by Margaret Melaney

Here you are on the grand adventure of your life, just you and 25 strangers packed into a bus which never seems to stop except for bathroom breaks on the motorway. You only have a few more days, and you have GOT to salvage this trip. You take destiny by the hand and head out to do some traveling – finally!

1. The play’s the thing. But you opt out of the tour-group’s organized “native” performance and head for the local hot spot to dance the night away.

2. Everyone’s being herded to a giant restaurant. You grab a sandwich and head for the pier. With your feet dangling off the side, you make friends with the local fisherfolk.

3. Get on another bus? No way! You hire a driver and take off for the spot you read about back home. One adventurous diva of my acquaintance hired a driver to take her downriver (in a boat!) to the once-a-year local festival. Get recommendations from the tour leader.

4. Need some exercise? Rent a bike or moped. You’ll be cruising mountain roads or wheeling past palm trees while everyone else is still trying to find seats on the bus. Be sure to wave as they drive by!

5. You’ve done your homework. There’s a funky little museum off a side street that you read about on the internet. What a discovery!

6. Bring your family–in a photo album. Share stories of your grandchildren/dogs with the couple you meet at the café. Who knows, you may get invited back for tea.

7. You LOOK like a native. Stop by the marketplace and buy a shawl, or some shoes everyone’s wearing. Get a straw hat or colorful sarong. No one will mistake you for a native, but you’ll start to feel like one.

8. Charity begins–here! Support the local fund-raising effort, be it a church dinner, charity walk, fiesta, brat-fry or pilgrimage. You’ll meet all kinds of people, and feel good about it too. Look in the local paper for events.

9. Or pitch in with an offer to help serve, or clean up. I’ve done stints as a hospital tea lady, a meal server, wash-up crew and bike repair volunteer. No prearrangement necessary–just ask. You won’t find many tourists here, but you will find memories that last a lifetime.

10. Professional entertainers? Not for you. Scout out the local talent: choirs (famous in Wales), dancers (Ireland, the South Pacific, and India), little theater productions or local sporting events. The tourist office and newspapers will have listings. Kids putting on a play? Go and sit with the moms and dads. Share a falafel.

11. BE the entertainment. There’s usually a dance group which will welcome visitors. Try some of the indigenous dances, or hook up with the unexpected. (Scottish Country dance is big in Japan. Line dancers are everywhere.) Offer to demonstrate some new dance moves to your bus tour.

12. Group overload? Hide behind a good book that you picked up in the market. Look intense. If people start to bother you, pretend to take notes. Mumble to yourself if necessary.

13. You’ve got a hangout! The bartender/waiter knows your name. Once you’ve been twice, you can start talking about your “local”. Don’t forget to buy your round–and learn how to play foosball.

14. The visiting historian is YOU! Research that interesting church or old castle before you visit. A trip to the local library will turn up all the information you need, and the librarian may add a tip or two.

15. Did your family come from this area? Not a clue where? Snap some pictures of likely old houses, and you’ll soon find the whole neighborhood out playing “what’s your grandfather’s name?” with you. And then meeting your fourth cousin.

16. Watch birds

17. Head off to the market and stock up on local bread, tea, produce and pastries. Skip the cornflakes and enjoy your spread for breakfast the next day.

18. Learn the lingo. Pick up a language book and learn a few phrases. Say them to everyone you see today. Amuse the natives. I am very pleased to meet you. Where is the toilet?

19. Not coming out of your room until it stops raining? No problem. Soap operas on TV can be a hoot when you don’t understand what they’re saying. Make up dialog for the actors. Even more fun with friends. Serve pastries and tea.

20. Click, click, click. Your group is snap happy. You’re off to the market to buy a stack of colorful postcards. Now relax on the veranda. With happy memories.