"More sweet potato pudding?"
We're having lunch at her
But before lunch, we'd never met Mrs. Morgan, her husband Clayton, daughter Nneka, who was visiting from
We were brought together by a volunteer program called Meet the People, which has been bringing tourists and locals together for more than 50 years over a shared interest -- in our case, cooking and food. Did I mention the program is free? The volunteers will even come and pick you up.
"You have beaches and sunshine many places," says
On a recent trip, I realized there were many ways to accomplish that goal -- learning about the lives of the staff that took care of us at the villa where we stayed, one of 100 managed by Villas by
We took a walking tour in the historic port of
Later in the week, we floated down a river at
"When I was younger we used to come to this same location, swim, eat, drink and just enjoy the outdoors, so it's been a long time dream to have somewhere in
As we float down the river on tubes and inflatable kayaks, we see all kinds of trees -- 85-foot high bamboo, banana, breadfruit -- a great place to help kids appreciate where the food on their plates in
You might learn to make jerk chicken or pumpkin soup with Meet the People,
In fact, the program started when one
We learn how to make Bammys; we sample Jamaican ackee and salt fish, a traditional dish. Mrs. Morgan encourages us to eat and eat some more. "I want to share my
Last year, there were some 500 matches. The Tourist Board hopes to double that number in 2016. But most tourists, especially those arriving on cruise ships, aren't aware of the opportunity. That's why the Tourist Board has enlisted volunteer ambassadors who work on the ships to help spread the word.
All of the volunteer ambassadors are carefully vetted in advance so you don't need to worry about your safety.
It seems millennials, traveling with friends or with their families, are most interested in the opportunity. They are seeking an authentic, immersive experience and Morgan will do his best to make that happen within 48 hours. All you have to do is fill out the form on the Visit Jamaica website and indicate your preference for activity, whether you want to go on a hike, on a fishing boat, meet local craftspeople or visit a farmer or a family with kids the same ages as yours.
Increasingly, there are programs around the world that help you meet locals at no cost. You can join the Bahamas People-to-Peopleexperience, for example, or tour a
There are many opportunities in
Websites like Mealsharing.com enable you to enjoy home-cooked meals in more than 450 cities around the world. You might even be able to eat at a chef's home with Eatwith.com, or make new friends where you are traveling at Cookening.
But be prepared. These experiences are about as different from a traditional excursion or tour as you can get. Some require a contribution or small gratuity. And if you have younger kids, it's wise to make sure their presence will be welcomed.
"The volunteers are doing this because it is their passion,"
Eileen Ogintz is the creator of the syndicated column and website Taking the Kids. She is also the author of the ten-book Kid’s Guide series to major American cities and the Great Smoky Mountains. The third-edition of the Kid’s Guide to NYC has just been released.