There are tourists and then there are travellers. Which one you choose to be can greatly influence what type of holiday you’ll experience. A tourist travels simply to enjoy a break and tends to focus merely on relaxation and personal enjoyment. They tend to seek out the popular places and things to do and are often more hesitant to stray outside their comfort zone to try new things.
A traveller tends to be more eager to fully immerse themself in new cultures and often shows greater care for the places they visit and the people they meet. Choosing to be a traveller as opposed to a tourist most often results in a far more rewarding and enriching experience.
Cultural immersion takes time and effort and requires patience, respect, and the ability to adapt to new ways of thinking or doing things. By exposing yourself to different ways of life, traditions, and beliefs, it challenges your preconceived notions and expands your worldview, helping you to develop a broader perspective on the diversity of human experiences.
If you’re looking to step outside of your comfort zone and become a real traveller, we’ve gathered some tips on how you can immerse yourself in a new culture while travelling which will allow you to go beyond the surface-level tourist attractions to discover the true heart and authenticity of a destination.
But don’t feel like you have to make the leap to become true traveller alone. Consider getting travel insurance backed by a 24/7 global assistance network in case you run into any challenges.
Language learning may not always be the easiest thing to do, but making the effort will greatly open new doors to connecting with locals and gaining a greater understanding of cultures and traditions. You don’t necessarily need to become fluent in the local language, rather simply learning a few basic phrases can go a long way in building connections and showing respect.
Locals will appreciate any effort you make to communicate in their language, and it can lead to more meaningful interactions. Being able to communicate more effectively with locals allows you to ask questions, engage in conversations, and understand important information such as signs, menus, and public transportation schedules.
Being able to communicate not only makes your travels easier in many respects but also enhances your overall travel experience by becoming part of the local society as opposed to just a foreign observer.
While it may be easier or more comfortable simply booking accommodation with a hotel brand you know well, this keeps you confined within your comfort zone and often places you in neighbourhoods with other foreign travellers as opposed to within the places locals live.
Consider options like homestays, guesthouses, cultural exchange programs, or small locally-owned hotels instead of large chain hotels. This allows you to interact with locals on a daily basis, learn from them, and gain insights into their way of life.
Living with locals provides an immersive experience and a unique opportunity to learn firsthand about people’s daily routines, traditions, and family dynamics.
Another way to immerse yourself in the local culture is to become part of the community. If you are too hesitant to partake in a homestay, you can still choose to participate in local events, festivals, or other activities that locals enjoy and aren’t simply ones set up for tourists.
Eat at restaurants frequented by locals, or even better, shop at local markets or grocery stores to not only see how locals do things but also to discover many of the local foods that may otherwise be hidden by only choosing to eat at popular international chain restaurants.
Schedule some time to volunteer with a local charity or conservation organisation, or seek out some kind of community service to give back to the destinations you are visiting. This will allow you to engage with the community while also promoting sustainable travel and making you feel like you become a small part of a destination’s DNA.
If you are planning to book tours, avoid the touristy ones run by international guides or business and instead choose to go with local guides who can provide more in-depth knowledge about local culture and traditions.
By engaging with locals, you will likely be exposed to trying new things and don’t let these opportunities pass you by. Travel is all about venturing beyond your normal everyday routine life back home to have experiences you may have never had before and may never get the opportunity to enjoy again.
Seize the moment and force yourself to try new foods that will allow you to taste the authentic flavours of a region. Don’t just seek out the major landmarks, but instead explore the off the beaten path areas to uncover hidden attractions and special places frequented by locals.
Not only are hidden attractions that are prized by locals often more rewarding, they are also often more economical to enjoy since they are not part of the main tourist trail. Allow yourself to be inspired by local folk art, traditional music, dance, and activities that may stay with you long after you return home.
Simply using taxis to get around limits your interaction with locals and doesn’t allow you to explore beyond the main parts of a city. By renting a car and driving outside the main city centre or actively using public transport, you will become part of the local energy. You will be exposed to the very things locals experience everyday and often be amused by the many different modes of transport there are around the world.
Immersing yourself in local culture can start long before you actually set foot in a destination. By taking the time to thoroughly research a destination before your trip, it allows you to not miss out on what makes a place unique or special.
Learning a bit about the local history and social issues allows you to understand why things are the way they are so you won’t be too quick to judge things that may not be familiar to you once your arrive. A bit of research will allow you to understand the local laws and helps you avoid making a faux pas such as inadvertently making a rude or obscene gesture.
Knowledge of a destination leads to deeper appreciation for local customs, values, and perspectives. Attend local places of worship or spiritual ceremonies to gain insight on local religious traditions. These places and events often shape the local culture in a major way.
And be eager to keep learning while you travel. Don’t be afraid to ask locals questions. Show you’re curious and truly wish to understand and appreciate the culture you’re visiting
Immersing yourself in local culture requires keeping an open mind. You don’t have to always agree with local customs and traditions but you should be willing to embrace the differences or at least respect them. You have to always remember that you are merely a visitor and it isn’t your place to force a destination to adapt to your beliefs or values.
Be especially mindful of indigenous cultures who may have lived on the land you are visiting far longer than what you may consider the current local culture to be which may have in fact been influenced by colonialism. You often find that there is not just one single culture within a destination, rather there may be a blend of different cultures you can immerse yourself in.
Treat important historical landmarks, people, and local wildlife and ecosystems as more than simply photo opportunities for your social media accounts. Be mindful of the impact you are having on the local community and always try your best to leave a place as you found it or enhance it if you can.
Adhere to local norms such as customs and traditions. Try to dress in a similar manner and takes things at a similar pace to how locals do things. Travellers can often be in such a rush to tick things off their to-do list that they fail to realise their lack of patience and how they are coming across to locals.
Local culture is only preserved if it is respected, and we as travellers have a responsibility to promote it to continue. And the best way to promote a culture’s survival is to immerse yourself in it, while showing respect and a genuine desire to learn and connect with locals.