How to Travel Like a Local & Deeply Experience Another Culture
Travel Less Like a Tourist & More Like a Local
Lately all the hottest travel experts are talking about how to immerse yourself in cultural experiences on your travels. Many people are focusing their trips on truly learning and experiencing the way of life in the place they are visiting.
The best way to do this would be to become an expat and live permanently in a different place for a while. However, those who aren’t able to be expats still want to get a similar experience and travel like a local. So how do you experience the culture on shorter trips and genuinely feel like you have a taste of the local lifestyle? Read on to find out.
Be a Learner
Approaching your trip as an intentional learning experience will help guarantee that you embrace opportunities to learn about the culture and people you are visiting. Books are one of the best ways to learn, but there are bloggers that do a good job of this as well. By this I don’t mean reading guide books that help you see the sights.
Rather, you should read books written by local authors, history books, books about your destination or the culture of the people there. I always try to read a book about the place I am traveling to next. Gaining this bit of extra knowledge about the destination makes a huge difference in how I interpret things I encounter on the trip as I have a cultural lens to view my travels through.
Another way to learn about the culture you are visiting is by taking a class. Many locations offer short-term language classes for tourists where you can learn basic communication skills in a short period of time. Cooking classes are also very popular and will help you experience another side of the culture and possibly make some friends.
Give up the Tour (and the Tour Bus)
If you are the type that likes to travel on a set itinerary aboard a big, air-conditioned bus, more power to you. However, if you are looking for a local experience, you will need to venture out on your own a bit more. Re-thinking transportation can often lead to a greater depth of experiences.
For instance, if you rent a car and drive, you can travel far off the beaten path and explore rural areas where few tourists go. Alternatively, relying on public transportation means you get to interact with more people and see how ‘regular’ people live in the country you are visiting.
Giving up the tour bus may make your travels a bit more difficult, or require a bit more planning, but it will all be repaid to you in a wealth of experiences.
If you’re not quite ready to venture out on your own yet, getting a tour from a local is a great way to gain firsthand insight into a city. Taking a private tour of Paris, for example, will give you access to parts of the city you might not think to visit otherwise. Plus the more intimate setting means you can ask all the questions you want and get personalized tips.
Instead of focusing on seeing all of the highlights and packing in as many attractions as possible, try giving slow travel a try. If you book a week in one city and explore a different corner each day, you will leave with a greater understanding of how locals live.
Of course, the best way to really learn what it is like live like a local is to actually live there for an extended time. However, this just isn’t practical for many people and the next best thing is to travel slowly and really soak in all that you can from each trip.
Stay Away from Big Hotels and Book a Homestay
Hotels and resorts can offer the retreat-like environment and long lists of amenities that many of us are looking for in a vacation. However, for those of us who want to experience local life during our trips, staying in someone’s home is one of the best possible ways to do so. Through a homestay, you can learn how people truly live.
Make sure you don’t rush around the city seeing attractions, but that you spend time visiting and enjoying the family you are staying with. Some of the most memorable travel experiences happen around a kitchen table over a plate of food in someone’s home as we exchange cultural tidbits.
If homestays aren’t possible where you are traveling, even booking a vacation home rental can help you experience life a bit more like a local than you would in an all-inclusive resort in a tourist center.
Give Back to the Community by Volunteering
Another way to experience local life is to volunteer time during your trip. There are many organizations around the world who will welcome short-term volunteers. Through these organizations you can spend time working and improving the world and at the same time can learn more about the community, its successes, its problems and the lives of the people that live there.
There are volunteer options for virtually every interest whether you’d like to spend your time farming or working in an animal sanctuary. The most important thing about a volunteer trip is the way that you approach it. If you never give up your attitude and posture as a student of culture, you will gain much in return.
Lastly, for all of this to work, you have to have an open mind. Opening yourself up to trying new things is much of what makes travel so rewarding. Our presuppositions are challenged, and we are stretched beyond our comfort zones. Try new foods, learn a few words of a new language, ride on an uncomfortable bus, step out and make a new friend and your travels will be so much richer.