Asturias gave me a first class lesson in creative travel. Inspired by Spain’s natural paradise, here are some ideas to approach your next trip more creatively!
First, a little about Asturias
Asturias is an incredibly green region which stretches from the Picos de Europa to the Cantabrian Sea.The food is rich and warm and perfectly pairs with cider. Its people are kind and speak with a dialect (e.g.the city Gijón becomes Xixón.) Asturias is full of sights and fun activities that remain mostly undiscovered by the rest of the world.
Now, ready for some creative travel tips I discovered in Asturias?
1. Upgrade your coffee shop: Visit a board game café!
Whether you’re a fan of game night, or can barely remember the rules to Go Fish, you’ll have a blast at one of these themed cafés. My local friend Olaya brought me to Gijón’s “Identidad Secreta” to play a round with friends. This café is covered wall to ceiling in comics, graphic novels, and most importantly, games! You’re free to borrow any of these items while you drink coffee or beer. The table is yours as long as you want it.
In comparison, my home city of Toronto also has several successful board game cafés, but you may have to “rent” the table or pay an hourly fee. One benefit is that at these locations, like Snakes and Lattes, you’re actually welcome to order a full meal.
Board games bring out our silly sides, and open up people to create better or new friendships. It’s a very creative way of connecting with locals. You can also pass any language barrier in the instructions if you already know the game. Plus, if you’re caught with a rainy day on vacation, you’ll have a pleasant spot to keep you warm all afternoon!
2. Use your network
Speaking of connecting with locals, particularly if you’re a solo traveler, a very creative option is to put out feelers before you even catch the train. If you don’t know anyone living in the place that you’ll visit, use your network! Consider these questions:
Are you part of any clubs, fraternities/sororities, language schools, etc. that have branches in your destination? They’d likely be happy to connect you with a local!
Do you know anyone who studied abroad in your destination? They’ll know about local hangouts for foreigners where the lingua franca is almost always English. They may also maintain personal friendships with people in the city, and could set you up on a friends date (or at least introduce you online.)
It also never hurts to write up a quick status update on Facebook or your private Instagram asking if anyone has contacts where you’re going. There are a lot of people who get excited about welcoming visitors to their city. Why not give them the pleasure?
Meetups organized by locals are a great way to get a snap of real city life. Plus, they’re often artistic in nature. For example, at the time of publication, I see a photography workshop in Oviedo posted on Meetup.com.
I’m personally a fan of language meetups and historical walking tours offered cheaply for locals on the weekend. One of the most unique workshops I’ve ever attended was a small ceramics class in Barcelona accompanied by a glass of cava (check out the fabulous Fanglès organization here.) You can also visit the Facebook pages of art schools, bars, and language clubs in the city. Facebook Local is another growing community where people post meetups, workshops, lectures and events on a variety of themes.
4. Airbnb Experiences
Airbnb Experiences can be a good substitute for meetups. Even in a place as isolated as Asturias, I found an Airbnb Experience hosting mindfulness walks in the heart of nature.
However, I also had one VERY negative experience with Airbnb Experiences. You deserve to know this, so I’ll be publishing another article in the coming weeks explaining everything the tour operator and Airbnb did wrong (ethically wrong, at that.)
At other times, I’ve had very nice local experiences like dinner with a family in Milan’s Navigli, and walking rescue dogs who needed socializing up Runyon Canyon in LA (an absolutely awesome morning.) So read reviews, double check the description, check for comments about the tour operator outside the Airbnb platform (if they are a company), and ask your gut. Chances are, you’ll have an awesome, one-of-a-kind look at local life!
Thank you, Asturias!
These 4 creative lessons inspired by my trip to Asturias can be applied anywhere in the world. This is especially true in Europe, and any countries with a thriving expat community! If you speak the local language you’ll have literally every option available to you, but if not, consider language exchanges or experiences where the lingua franca is English. You’ll have a richer experience with this creative approach to connecting with your destination.
Until next time, you may want to check out my article on the art-lover’s creative guide to Milan. as Rick Steves says, happy travels!