonderful week-long adventure planned. First, we spent two nights in the desert at the Hotel Beresheet, in a gorgeous room overlooking the makhtesh. The next two nights we stayed at the Mamilla Hotel in Jerusalem and met with two well-known journalists with whom we could discuss politics: a retired colonel who had designed the fences surrounding Jerusalem (we drove with him as he described the process), and a member of the ultra-Orthodox community who showed us around Mea Shearim. Our last three nights were in Tel Aviv at The Norman Hotel, a wonderful place in a wonderful neighborhood. Jonathan’s restaurant planning was sensational: He provided a curated list of restaurants and made our reservations. He also provided, when I asked, a list of Jordanian restaurants (the other agency had sent me a link to Lonely Planet). This was a lovely trip: intellectually stimulating but at the same time relaxing.” —Salena Kern

Read reviews of Jonathan, and then contact him to maximize your trip to Israel. You’ll be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Enjoy unique experiences that other travelers miss

The floating village, caled Komprongpok, on the water of Tonle Sap lake. Cambodia.

The floating village Komprongpok, on the water of Tonle Sap lake, Cambodia. Photo: Shutterstock

“I am a very experienced and highly independent traveler who seeks out diving deep into the local culture, history, nature, politics, and food of a country, with an emphasis on ‘off the beaten track.’ From soup to nuts, our WOW List specialist put together precisely the trip to Laos and Cambodia that I had described that I wanted. The hotels were all excellent (winning the most over-the-top ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’ prize was the Nam Kat Yorla Pa resort in Oudomxay). The five local guides and drivers were the ‘secret sauce’ for my experience. They all possessed encyclopedic knowledge of the region (Phnom Penh, Battambang, Siem Reap, Pakse, Luang Prabang, and Northern Laos) and were friendly, flexible, and attentive. Trip highlights included meeting one of only two living survivors from the Tuol Sleng prison, seeing the endangered fresh-water Irrawaddy dolphins, and a spontaneous invitation from locals to party with their extended family during the Luang Prabang boat festival. This trip checked all the boxes.” —Pam Farmer

Ask Wendy to find the right specialist to maximize your experience in Cambodia and Laos. You’ll be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Join in local traditions

Kenya Maasai Warrior with tourist child

A Kenya Maasai warrior. Photo: Ann Wilkinson

“When I was planning a three-generation family trip of a lifetime to Africa, Wendy recommended I contact Nina. She proved the perfect travel expert to craft an itinerary with special attention to my 5-year-old grandson. Her recommendation of Kenya, with its colorful and fascinating culture in addition to the wealth of wildlife, proved spot-on. She thoughtfully listened to my interests, as well as always keeping in mind the most appropriate activities for the little one, and our conversations led to a superb itinerary that was exciting for each and every family member. As soon as the airplane door opened, we were whisked through customs, setting the stage for a seamless continuum of travel logistics. The camps Nina recommended all went out of their way to entertain my grandson. At one camp, he got to join the Maasai while they performed their ‘adumu’ (jumping) dance. I will forever carry the memory of him jumping with the Maasai beside the campfire, with the African sunset on the horizon. Finally, thank you for a very special WOW Moment. During one game drive we were thrilled to suddenly come upon a beautifully set table in the bush and full staff on hand to provide us with a fabulous bush breakfast. Thanks to Nina, Dan, and you, Wendy, the trip exceeded our dreams. Asante sana!” —Ann Wilkinson

Read reviews of Nina and Dan, and then contact them to maximize your trip to Africa. You’ll be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Break free from the beaten path

View to Lugano city, Lugano lake and Monte San Salvatore from Monte Bre, Ticino, Switzerland - Image

View to Lugano city, Lugano lake and Monte San Salvatore from Monte Bre, Ticino, Switzerland. Photo: Shutterstock

Nina did a fantastic job of listening to our preferences to avoid the usual tourist spots and spend time off the beaten path. The hotels she suggested were exceptional. The views from our rooms at Villa Orselina and Coeur des Alpes were amazing, and we truly enjoyed the mountain-hut experience at Guarda Val. The guides they picked for us were great, particularly Anna in Ticino, who led us on a magical walk through the Bavona Valley; Nikki in Zermatt, who was a delight and took us on a great hike and gave us ideas for our next two days of hiking; and Albert in Zurich, who suggested a side trip to Rapperswil that was very enjoyable. Nina’s suggestion of a first-class Swiss rail pass was excellent: We used it for boat rides in Ascona, Zurich and Lucerne, a bus ride in Ticino, and side train trips to Bellinzona, Lucerne, and Rapperswil. Well worth it! Restaurant suggestions were all excellent, from dinner in the castle in Bellinzona to dinner on the terrace of Sonnmatten in Zermatt. An exceptional trip.” —Gary Reading

