One of the reasons I’m not a big fan of big, organized travel is that you never get the chance to free range at the destination. Everything you see and do is packaged and forbidden. The story is set in advance and you have to live with it.
It’s the people you meet spontaneously that make the experience great, not just the beautiful views or wiggling your toes on the white sand. At least for me.
I just got back from Sri Lanka, a country where the hospitality and friendliness of the locals towards strangers is exceptional.
There are two things about this trip. One is a lesson in what we as travelers can do for the people of the host country. The other is what they can do for us.
The small village of Rathmale, off the south coast of Sri Lanka, is little more than a small market, a few streets of shops and two barbershops. There’s an intersection of two roads, a few dogs, and that’s it.
There are many benefits when you leave the confines of a tour group or hotel room and blend in with the locals.
A few friends and I were wandering in the market when a young girl approached and asked if she could practice her English. Her name was Upeksha, she said, when she was passing by with her father on his scooter and he suggested she try her language skills on tourists. (Great dad, by the way.)
She told us that she was a teenager at the time and was studying English at school. She is so smart and personable, and her English is really good. She said she was glad we agreed to speak to her.
I asked her what she wanted to do after leaving school. “I wanted to be a fashion designer,” she said.As it happens, in our group we have a guy from Harper’s Bazaar in Asia. A lot of us have fashion experience, so we spent a long time encouraging her and exchanged WhatsApp numbers so she could contact the editor for advice.