Stay, Eat, and Shop Local

Lady Cat 6 is the first to admit she loves the convenience of on-base lodging, eating, and shopping options! When traveling in the US (CONUS and OCONUS), my sponsor and I take advantage of on-base lodging the nights before and after our flights whenever we can. If we’re staying somewhere expensive, like Hawaii, we stop off at the Exchange and Commissary to load up on basic food items, and plan on eating and staying on-base when possible. It helps that Hickam has the FABulous Lanai at Mamala Bay restaurant – one of our favorites!  In travels overseas, we like to stop in to a base for a little break every few weeks, if it’s convenient.

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View from The Lanai at Mamala Bay

 

But, we do not travel to Italy, Spain, Germany, Greece, or anywhere else outside the US intending to stay on post any longer than necessary for flights. Yes, it’s easier and more comfortable and convenient to be surrounded by “little America”, but we found out pretty quick that traveling that way really puts the ki-bosh on getting to know the local people and customs in an authentic manner and setting.

And so, our motto is: Stay, Eat, and Shop local, whenever we can!

Staying local is pretty easy. We use Expedia, Trip Advisor, or other hotel booking app for hotels, and Air BnB for apartments. If we’re staying more than one night, we usually go the Air BnB route, because we can usually get an entire apartment for less than the price of a hotel room. Hosts usually have a list of local dining and shopping options available, and usually will provide more detailed assistance if asked. Which makes the other two commitments, eating and shopping local, easier to fulfill.

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We’ve also found great initial resources for dining and shopping in the local nationals who work on base. They live in there, they know the area, and, in our experience, they’ve always been happy to share their knowledge and recommendations with us! We’ve asked passenger service representatives, mini-mart employees, lodging employees, Commissary and Exchange employees – any locals we run into – for recommendations, and they’ve always been happy to oblige. It’s a wonderful way to get off the regular tourist circuit and explore where the locals eat and shop!

Shopping is important to us, since, to keep our bags light and easy to manage, we leave some things – like shampoo – behind altogether, or, with things like antiperspirant, extra razors and other sundries –  limit ourselves to travel-size items. Which means we will need to shop for more during our visits. We stick to small sizes for everything, though, so even if we purchase on base, we’ll be needing more during our travels. Local grocery stores, pharmacies, and sundry shops are our go-to for these items.

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 We usually try to stay in one place for several days at a time, so we also need groceries. Fortunately, Europe has a store familiar to most Americans, located in almost every town of any size – ALDI’S! Owned by the same German company that owns Trader Joe’s, Aldi’s are almost everywhere. So, if you want to be out on the local economy, but want to save some euro and have an experience that feels familiar, head on over! Just like in the US, however, one cannot count on finding everything one needs at Aldi’s, and must have other stores to fall back upon. Again, there are supermarkets similar to what we are accustomed to, and even super-supermarkets, similar to WalMart or Target, nearly everywhere. It’s great fun to wander the aisles and see what local folks shop for. We also like to shop at little mom-and-pop shops specializing in meat, veggies, baked goods, cheese or other foods.  The local weekly outdoor market is another great source for everything from olives to underwear – really!

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Be aware that almost every store in Europe charges for bags at check out. We have a couple of our own that we pack with us (they also make great beach or picnic bags!), or, if we forget, we just pay for the bags we need and then re-use them. My Italian grocery bags are some of my favorite souvenirs :) ! In many larger markets, just like at Aldi’s, you release your shopping cart outside the store by inserting a one euro coin into the slot. You get it back when you return the cart.

Many people who only speak English are hesitant to try engaging with locals because they fear the language barrier will be frustrating or embarrassing.

Lady Cat 6 must admit that this has happened to her. Once, many years ago, while on vacation in Mexico with a large number of extended family, we were all eating at a cabana-style beach restaurant. The windows were closed, and it was uncomfortably warm. And, so, launching confidently into Spanish, I requested that our handsome young waiter open the windows, because we were all “too hot”. The waiter looked at me, stunned, for a second or two, then, laughing, went off to do as requested. About a minute later, I realized, to my horror, that I had used the wrong form of “hot”, and had literally asked our waiter – did I mention he was young and handsome? – to open the windows because we were VERY sexually aroused! I could not look him in the eye for the rest of the evening!

Fortunately, language is an area where technology is definitely our friend (and can prevent such mishaps!). Lady Cat 6 is normally able to get by in several languages (without too much embarrassment), but her sponsor is as monolingual as they come! In the “old” days, when we were stationed in Greece and Naples, he took great delight in going down to the local hardware or auto parts store (he’s a mechanical engineer and fixer-of-anything-that-can-be-fixed!) and, through pantomime and sketching, would eventually communicate exactly what he wanted. It was like a puzzle game for both him and the sales person he was working with – everyone seemed to enjoy it. Most times, the proprietor would either have the item he was looking for, or call someone else who did, to get it for him.

Today, things are much easier! He’s got the Google Translate App downloaded on his phone – as do I.  There are several other good translation options out there to help ease language fears. Just set your app to translate to the language of the country you’re visiting, type whatever you want in English, and it will show up, fairly well translated (meaning you’ll be understood, even if the translation is klunky), on the screen. The apps even talk! Easy peasy!

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Another thing I’ve found is that many more people speak English than may admit at first. For instance, I was never anywhere in France that, when I began trying to speak in my rusty high school French, the person I was speaking to did not offer, sometimes with a barely suppressed friendly little chuckle, to continue in English. And, once, in a grocery store in Greece, I could not remember the word for “turkey”. I approached a high-school aged young woman (everyone studies English in school in Europe) and asked her – in English – if she could help me. At first, she said “no”, but when I implored him with a desperate “parakalo!” (please!),she sheepishly supplied the word (pavo) for me.

Actually, the key to getting others to speak English seems to be to know at least a few basic words in the native tongue. This is another area where a good translation app can help. If you can say hello, goodbye, please, thank you, how much, etc., in the local language, people I’ve run into have almost always appreciated the effort, and provided a “rescue” in English, if they could.

There’s a whole world out there beyond the confines of the base! Whether by necessity – you’re in a country that does not allow on-base shopping, or doesn’t have lodging available, or lacks any decent on-post dining options – or, even better, by choice – you’re traveling because you want to expand your horizons and experience the people and customs in the place you happen to be, go out the gate and into the local community. Stay in local hotels, pensiones, or apartments. Eat where the local people eat. Shop where the locals shop. Engage people in conversation and ask their advice. I think you’ll find your travels much enriched, and you’ll have much better stories to tell – even if they are a bit embarrassing ;) .

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We’ve found that, wherever we travel, most people are nice! I think you will, too, if you give going local a go!

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