Read reviews of Nina, and then contact her to maximize your trip to Switzerland. You’ll be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Meet guides who have a personal connection to the sites you’re visiting

Saint Isaac Cathedral across Moyka river, St Petersburg, Russia

Saint Isaac Cathedral across Moyka river, St Petersburg, Russia. Photo: Shutterstock

“Two things really set our trip to St. Petersburg apart: First, the guide that Greg picked for us, Eugenia, was AMAZING and a delight to our three pre-teen/teenage boys. We learned all about her fascinating family. Eugenia’s grandfather was the official photographer at the Hermitage, and she knows the museum like her own home. We spent seven magical hours there with her, and I’d gladly spend another seven magical days! She also adjusted our plans on the fly so we could fit in the Fabergé Museum and helped us know what to look for in the ballet Giselle before we went. Second, the itinerary was very thoughtful, given our interests. For example, the Peterhof tour included the grottoes (where we went from massive crowds to serenity in seconds!) and Monplaisir Palace but not the crowded main house. For us, this was perfect. Also, the Museum of Political History was fascinating, given our interests, and we understand that it doesn’t get included on many shorter itineraries. The built-in flexibility in the Hermitage day was also ideal. It was an amazing trip!” —Jonathan Marek

Read reviews of Greg, and then contact him to maximize your trip to Russia. You’ll be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Venture into the countryside and learn about local farming

Old native american woman wearing authentic aymara clothes and showing fresh potato.

Visit a cocoa plantation. Photo: Shutterstock

Allie was well informed about the different liveaboard options and itineraries in the Galapagos. She got us booked on our first-choice ship, the Alya, at a far better rate than the published price! She also understood our desire to experience the real culture of Ecuador and arranged wonderful day trips to the countryside and coastal areas near Guayaquil and the mountain communities near Quito. Our visits to local farms, a banana plantation, and a cocoa plantation were memorable. Every day the food was better than the day before, and our accommodations at historic hotels and haciendas were more than expected—especially at La Casona de la Ronda in Quito’s historic old town. Tricia celebrated her birthday on the day we left the Galapagos and arrived in Quito, and both the ship’s and the hotel’s staffs were informed of this and had small complimentary celebrations for her birthday. Such a nice surprise!” —Stephen & Tricia Lincoln

Read reviews of Allie, and then contact her to maximize your trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos. You’ll be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Taste your way through a neighborhood

Caves Legrande is one of the oldest wine shops in Paris

Caves Legrande is one of the oldest wine shops in Paris. Photo: Caves Legrande

Jennifer had a great feel for the kind of experience of Paris that my husband and I desired. We had an incredible food tour in Saint-Germain-des-Prés and a private cooking class with a chef who taught us how to prepare the most amazing duck recipes per our request. He also took us food shopping prior to the class; visiting all of the little shops in Paris for bread, cheese, wine, and our duck was a treat! In addition, Jennifer was able to secure some very hard-to-get dinner reservations; we were able to dine everywhere on my wish list. Lastly, thank you, Wendy, for an incredible WOW Moment! Jennifer arranged our surprise WOW Moment at the oldest wine shop in Paris. We were guided to a beautiful shop in a charming neighborhood and into a private room for a wine tasting with a sommelier who said he was opening bottles that he had actually never been able to taste himself before, as they were that rare. He was thrilled with our WOW Moment too!” —Tina Sarafa

Read reviews of Jennifer, and then contact her to maximize your trip to Paris. You’ll be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Spend time with community leaders

Iron Chain Bridge of Tamchog Lhakhang Monastery, Paro River, Bhutan

Iron Chain Bridge of Tamchog Lhakhang Monastery, Paro River, Bhutan. Photo: Shutterstock

“Our days in Nepal and Bhutan were filled with very special moments that only someone with Toni’s experience and familiarity could have arranged. We had tea with a Bhutanese expert on Gross National Happiness. We watched monks create a mandala over many hours and then allow us the privilege of immediately destroying it to illustrate impermanence. We raised prayer flags on the hike to Tiger’s Nest and participated in an archery match in a Bhutanese farmhouse. We were personally blessed by the Living Goddess (Patan Kumari) in Nepal, learned about singing bowls, met with an astrologer, visited temples and stupas and dzongs, watched young monks in school and had a Q&A tea with the principal, and flew to Mt. Everest to see the Himalayas up close. And, because Toni founded READ Global, we visited the READ (Rural Education and Development) office managing expansion of library community centers across Nepal and Bhutan. It was a wonderful trip, focused on immersion in both countries’ cultures. We came away educated and fascinated. ” —Donna DeSantis

Read reviews of Toni, and then contact her to maximize your trip to Nepal and Bhutan. You’ll be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Forge new friendships while cooking dinner together

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Sunrise at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Photo by Melissa Yee.

