Are airports to travel what franchises are to American cities?
In other words, by their very nature do airports focus on similarities between countries and regions and in the process de-emphasize the uniqueness of a place?
Are airports culturally sterile environments?
I raise this question because of a discussion taking place on the Travellerspoint forums that MustExplore initiated by asking other travelers for suggestions as to how best to experience life like the locals when exploring new areas.
In reply, BlazeAdventure offered these 10 tips:
1. Stay in hostels not 5 star hotels. You’ll meet tons of new friends, that are looking for the same immersion. It’s safe, and they may know something you dont
2. Try couchsurfing – You’ll meet some friendly locals, that will sometimes be open to showing you around
3. Take public transport whenever you can.
4. Volunteer for things like Woofing (google it and read about their program- really fun!).
5. Use skyscanner and other sites for cheap flights( I can’t list them all here, I have resources on my website, but I don’t think I can link to it here)
6. Travel off-season or shoulder season for cheaper flights and cheaper prices
7. Talk, Smile and patience with everyone. You’ll meet more friends and locals this way
8. Eat street food, and go to Public Markets
9. Try to travel overland, and not by airplane whenever possible.
10. Minimize organized tours. Part of the adventure is actually finding your own way there.
Needless to say, I found #9 to be an interesting suggestion. Airports are designed to be similar and therefore easier to navigate, but in my experience the layout is where the similarities end. At least when we’re talking about airports in different countries.
Oh sure, you will probably find many of the same fast-food chains in airports throughout the world. But the other stores, and the different ways people behave, can make for quite an entertaining experience at the airport.
I don’t mean to criticize BlazeAdventure too much as it was exceptionally nice and helpful of him to provide the list, but I do think that when people say things like, “we want to experience life like the locals,” the implication seems to be that they want to experience how local poor people live.
Locals who travel for business aren’t any less local than other locals. Visiting airports in different countries will allow you to see how local middle-class travelers live.
Or perhaps I’m wrong.
What do you think? Do airports provide a culturally immersive experience, or are they all pretty much alike in your opinion and need to be exited and gotten far away from to really understand what local life is like?
And which airports have you found most interesting as part of your travels?
Read the thread in its entirety: First Time Travellers