To the travelers of the world, rather than the tourists, a cultural experience means something a little different.
Rather than visiting the famous landmarks, museums and renowned historical sights of a region and then moving on, travelers prefer to immerse themselves in a new environment to gain a deeper understanding as to how others live around the world. Here are 10 ways you can go about connecting with a local culture on your next trip abroad;
Volunteer: The popularity of volunteering abroad has sky-rocketed in recent years, and for good reason.
Firstly, you’re doing something genuinely positive for individuals trapped in a situation likely far worse than your own. Secondly, it’s a fantastic way to experience the way of life in a foreign environment. If you’re hotel hopping in the major cities of a nation, you’re missing out on experiencing the way the majority of a population lives. Volunteering can offer that insight while being a rewarding experience in its own right. One that couldn’t be recommended highly enough.
Festivals/Events: Nothing says ‘culture’ like local festivals and displays of the local customs and traditions.
These can be religious, historical or simply localized rituals that truly capture the imagination. These usually allow artistic expression of the cultures presence in a society. Get involved and immerse yourself in the experience. You’ll connect with the local culture in a way you could never do through any other means.
Living/Accommodation: Couchsurfing has seen its popularity grow rapidly as travelers are catching on to the benefits of this amazing system.
It’s often viewed simply as a place to score free accommodation, though there’s so much more to the opportunity. When Couchsurfing, you’re likely to be staying with a local host. What better way to understand how local lives than to actually love with one? Most hosts are open to meeting and interaction with travelers; otherwise, they would never volunteer to host in the first place. You’ll get the opportunity to experience activities and places only a local would know about.
Drinking: What better way to rapidly befriend someone than by sharing a few brews?
Alcohol tends to get the conversation flowing freely and the enjoyment of alcoholic beverages is rather prevalent across the globe. Spend some time in spots that are popular with locals, whether that be local bars or other random watering holes. It’s a great way to shed the initial apprehension and conversational restraints that may inhibit other interactions. Just don’t go overboard!
Public Transport /Hitch-hiking: Rather than taking taxis or driving everywhere, try catching a local bus or train (stay in 3rd class rather than isolating yourself in 1st).
Another alternative is to hitch-hike. This can be a little risky and is not necessarily advised everywhere. Ensure you are reasonably comfortable in your surroundings and have some kind of safety measure in place if you choose the latter option.
Language Learning: It can be difficult to truly connect with a local culture if a language barrier exists.
One way to overcome this obstacle and gain a greater understanding is to take language lessons at a local school or with a local tutor. Not only will this improve your language skills, you’ll likely meet like-minded individuals to practice with and perhaps get involved in other activities. On the other side of the coin, perhaps teaching your native tongue abroad could provide similar opportunities.
Stay Put: Immerse yourself
Don’t continuously move around. It can be difficult to truly get a feel for the way of life in a different part of the world if you’re continually jumping around from town to town. Slow it down. You’ll get a greater appreciation and a deeper connection when staying in 1 spot.
Walk Around: You will learn more about a place in 2 hours of walking than you will in 2 days of driving or catching taxis.
Walking slows you down, forcing you to interact on at least the most basic of levels with your surroundings. You’re much more likely to strike up a conversation or stumble across something that catches your eye. It’s a great way to explore new territory and much better for your health!
Be Open to New Possibilities: You can put all the above advice to use, however, if you’re not open to new experiences, none of it will matter.
They say travel broadens the mind. Well, I’d suggest that is only the case for those who are willing to allow their minds to be shaped by their experiences. Embrace the unknown and your cultural experience will be so much the richer for it.
Cuisine: Love of food is a universal trait and a great way to get acquainted with the local culture.
Some travelers even rate culinary experiences as the key reason they travel! If you’re not eating the local produce, you’re simply missing out on a key part of the journey.
Not only do you gain an appreciation for the local way of life (how one eats says a lot about them), sharing food offers a great chance to bond with the locals. Stay away from the large restaurants and food chains. Instead, eat at local markets and hole-in-the-wall joints that offer authenticity and a genuine sampling of what the locals eat. If you stick to places that are busy, with a high turnover rate, you should avoid any food related illnesses that put many travelers off this activity.