“My husband and I had the trip of a lifetime that was perfectly planned and executed by Sandy and his team. We visited Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia for two weeks. The planning alone with the number of internal flights, hotel and guides was flawless. Sandy gave us so much planning material on each country before the trip so we were well versed in all three countries. Luang Prabang was nothing short of delightful, and Paan was a fantastic guide and host. The Mekong cruise to her village and to the Buddha caves was stunning. One of the biggest highlights of this trip was helping cook Paan’s family dinner at her house. Her family was nothing short of amazing in welcoming us—the food was delicious and the rice whiskey was fantastic. The dinner really got interesting after that! Paan was so kind and generous and gave us two embroidered small weaves for our anniversary. We really liked Cambodia too. Our great guide through Angkor Wat kept us away from all the tourists, and his knowledge was astonishing. Both my husband and I went to the monastery on the hill before sunrise with the monks and Khana. We had a private blessing from the monks and a breakfast outside the temple as the sun was rising. An unforgettable experience.” —Sandy and Art Collins

Read reviews of Sandy, and then contact him to maximize your trip to Southeast Asia. You’ll be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Connect through hiking and conversation

The hiking trail at the top of Diamond Hill in Connemara National Park, Ireland. Behind, the sun plays with the clouds reflected in the sea. - Image

Diamond Hill, Connemara National Park, Ireland. Photo: Shutterstock

“Our priorities in Ireland were a two-hour hike each day (which meant more countryside than cities) and to be based at each hotel for at least three to four days and make day trips. Jonathan planned a wonderful trip. My husband is passionate about plants, so Jonathan arranged an excellent private tour for him in the Burren. We both loved a private demonstration of sheep herding with border collies. The hotels were top-notch, especially Ballynahinch Castle, in Connemara, and Gregans Castle, in the Burren. But most important for us was Will, our driver-guide, who was very knowledgeable and extremely flexible, so that our itinerary was revised several times as we thought of additional things we wanted to do. We had a fabulous trip to Inisheer, one of the smaller, less touristy Aran Islands. We hiked to our heart’s content, then had lunch on picnic tables in front of a house where a woman was cooking lobsters and crab claws in her kitchen. We visited a donkey sanctuary after I fell in love in with two rescue donkeys that the owner of Gregans Castle had from that sanctuary. And we had edifying conversations with Will about everything under the sun.” —Muki Fairchild

Read reviews of Jonathan, and then contact him to maximize your trip to Ireland. You’ll be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Connect through food, wine, and music

Man playing the Spanish guitar - Image

Spanish guitar, Spain. Photo: Shutterstock

“I used Pablo to arrange a celebration trip to Spain—Barcelona, San Sebastian, and Madrid—for my son and his wife for their 2nd wedding anniversary. One of their interests was to try different exclusive restaurants and wineries, and Pablo was able to secure reservations at three Michelin-star restaurants. He arranged tours of boutique-style wineries, including a special wine-tour bike ride in Barcelona. Since my son is a guitar enthusiast, Pablo arranged for a Spanish guitar lesson and also got him into a special Flamenco show. Pablo had the ability to secure unique, private, and culturally enriching activities, allowing my son and daughter-in-law to experience Spanish cuisine and culture in a way that I am sure would not have been possible otherwise.” —Jeffrey Bernfield

Read reviews of Pablo, and then contact him to maximize your trip to Spain. You’ll be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

Connect through art, sports, and temple life

sumo wrestlers training in Tokyo Japan

Earthen dohyo training ring for wrestlers at a sumo stable in the Ryogoku district of Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Ben Simmons

Scott arranged every precise detail of our two weeks in Japan; so that we enjoyed a unique trip filled with cultural insights and experiences of day-to-day life. In Tokyo we visited the food market, rode the subways, explored department stores, and went to sporting events. Scott obtained tickets for an evening baseball game of the home-town favorite Tokyo Giants vs. the Hanshin Tigers, and also arranged a visit to a Sumo stable, where we saw the wrestlers up close as they practiced. In Kyoto we met privately with a monk who showed us meditation techniques in a Buddhist Temple, and we toured ceramics studios with a well-known expert in the field. But what made this trip most special was our private English-speaking guide, whom Scott hand-picked for us. She was the most experienced and professional guide we have ever had, and we saw Japan through her lovely, smiling eyes!” —Kathy Drew

Read reviews of Scott, and then contact him to maximize your trip to Japan. You’ll be marked as a VIP and get the best possible trip.

We’re Here to Help

If you’re thinking about a trip during Covid, write to Ask Wendy. We know which trip-planning specialists have up-to-the-minute intel for your destination and can ensure that your entire trip is safe, smart, and extraordinary. Check out Real Trips Right Now to see the difference that this makes. For future (post-Covid) trips, use The WOW List to find the best destination specialist for your needs.


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