Like a Local: The Luxury is in the Experience

While we were on our honeymoon, staying in the beautiful Kailua Kona on Hawaii, we avoided doing much typically touristy stuff. We decided against the helicopter tour and dolphin experience after reading so many mixed reviews, instead choosing to spend our money on food and drink. Less doing, more vacating. When we did do something touristy, such as drive down to the volcano, we tried to balance it by asking locals where they would go next. We try to live like locals whenever we visit a new place.

19709_10101249660018352_3386951747766175412_n
The top level deck of the condo building in Kailua Kona.
A real (touristy) Hawaiian luau
A real (touristy) Hawaiian luau

But I didn’t think I could leave Hawaii without having been to a real luau, regardless of how incredibly cheesy and touristy it was going to be. But luaus are expensive, and as a non-pork eater, I felt like $80 a pop was hard to justify.

So as we’re walking down the main road one day, we see a sign advertising super cheap luau tickets that we immediately think is a scam. We talk to the sales rep for a half hour trying to figure out how they were going to rip us off: it turns out it’s not a scam, but it was kind of a pain in the ass.

All we had to do was attend a 90 minute timeshare presentation and we’d get our two tickets. We paid ahead of time – $17 each, not bad – and our presentation was scheduled for the next afternoon, the luau that night. If we didn’t show up, we’d get a bill for the full amount of the tickets.

After going home and scouring the internet to figure out if we’d just been duped, we found out this is very common in tourist destinations: timeshare companies bribe potential customers to view presentations with the lure of free tickets. It’s a loss leader for them, and only a slight inconvenience for the customer; even less so if they decide a timeshare is something they want to spend money on.

The next day, when we arrive at the Club Wyndham offices, we receive two coupons for free Shutterfly books (which alone was worth our time, considering how many photobooks I buy every year) and are offered refreshments. We fill out a form — stating in large capital letters that we have NO intention of buying anything, that we did this strictly for the luau tickets — and start to notice that we are the youngest people in this building by 25 years.

We meet our designated sales rep – I can not remember her name, so let’s call her Judy – a friendly lady in her late 40s who puts up her hands like ‘no worries’ when we tell her we have no money to spend on real estate; we literally did this for luau tickets.

We sit through the presentation, participating and earning little snack packs of macadamia nuts. Afterwards, we jump on a golf cart with Judy for a full tour of the facility and a few sample condos. All the while, as we ooh and ahh where we are expected to, we maintain that we have no interest in buying. After the tour, we are taken to the main sales room, a large open space full of comfy couches, small tables, and tons of people in negotiations for their own (time)share of paradise.

Judy sits down across from us with her large brochure book, a pad of paper, a calculator and some folders of information. We thank her for her time and say it’s all lovely (really, the premises were gorgeous!) but we just aren’t interested. She tries to convince us that a Wyndham timeshare is what we need. “Think of all the money you’ll save!” (I’m still not entirely sure how this works…) “Think of all the places you can go!”

We’d been honest about all the places we wanted to visit so she pulled up the never-ending list of Wyndham and related properties showing us how easy it would be us to stay for in New York, San Francisco, Maui, Barcelona, or, hey, even Paris.

I nearly laughed out loud when she said that.

I mean, if I get to go to Paris there is no way in hell that I’m staying at some fancy pants resort with its own pools and maids and concierge.

No. If I get to go to Paris I want to stay in a cramped fourth-floor walk up in the Marais or the Latin Quarter, steps from a bar, a 8 à 8, a metro station and a few bakeries. I want to smile at the old lady in the courtyard as I struggle with my 18th century door, and hear the laughter of teenagers out past their bedtimes through my open window at night. If I get to go to Paris, I want to stumble home drunkenly after the metro stops running and not be greeted by some uniformed concierge but rather by the neighbor’s cat who got locked out again. Yes, I want air conditioning and a private bathroom and an internet connection, but I want some authenticity in my travel experiences. As beautiful as the condos were and as extensive as the list of locales was, Wyndham does not offer authenticity.

Justin tried explaining this, that when we travel we like to get in among the locals, shopping at their grocery stores, eating at little mom and pop joints, and drinking where they drink after work. “But don’t you want some luxury when you vacation?” Judy asked us, bewildered by the fact that we weren’t super impressed by her offers. “Look at these counter-tops, the size of the condos, the rain-head showers, the jacuzzis…”

We’re not looking for luxury in our accommodations. Maybe when we get older and we’re worn down by kids and weary with life, we’ll crave a spa tub and private tennis court. But even then, I’m not sure that’s who we are. My dad, who has enough money to travel lavishly, doesn’t require those things; in fact, he’s always down to get an apartment in the Latin quarter, and while he might spring for a 2-bedroom instead of a studio, he still wants to be in and among the people, smelling the smells and hearing the sounds of the streets.

12710880_10101573479182152_3850037760077085523_o
Jason, a guy we met in Mayaguez, translated for us at this street bar where no one really spoke English. It was literally IN the street.

We want to experience the world, meet people and witness the lives they live up close. We want to drink kava kava juice with them and be invited to drink more wine after they close down the bar. We want to hang out at their street-side bar drinking Medallas for $1.50 and get invited to hang out backstage when they play with their Michael Jackson cover band (this happened in San Francisco and I’m still kicking myself that we didn’t go!). We want to end up at local jazz festivals and watch World Cup games with people who don’t speak English.

The luxury, for us, is in the experience. A well-crafted cocktail. A  walk along the bay. Drinking a bottle of champagne on the beach at sunset. A perfectly cooked piece of fish. Talking with a real Mardi Gras Indian. Taking a Zumba class in Dutch. Tasting local wines. Chatting with the bartenders about their favorite spots. Meeting people you know you’ll see again when you return.

I understand why some people enjoy a luxurious hotel and how a Wyndham timeshare would be ideal for some families. We just aren’t one of those families.

This is one of the reasons we’re so excited to get involved with the home exchange community. There are dozens of home exchange sites, and we’re a member of one of the more established ones, HomeExchange.com. We’ve arranged a week-long non-simultaneous exchange this summer with a couple who lives in Nueva Vallarta, Mexico, and a simultaneous month-long exchange this fall with a couple in the Hague (don’t worry! We’ll be blogging the whole thing)! They’ll live in our home while we live in theirs, and we can’t wait. Talk about living like a local 🙂

(End note: the luau was fun, despite the cheese-factor. The food was disappointing, but unlimited drinks and a fun show full of traditional dancing and fire-throwing was worth the 90-minutes of Wyndham peacocking.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s