Why bother traveling to the other side of the world, if you’re not going to try and involve yourself in the local cultures to soak up all the interesting things your travel destinations have to offer?
If you’re not taking the time to truly immerse yourself in the regions that you’re exploring, you very well may not be.
Not to worry – Getaway Well is committed to ensuring that when you visit new locations around the world, you’re prepared physically and mentally to make the most of every trip.
Before we get to our useful tips to help you experience local cultures when traveling, let’s discuss why opening yourself up to these experiences is so important, as well as a few things to keep in mind throughout your trip.
The real question is why wouldn’t you?
What’s the purpose of going all the way to the other side of the world, if you’re only going to spend your vacation hiding out in your hotel room watching new TV channels?
A change of scenery is great, but it pales in comparison to the emotional and intellectual growth that you can experience by opening yourself up to new cultures, and their unique habits and traditions.
Take the time to learn something new every day of your trip about the local culture, and you’ll go back home feeling fulfilled, enlightened, and more in touch with the region you visited than before you left.
Don’t engage with your local culture, and you could end up home at the end of your trip wondering exactly why you visited that part of the world in the first place.
Of course, any time that we encourage you to get out of your comfort zone and start exploring the exciting corners of our world, we need to talk about safety.
Violence and crimes against North American citizens traveling, working, or residing abroad are still a major concern in many parts of the world, so you can’t let travel safety become an afterthought when you’re planning your trip.
We’ve discussed safety tips for traveling abroad before, but let’s review a few basic rules to follow:
- Research the area ahead of time, so you can identify any areas that aren’t safe to explore near your hotel;
- Don’t be rude to locals;
- Don’t make a scene (i.e., getting loudly intoxicated);
- Don’t carry all your money on you at once;
- Leave your important travel documents in the hotel room when you’re exploring the city and don’t need them;
- Be wary of panhandlers & thieves;
- Try not to go too far from your hotel after dark;
- Stay in touch with friends & family, so they can check in on you
One of the easiest (and most enjoyable) ways to experience local cultures is to immerse yourself in the hospitality industry.
Skip the big-name chains that you can get at dozens of other places around the world. Stick to the small mom-and-pop places that sell authentic, delicious local cuisine.
Not only will you be supporting the locals, but you’ll be getting the most genuine cultural dishes, almost like you’re getting to dine at home with the locals.
Be sure to do your research ahead of time before you just jump on the nearest bus and start riding, but public transit can be a great way to experience local culture, while you’re exploring the area.
Put yourself out there like the locals, and many of them will be encouraged to welcome you into the area.
If they speak English in that region, you may even be able to get some cool local recommendations to check out, which you may not be able to find in travel booklets or online guides.
It’s really easy to try and pack the days of your trip so full of things to do that the whole vacation feels like a whirlwind.
However, that’s not the best way for you to enjoy your trip or to experience local culture while traveling. This is the recipe for a rushed, exhausting trip, which could leave you more tired than you were when you left, and still feeling like you missed out on some local landmarks.
The truth is that you’ll enjoy your trip much better and have a much easier time experiencing local culture if you slow down and take your time exploring. Soak in as much as you can from every day, and you’ll feel like you’re making the most of your trip.
What better way to experience local culture than to throw yourself into a local community organization and start lending a hand?
Not only will this make it much easier to connect and socialize with locals (they’ll likely be very thankful to have some extra help for the day), but they’ll be more willing to open up about cool local spots you can check out after you’re done volunteering.
Giving back to the area you’re visiting is a perfect way to do something positive and wholesome with your time, which is food for your soul.
There are festivals and events all the time in cities all around the world, no matter where you’re thinking about visiting.
These are a fantastic method for experiencing local culture because you’ll get a unique view into that culture’s traditions and celebrations.
Plan your trip around being present for at least one of these local festivals or events, so that you can get a first-hand look at how the locals enjoy themselves.
Unless you’ve got serious skills with languages, odds are that you may know two or even three languages, but any more than that could be a bit of a stretch.
This means that you could be very limited in communication when you’re traveling abroad and that can make it quite difficult to experience local cultures when you can’t communicate effectively with the people living there.
Duolingo is a fun, free way that you can take the time to learn a few very helpful phrases (i.e., “where is the bathroom?”, “where can I find a doctor?”, etc.), which could end up being literal lifesavers on your journey.
It’s almost as easy these days to book an Airbnb as it is to book a hotel room stay (and sometimes even cheaper), so that alone makes this a great method for cutting back on your travel budget.
