If you are looking for a local, authentic travel experience abroad, Peace Corps Volunteers are some of the best resources. While living and working in local communities for two years, Volunteers develop what I like to call a “local mind, with foreign eyes.” They also become travelers that are spoiled, in the best possible way. […]
If you are looking for a local, authentic travel experience abroad, Peace Corps Volunteers are some of the best resources. While living and working in local communities for two years, Volunteers develop what I like to call a “local mind, with foreign eyes.” They also become travelers that are spoiled, in the best possible way.
Peace Corps Volunteers establish a local knowledge of their host country and culture, but maintain a tourist’s appreciation for what a destination can offer. Locals looking to develop a community-based tour may misvalue parts of their own culture or surroundings that tourists would love. For example, while creating a community day tour during my Peace Corps service in Panama, my counterparts would serve a lunch of traditional, locally-grown foods, which the tourists really liked. But they served instant coffee with it, instead of a local, shade-grown, organic coffee that was available at a cooperative across the street. To them, coffee was coffee, and they tended to purchase it based on price alone. I had to explain how much westerners love organic coffee and how serving some with lunch could add value to the day tour, and allow them to charge a slightly higher price.
A Keteka traveler roasting coffee in Boquete, Panama
Community members may also overestimate the tourism potential of certain areas or activities. A friend of mine, Stephen, that served in Peace Corps Honduras told me that his counterparts were sure that tourists would want to visit their remote mountain town in order to see “the cave.” Stephen discovered that the “cave” was essentially a small tunnel in the side of a hill, about four feet long and altogether not an exciting destination. There were, however, many trails through the mountains, and various farming and cowboy-related experiences that were much more appealing to visitors, but the locals took these for granted, since they grew up farming in the mountains and didn’t think hiking or farming were interesting activities.
Peace Corps Volunteers have the opportunity to travel a lot throughout their host countries and often become familiar with both the tourist hubs, and off-the-beaten-path destinations that don’t appear in guidebooks. This makes them spoiled travelers, in the best possible way. They actively seek only the most local experiences and can easily evaluate if a tour operator offers something that is irresponsible, inauthentic, or simply boring. Volunteers often joke that Peace Corps spoils you for traveling, because it is hard to enjoy conventional activities and destinations in other countries after developing a local taste for travel. This is why we use Peace Corps Volunteers to find and validate the destinations on Keteka – we want to provide a mix of unusual local options, along with information about the best operators working in tourist hubs. (Our tours in Boquete, Panama are examples of good tours in a tourist hub).
Obviously your best option for leveraging the Peace Corps network is asking friends that have served for some travel advice. Peace Corps Volunteers love talking about their services and their host countries. As a former Volunteer, I guarantee that if you reach out to a friend that served in, for example, Guatemala, and ask for recommendations for a ten day trip, you will receive a short novel on where to stay, what to do, how to stay safe, and which touristy areas are worth skipping. This is even more effective if you take your friend out for coffee or beers. I brought a notepad to one such meeting and walked out with a full itinerary, budget, and long list of recommendations for a two month trip to Peru.
Two Peace Corps Volunteers guide me on a hike in Peru that few tourists have experienced
There are also scattered online resources, including blogs that Volunteers write during their services, and Facebook groups for Volunteers in each country. Searching through all of these for the perfect travel information for your trip is time consuming and not always effective. If you’re planning on visiting any of the countries listed below, we’ve done the work for you, so simply click the link. Otherwise, feel free to email me any time at email@example.com and I can help you put together a trip full of local experiences.