Advice For A Foreign Experience Without Being Touristy
The cool autumn breeze caressed my hair as I surveyed the countryside gliding past. Behind me, at the wheel of the little camping boat, my informal guide recounted the history of the canal system in southern Wales. He pointed out interesting sights and filled in bits of local color. As evening approached, we docked near a pavilion, where other boaters were firing up a grill. Corrie, Bruce, and I hopped ashore and joined the party.
We took turns grilling whatever we’d brought. I took over as grill master, banking the coals or fanning up the flames as a light rain came and went. We swapped food and stories, passed our bottles, and joined in Bruce’s singing when he struck up familiar tunes on his guitar. The clouds broke up and the stars appeared, circling slowly as drowsy folks drifted away to their boats and their bunks.
The blissful, bucolic, off-the-beaten-path getaway had started in cyberspace, in a chat room support group for bad housekeepers. When I’d made offhand mention of an upcoming European vacation, complete with a layover at Heathrow, Corrie mentioned that she lived near Cardiff. A brief layover was rescheduled as a three-day break with a jaunt to Cardiff and my idyllic weekend on the Welsh canals.
Turning an online friend into a local host and guide is a great way of escaping the tourist trap. It’s not without risk, since the internet makes it easy to pretend to be somebody you’re not. I relied on common sense, figuring that a psychopath would hardly spend hours every week for several years chatting about housework in order to lure victims into his lair. Just as in any relationship, there are judgment calls to make. But with a mix of caution and discernment, travelers can find new worlds a world away.