Don’t dispute the seal of approval from the local’s wisest
How do you navigate a new city? In modern times, most of us use technology. We browse listicles for hotel recommendations, scroll reviews on TripAdvisor, and use Instagram to inspire big lures like fine dining, ‘secret’ bars, and one-of-a-kind experiences that serve as trip highlights. But turning up, the situation can do a U-turn. With anything that’s ho’ on the web, there’s usually some element of letdown. Be it the lines to get in, extortionate prices, or food that doesn’t taste as good as it looks in photos. Take it from Vogue’s travel correspondent, James Wong, who has traveled extensively within 65 countries (and counting). He’s learned that the foolproof way to explore any new city is in the grannies who inhabit it. Wise women who know their streets inside out, not by what’s trending online, but by their own trial and error IRL. If you want to travel and eat like a pro next vacation, this is why you need to follow the local matriarch.
You’ll discover really authentic local food
Because reels are made by teenage (wannabe) influencers who don’t know the difference between a Pad Thai and a Pad See Ew, I never seek authentic eats on social media. Siem Reep is a major tourist destination, with restaurants geared toward foreigners. Ones that deal in American Dollars. Yes, I was in Old Market, a famous attraction, but surely local vendors must eat close by. At lunchtime, I followed them to an unassuming stall within that same touristy market. Run by a mother, her daughters, and nieces, there were no signs, no prices, and to this day I have no idea what it’s called. I returned every lunch and had the most incredible Cambodian family-style stews, soups, and stir-fries at momma’s recommendation (i.e. sitting down and letting her choose). They never get tourists, because a signless shack is intimidating to most travelers. Despite the language barrier we bonded and shared many laughs over two weeks. One of the girls (via Google Translate) said that her mom even thought of me like a son. That’s the kind of experience you won’t discover via Tik Tok.
It’s better for your wallet
On my fourth trip to Seoul, I stayed in what I call the ‘granny district’, right by Dongmyo station. Everything is insanely cheap there, compared with what I paid previously in trendy Hongdae or Itaewon. Instead, my Airbnb was a fraction of the price of stays 10 minutes away, and it was surrounded by local restaurants run entirely by elderly women. These women made delicious samgyetang and kimchi dumplings from scratch. In addition, the neighborhood was peppered with vintage clothes stores, coffee shops that pour drinks that are brewed and priced just right, and everything was conveniently located, because let’s face it, granny doesn’t want to walk too far or take a taxi. I saved an absolute fortune.
You can let go of safety concerns
Another perk of going where the local grannies go is that you know it’ll be in a safe location. Elderly women are hardly frequent goers of danger zones. When I lived in America, where gun crime is an epidemic, I had to keep my guard up whenever I left the apartment. Avoiding areas of high crime, and staying in community-driven neighborhoods significantly decreased anxiety and allowed me to enjoy whatever activity was at hand. Of course, this is hard to do in high-traffic tourist spots which most of us will have on the travel agenda, but outside of that, when you’re veering off the beaten path, rest assured that where granny is shopping is as far from harm’s way as you’ll get in that particular neighborhood.
She’ll lead you to better hygiene
On a budget and looking for somewhere to stay and to fill your belly for the night? As someone who has backpacked all of Asia and Australia (in my 20s), I can say that the worst thing to do is to journey where every backpacker has gone before. Backpackers rank hygiene low on the list of their priorities. With Grandmas, you don’t have to compromise being clean for a good deal. More often than not, she will select an excellent local spot that cleans their dishware thoroughly and prepares produce just as she would at home. That’s how you avoid the dreaded Bali belly.
You’ll get more than just a pretty photo
It’s not all street food when it comes to the granny-beloved: you can still harness their powers for the glitz. My mom and I have gone to many swanky hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants together, and she’s one of the best people to make a travel decision with. She’s not going because she’s seen it online, she’s going because she knows from a reliable source (read: another granny) that it’s great. You see, grannies are more influential by word-of-mouth than many influencers are online. Mine is hard to please, especially when it comes to fine-dining Chinese cuisine. So if she says, ‘Let’s get dressed up and treat ourselves to duck at Mei Ume or Chop Chop in London’ (her favorite—because Chinese grandmas rarely make Peking duck at home!) then I will absolutely do just that. Who cares about an award or a viral clip, when Mrs Wong has given it her personal seal of approval? That means it’ll be a real treat all around.
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