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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Local vs. Big Brand 3.2.11

In other words, should you stay, dine or shop local or stick with brand names you know? When traveling outside of your own country – and sometimes just out of your own city/state – this is always the question. You KNOW you like Chili’s and Best Western, but does that mean you should seek them out when you travel or try something new? When faced with lists of new restaurants, stores and hotels, it’s sometimes hard to not gravitate toward familiar names that you already frequent, but travel is a great way to break the habit of familiarity and get you out of your immediate comfort zone. That doesn’t mean you’ll be anxious and freaked out the whole time you’re away. Likely, it will be the opposite. You’ll find that one-off accommodations, dining venues and shopping experiences can be very comforting and rewarding, too. In many places, chains or “big brands” can save you money, but I find that it simply isn’t true if you travel widely. You also don’t get the feel of the country as much if you stick close to home with your choices.

So, what’s the advantage to choosing local? There are so many, it’s hard to list them all, but I’ll definitely give you the biggest ones. See how it can save you money and immerse your in a new culture. When faced with new names and new places, I get a jolt of excitement, because I love new things. I want to stay somewhere cool and unlike other places I’ve stayed, eat new, delicious food and shop in family-owned stores that have totally unique merchandise. I know I’m much more adventurous than a lot of other people, but I think if you make the commitment to travel to new and exotic places and want to have a whole new experience, cut your ties with your normal life and psyche yourself up for doing something different and potentially life-changing.

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I bring my comforts of home with me (travel blanket, Kindle, iPod, netbook), so if I need to just get back in my own familiar mode for a bit, I totally can when I get back to my room at the end of the day. Not sure you’ll love the food in a foreign land? That’s okay. Nobody else is either. Throw some snacks in your bag, like granola bars or cookies, just in case. It also helps when you’re walking around getting all that exercise and start to get a bit hungry in between meals. This happens to me all the time on vacation and I tend to want to eat all day long, so keeping a stash of goodies in my day bag is a good idea wherever I am.

Shop Local. I’m sure you hear this all the time where you live. Shop local and support your local farmers, other workers and economy.  Makes sense. Shopping where you live can be beneficial to yourself and others in your community. Well, the same goes for travel. Shop local grocers, farmers markets and family-owned shops. Not only will you be helping the local economy thrive, but you’re also going to get better deals on local foods, engage with the locals, find authentic merchandise that is likely handmade or, at the very least, made in the area and go home with memories of the quaint stores you shopped in, instead of memories of wandering the endless aisles of a Wal-Mart (or similar).

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Eat Local. With the same premise as shopping local, eating local is even better. When you go out to have a nice meal, ask the people who live in the area that you come in contact with where they recommend. They aren’t going to point your towards McDonalds. Likely, they will send you to one of their favorite dining destinations that has local and, likely, more affordable fare. When people come to Portland and ask where a nice place to have dinner is, I don’t point them immediately to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, even though it’s delicious. I can’t afford to eat there, though, so I give them directions to places that I love to eat at and can do so without having to save for three weeks. Travelers always appreciate suggestions for restaurants that are tasty and they don’t have at home. And just like with shopping, the food will probably be much more authentic than those that you see on the main street that cater to tourists.

Eating local also ensures that you find new and different foods. Those restaurants that have the local cuisine are going to be less expensive than others that have to order their food from other regions. If you’re visiting Germany, you’re always going to get a better price on German cuisine than if you went hunting for an Italian eatery. It just makes sense.

Check out TopTable for listings of restaurants in the area you’ll be traveling. You can read reviews, book a table and get big discounts. You can also check out TripAdvisor and find diner reviews on hundreds of thousands of eateries worldwide.

Stay Local. I know this sounds odd, since you’re obviously going to stay local, but the point is that many chain hotels are still owned by other countries. You can also save money by not staying at big brand hotels, because the smaller ones have really competitive rates. Plus, many are more “traditional” to where they are located and can offer more personal service. While you probably won’t get a hotel with conference rooms and a gym, how many times have you ever used those things on vacation anyway? They still offer breakfasts, WiFi, pools and many other amenities you’re used to and will actually take advantage of.

The employees of any hotel should be able to give you tips on where to eat, play and shop, but locally-owned hotels can give you the inside scoop and don’t get kick-backs for their suggestions. (Not all hotels do this, but many brand name hotels often get comped in some way for pointing hotel guests to certain establishments. Make sure to ask hotel workers that don’t work the front desk or concierge for their ideas, because they don’t have any affiliations.)

Choose carefully, just as you would any other lodging. You aren’t going in blindly, though. There are so many review sites to read up on hotels worldwide that it’s almost impossible to not find any reviews of almost any accommodation. Ask your friends and extended social network where they stayed when they went and then check out sites like TripAdvisor, Venere and Travelocity for traveler’s comments.

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So, we’ve covered the basics:
  • Help the economy
  • Get to know the locals
  • Find more authentic food and merchandise
  • Get immersed in the culture
  • Try new things and find new favorites
  • Get out of your “comfort zone”
  • Eat where the locals do
  • And, as always, save money

Some of our best memories have come from doing something on vacation that we would never normally do at home. I think with those experiences, it has helped us grow, taught us about different cultures and human nature and has enabled us to try new and different things around our own city. My husband and I are pretty adventurous by nature, so we’re game for almost anything. If we don’t like it, at least we can say we did it and have a story when we come home.

  • Eucalyptus ice cream? Not good, but we tried it.
  • Dancing with strangers? Surprisingly fun.
  • Perusing the animal market in Otavalo, Ecuador? A total once-in-a-lifetime must-do experience.
  • Taking the city bus from Disney/Orlando area to Universal City Walk? A complete time-drainer and SO not recommended.
  • Getting lunch during a hurricane watch? If you can find a place that’s open, that’s the place to be!

So, learn a new language (or at least important phrases), stay in a quaint hotel, eat exotic food, buy some handmade souvenirs and check out some off the beaten track activities. You’ll have a great time and see a whole different version of your chosen destination than others do. That’s the great thing about travel – if you plan it yourself, you’ll never have the same trip as someone else. It’s personal and fun and creates amazing memories. If something goes wrong, as it inevitably does, you’ll have a more amusing story to tell when you get home.

Ever find yourself in an awesome setting and have no one around to take a picture of you in it? Then you need the Quikpod Tripod. It has a telescoping handle, so you can attach your camera to it, hold it out at arm's length and get a photo of yourself (and travel companion) in a lovely shot for lasting memories when you get home. My husband and I have this and have taken some fantastic pictures of ourselves, including the ones below. Not only do you get some nice pictures of yourself with background, but it's also super easy to use, stashes easily in your bag and is heavy-duty, in case you need to use it as a weapon (kidding...sort of).

So, you have probably already noticed the new clean look of the site, with useful links to travel sites and my guest posts over on the sidebar now. Other than that, this space will be used for mentioning new Shereen Travels Cheap happenings and any new/upcoming guest posts or articles.

Ebates Travel Week Continues with  a Twitter Party on Thursday, March 3rd at 7-8pm EST. Learn more budget travel tips, win prizes and more! Also enter a travel story of your own to win an all-inclusive Club Med 7 day vacation for two! If you aren’t a member of the Frugal Living Community on BlogFrog (provided by Ebates), you can join me right now HERE. And if you missed the live travel chat on Tuesday, you can still catch up on any tips and suggestions HERE.

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