Plus, spending some time staying in the living space of someone who normally lives there can give you some unique, interesting insights into the life of locals and their culture.
This will allow you to feel more connected to the region throughout your trip since you won’t feel cut off from the culture every time you return to your hotel room.
You may think of North America as the performing arts capital of the world, but the fact is that there are performing arts schools all over the world.
If you’re looking to take in a show that is more than just a Broadway knock-off, you should see if the region you’re visiting has one of these schools.
These schools are more likely to put on productions that are based on regional or cultural mythology, which can give you a ‘behind the scenes’ look at some of the folklore within their culture.
There’s a very big difference between making a scene while intoxicated at a bar, and spending some time talking and socializing with locals in nearby establishments.
People living in most cities don’t tend to take loud, boisterous tourists very well, but many regions are very accepting of polite, interested tourists that are more concerned with culture, exploration, and growth than partying away their vacation.
That’s not to say you can’t enjoy a couple of drinks on your trip, but remember that as a tourist you’re probably being watched by locals, so your behavior will have a huge impact on how they choose to interact with you.
There’s nothing subtle about planning a cultural tour to help experience local cultures while traveling, but that’s exactly why these tours are in place.
Designed to give you a respectful, in-depth peek into the cultural (and sometimes religious) philosophies that dominate the area, these tours are literally built around helping tourists experience the local culture.
This can also be a great opportunity to ask the guide questions, which may be embarrassing to ask random people as you’re exploring the area on your own.
You may feel a bit odd going out and purchasing an outfit that’s designed in the local style, but this can be a great way to (literally) put yourself in the shoes of people living in that region.
Just be sure to do some research ahead of time to find out what kind of typical clothing is worn by the locals, and aim for those types of outfits.
Don’t just grab the first thing that strikes your attention in a store window, since you may not fully understand the social or religious implications of certain pieces of clothing and wouldn’t want to unintentionally offend anyone with your choice of attire.
Ever since COVID hit, small businesses around the world have been struggling, which is why it’s more important than ever to ensure that when you’re visiting a new area, you’re supporting the local small businesses there.
There aren’t any real downfalls to making this choice. You’ll get an honest look at the nearby vendors for food, clothing, and other items, outside of big chain stores.
Not just that, the people that you’re supporting will appreciate your business too. You’ll be more likely to be able to connect with them and have them share some nearby hotspots with you as a show of gratitude for giving them your business.
Forget catching a taxi or always relying on public transit to shuttle you around the local area. Do some stretches, then get out there and start exploring on foot.
Taking in all the sights and sounds can be difficult when it’s blowing by you in a blur from a vehicle, but seeing the city on foot is a great way to experience local culture at a relaxed, comfortable pace.
Plus, this will slow you down and force you to soak in the culture you’re exploring – instead of rushing from one landmark to the other in the hopes of ‘seeing everything’, when you’re just taking a cursory glance around the area at that speed.
Don’t just reserve your explorations for the areas of your destination that are known for being tourist traps.
You may want to check these places out at some point (they’re often attractive to tourists for a reason), but there’ll be more to see around than just the stuff you see in guide books. Truly immersing yourself in a new culture means stepping outside the guided path that many tourists take the first time they visit a new area.
Just be sure to do your research ahead of time to prevent you from accidentally wandering into some parts of the area that may not be so friendly for tourists.
It’s a lot easier to experience local culture when you’re completely surrounded by it. Window shop your way through the nearby food markets, many cities across the world boast some kind of communal shopping area, and you should take advantage of it to do as much of your shopping as possible too.
Residents in the area will appreciate that you’re choosing to support local vendors, and you’ll find things that may not be readily available through grocery stores in the area.
Best of all, as long as you’re respectful, you may even be able to barter with vendors for good deals on the items they’re selling, especially if you’re buying a sizable amount of stuff for your visit.
This comfortable travel backpack is big enough to carry along all the essentials you might need, while you’re out adventuring.
It also comes with an incredibly useful USB charging port for your phone that allows you to keep your phone charged throughout the day, just in case.
There are plenty of ways that you can experience local culture when traveling that are both respectful of local customs and educational for you.
No matter which of our tips you choose to try out, one of the most valuable lessons you can learn as a scholar of new cultures is that most cultures are welcoming to tourists – as long as you don’t disrespect their traditions or ideals.
Follow our tips and do a little research ahead of time to ensure that you don’t accidentally make any cultural faux pas while you’re traveling, and you’ll be prepared to Getaway Well – no matter where your cultural or travel journeys take you.