6 Ways to Truly Experience a Travel Destination

Many times when people travel they miss out on the most valuable aspect of the place in which they find themselves: culture.

Here are six ways you can truly experience the culture in a simple and traditional way.

Eat the local food

One of my favorite ways to experience a place is by enjoying the local cuisine. That means avoiding the McDonald’s and restaurants marketing to tourists.  Find out where the locals eat and go there.  It may not be as fancy but the food will be authentic, probably be cheaper, and the experience will last a life time.

Strike up conversation

You may be tempted to keep to yourself or spend all of your time with people from your hostel, but talking to locals can be a fascinating experience.  Sometimes you don’t even need to seek out conversation, it comes to you.  Try talking to somebody riding the bus or train with you or maybe chatting up a store clerk.  Even if you don’t fully speak the local language, give it a shot. It can be fun and more people around the world than you realize speak some English and are happy to practice with you.

Visit someone in their home

OK, you can’t just go knocking on somebody’s door and ask to come in, but if you meet somebody while traveling and they invite you to their house, you should definitely consider taking them up on the offer.  Many cultures have an unbelievable hospitality ethic and truly enjoy treating you like royalty.  The Arab culture is famous for this but it doesn’t stop there.  People all across the world love making friends and are probably just as curious about you and your culture as you are about theirs.

Go to school

Considering living somewhere abroad for a little while? Why not see if you can receive college credit for taking a class or two?  This is a great way to learn a foreign language even if you have had no practice before.  You’ll learn at an accelerated rate due to having to practice it on a daily basis, and not simply in class a few hours a week like most students.

Surf somebody’s couch

Couchsurifng is an online social networking site that connects travelers with local hosts who enjoy allowing somebody to sleep on their couch.  As somebody who has couchsurfed abroad and hosted many surfers, I can say that it’s a unique way to travel.  Some hosts let you stay and make yourself at home.  Many hosts enjoy spending time with their guests and new friendships can bloom from these experiences.  The downside is that many people willing to host guests don’t live in the typical tourist places that you’ll want to visit and the ones who do are overwhelmed with requests.  If you have extra time to venture out and wish to experience living like a local, give Couchsurfing a look.

Dance

One last one for fun: go dancing! I’m not talking about the trendy night club all the tourists are going to.  If you hear Lady GaGa from outside, run away quickly.  Instead, try dancing to the local beat.  Are you in Spain? Go Salsa Dancing! Buenos Aires? Learn to Tango!

Creative Commons headline image courtesy of zabara tango.

8 Replies to “6 Ways to Truly Experience a Travel Destination”

  1. So true about eating the local food, though I often struggle with anything that used to be alive. Another suggestion would be to walk away. Just a few blocks from most main tourist hubs are great opportunities for finding locals in their comfortable niche ~ eating at a local cafe, watching sports in a pub, playing in a park.

  2. Couchsurfing has always been a positive experience for me. One of the coolest experiences I’ve had was getting to stay with someone from Paris who I had hosted earlier that year. Very rewarding getting to show one another life in two very different cities.

  3. These are great suggestions. And I totally agree with Joanna – the best places we ate at in Bali were the small restaurants frequented by locals off the main tourist drag.

  4. I’d also add learn the local language as much as possible and get lost on purpose. There is so much going on a block or two away from where most tourists and travelers end up. My terrible sense of direction has been the source of many great learning experiences.

  5. I can never understand why people travel half way around the world only to spend much of their time in or in search of a McDonalds (or pizzahut, starbucks etc.).

    But you do need to exercise some caution when eating local food – the sickest I have ever felt was after eating bbq squid from a street vendor. Thankfully I found a doctor that would do house calls.

  6. Thanks for these thoughts. I’d add just a couple more: Ask for tips from locals about their fave eating places. Avoid mass tourist tours of cities and go walking instead. Head into the backstreets rather than the main piazzas.
    You’re so right about Arab hospitality. I remember visiting Aswan in Egypt and being invited by a Sudanese boatman into his home in the desert. It was an unforgettable experience for me and my friends as we met his family and started dancing with them and other locals to music from an old transistor radio!

  7. The advice about going to someone’s house is usually a good idea in most countries, but not in the Philippines. More than one traveler has found themselves in a very awkward and difficult situation when that has happened.

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