No one knows a destination or a city better than someone who lives there. No matter how long you are going to stay in a place as a tourist, you will never get to know that same place as well as a local does. It is a fact, and it doesn’t have to do with how good of a traveler or how experienced you are.
Don’t get me wrong. We all try our best when preparing for a trip, and some times we even manage to find very detailed information online and offline. But living in a place gives you a whole different type of knowledge.
When you live somewhere for long enough you end up knowing a lot about that place, what it has to offer and where to find things, what time to go to a specific site and when you should avoid it, and so forth, especially if you have a particular field of interest like contemporary art. For example, I currently live in Florence, not exactly one of the top destinations for contemporary art, but I can name you enough places around here to put together at the very least a 2-days itinerary.
On the other hand, sometimes we don’t have enough time to do our research before a trip, or we just don’t know where to look. Some other times you look on the internet, and all you can find are the same few places. And then there are times when you run out of things to do and you need some advice. In each of the above situations, asking a local is the right move!
There are a bunch of ways to ask a local, and my favorite will forever be asking face to face. Meeting someone new, especially while traveling, and hanging around with them, is the best, funniest, and most interesting way to experience a place.
But sometimes we just need a little extra help. So here are my favorite tools to meet with locals, especially if you are looking for contemporary art.
I have personally used Airbnb experiences a few times since the platform launched the service a couple of years ago. And I have to say it is a great service. Not only you can find a whole bunch of different types of activities, from food tours to art-related ones, shopping, photographers, and so on. But it is also easy to use and very user friendly.
All you have to do is signing up on Airbnb and search for “experiences” in your destination. You can filter them by type (food, fashion, art, etc.) and time. You can read reviews, see pictures, and get to know your host beforehand. They provide detailed information about the activity and the host, giving you the chance to meet with likeminded people. I used it in Tokyo and New York, where I met fellow curators and art advisors, that introduced me to some real hidden gems in both cities.
Airbnb is a reliable platform and it can count on a huge number of people using it. This gives you the chance to always find interesting tours and people, especially if you are looking for contemporary art related activities. Here you can find curators that offer gallery tours, art lovers that will introduce you to the local art scene, street art tours, and also artists that will open up their studios for you and will teach you everything, from photography to pottery, engraving, or painting.
Pros: easy to use, many different activities
Cons: it can be a little expensive at times
We all got to know the Couchsurfing platform a few years back when it was launched as the place where backpackers and adventurous travelers could find free accommodation. Ever since its launch in 2004, it has evolved quite a lot and not always in the right direction.
I have used Couchsurfing a few times, as a surfer or just to find people to hang around with. In Seoul for example, I found this lovely guy, Kim, a historian that organized free walking tours. It was a nice platform for meeting people, both for a museum visit or a night out.
Unfortunately, the platform has had, and still has, its fair share of problems, mostly concerning payments and funding. As of now, because of losses due to Covid-19, it is required to pay a monthly or yearly subscription fee to access the website and app. And this quite honestly doesn’t look very worth to me.
It was a great service, and hopefully, when we’ll recover from this weird period, it’ll be back to what it was.
Pros: widely popular, you can find accommodation, tours, events, and many other things.
Cons: the monthly fee and the subsequent decrease in popularity, plus not many specifically art-related events
This is a new home-sharing service launched by the Copenaghen based group Wooloo.org. I haven’t tried it yet, but it looks very interesting and I can’t wait to test it. The core idea is that they provide you not just with a platform to find accommodation, but they match you with the right community or person. The platform is opened and directed at creatives, art lovers, and art professionals, so if you are part of this world you are guaranteed to find someone like you.
The Human Hotel works like other similar platforms. You sign up either as a guest or a host (or both), browse a location, and choose a place to stay. What they offer though is completely different. They curate for you a selection of hosts and they have a special algorithm to match you with the right people for you. This way you can have a much better experience, you can get to know and network with like-hearted people, all while positively impacting their local communities. As someone who lives in a hoarded city, spoiled by over-tourism, I find it a great way to start traveling more responsibly. Plus you don’t have to look any further to meet artists, curators, and art lovers. It’s a win-win!
Pros: I really like the ethic behind the project and the fact that it is specifically aimed at creatives and art-related people
Cons: as of now, there are only a handful of locations available. But hopefully they’ll grow fast!
And you, what is your favorite way to ask a local?
Have you ever tried any of the above tools?
If you need more tips and advice on how to plan an art trip or how to enjoy solo traveling, check this section here.