Travel Tips: How to Truly Experience Different Cultures
People enjoy traveling for many reasons. Some enjoy being away from work, relaxing, and recharging. Some like to be pampered and waited on. For others, the essence of traveling is experiencing life as a local, rather than just as a tourist looking in. They want to get a taste of what it’s like to live in the country, even if it’s for a short period of time. Breaking into the local scene and experiencing a country’s true culture will be a different experience depending on the area you’re visiting, but here’s some travel tips to help get you going in the right direction.[wp_ad_camp_1]
1) Learn Key Phrases in the Language
The easiest way to get in good with the locals is to make an effort to speak like them and use their language. There’s nothing more annoying than people who expect other’s to know their language in a foreign country. Learning key phrases you’ll likely need to use in the language of the country you’ll be visiting is respectful, and the locals will be more apt to communicate with you and let you in on local secrets. You don’t have to be perfect, so don’t fear being made fun of. Making an effort is better than not trying at all!
2) Research Traditions of the Area
Looking someone directly in the eyes can either be a form of respect or a sign of disrespect, depending on the culture. It’s possible to offend someone without even realizing you’re being offensive, so find out the basic signs of respect and the traditions of the area. You might want to learn how to greet people, find out how to say please and thank you, or learn about the tools or utensils used for eating and practice that. Or perhaps you practice eating without utensils, with your hands, as is custom in many cultures.
3) Find Out What’s Going on When You’re There
Depending on when you travel, there might be a special holiday or historical event taking place. Do some simple on-line research to find out if your trip coincides with anything special and then take it a step further but finding cultural events or celebrations to attend to party (or worship) like a local.
4) Eat Locally
It’s not hard to find American corporate food places across the world and even in many tourist destinations. Do yourself a favor and avoid eating anything you can find at home. You’ll also be doing the local economy a favor by eating at family-owned restaurants in the area you visit. Ask around for the best local spots and then ask the servers about the popular dishes and what they recommend to get a taste of the culture – perhaps learn how to ask these questions in the language before you go!
5) Stay Locally
Similar to the tip above, it’s not difficult to find big chain resorts around the world. While some enjoy traveling and staying in these all-inclusive resorts, the downside is that you don’t get to really experience life as a local or see what the country is really like. If a more authentic travel experience is what you’re looking for, stay in the town or village at a locally owned hotel. Trustworthy websites like TripAdvisor.com have tons of reviews on even the most mom-and-pop places you can find. It’s easy these days to find an amazing and quality hotel or resort you’re sure to love, even if you've never heard of it before.
6) Try Not to Plan Too Much
Another way to jive with the culture of a country is to wait until you’re there to decide what to do each day. Do online research prior and ask people you know who’ve traveled there about dos and don’ts. Take the information but don’t let it influence you completely before you get there. You never know what will come up spontaneously when you’re living in the moment. It’s hard to predict whom you’ll meet and what will happen once you’re there, and you’ll limit yourself by creating a rigid itinerary. Having tentative plans or ideas is fine, but be willing to be flexible and limit the amount of things you buy in advance, like tickets to museums or amusement parks, for example. Unless, of course, a particular event or concert is the main reason you want to travel or the event is likely to sell out. Once you’re there, pay attention to community information boards and billboards, and ask around about what’s going on and where the place to be is.
7) Give Yourself Time in One Place
One of our readers, Kim Nameny, had a great tip to share: "I lived in Italy for thirty years and over the years have helped many American friends and acquaintances plan their trips there. I always recommend just biting off a small piece and chewing it well, rather than racing around from place to place. I know it’s hard, because there’s so much to see in Italy, and because working Americans are given so few vacation days!"
8) Have an Open Mind and Heart
The most important tip of all is to have an open mind and heart. When we step fully into another culture, certain customs or traditions may seem strange or uncomfortable to us. Remember that, similarly, many of our own traditions make no sense to others in the context of their culture. The things people do day-to-day are typically passed down from generations and centuries of traditions, things that aided in survival in centuries passed or had a practical application that now are practiced for different reasons. Acknowledge that there's history, stories, and plights of people that you may not understand just yet and then set that aside. Find the beauty in each culture and way of life by way or curiosity and appreciation.
Image via: Abhinay Omkar