For many people who have a potent thirst for adventure, the point of travelling is to visit a country and leave feeling like you really experienced the true spirit of the destination. Unfortunately, unless you know a lot of local people, it can be easy to get looped into a more manufactured, “touristy” experience while you’re out there. Despite what you may think, there’s no set personality type that will lead to a more authentic experience. Anyone can get closer to the heart of a destination with the right approach. If you want your next travel experience to be more raw and authentic, here are a few pointers to help you along.
1. Take an Interest in Others
Whether it’s another traveller who’s out there just to see the world like you, a tour guide showing you around points of historical interest in a city, or just someone you’ve passed a few times in the reception of your hostel, take an interest. Going out of your way to find out more about people can open so many doors, not just in terms of companionship, but the chance of having some memorable adventures as well. Even if you have a hard time coming out of your shell, conversations will happen, provided that you stay in places that are more conducive to chatter. You may want to research where the liveliest hostels are where you’re going, learn about homestays, or get an Air BnB in an area known for its friendly locals. Open up and take a genuine interest in the people you come across in your travels. You’ll be amazed at the things it can lead to!
2. Take an Interest in the Culture
Even if you’re not all that patriotic, you’ll probably agree that it’s always fun to introduce people to your culture, and the things you’re most proud of in the country you’re from. If any of the locals can tell that you’re genuinely interested in learning more about the culture, you’ll be much more likely to be welcomed into their way of life, and get a taste of those unique travel experiences that money simply can’t buy. Doing this is all about observing the locals; the way they prepare and eat their food, the way they converse, the way they take their drinks and even how they celebrate holidays. When you see something that seizes your interest, approach someone local and ask them about it. They won’t bite!
3. Learn Some Customs As Soon As Possible
The world is full of all kinds of customs and cultural nuances that can be essential for getting around and making nice with the locals. In Thailand, for example, it’s considered rude to look at the ground when you’re with company. In Sweden, it’s more or less a given that having gone to someone’s house, you’ll call them the next day and thank them for their hospitality again. In India, it’s rude to point at anything with a single finger, particularly if it’s on your left hand. If you really want to experience the spirit of the country you’re visiting, it will be very helpful to read up on some of these customs and nuances before you head out, and practice them wherever you get the chance. Furthermore, while you don’t have to be fluent, it can also help you get closer with the locals if you pick up a few useful phrases. “Hello”, “sorry”, “excuse me” and “thank you” are the bare minimum you need to avoid being known as the rudest expat in town!
4. Eat Where the Locals Eat
Food is always a big part of travelling, and if you want to have a truly immersive experience in the country you’re going to, eating right should be a big item on your list. If you want to get a better taste of the place you’re visiting, all you have to do is eat as the locals eat! Generally, the best way to start is through street food. If you’ve only ever had western street food before, this might sound a little greasy and classless to be an experience worth having. However, street food can often be among the best eats in a given region, especially in southeast Asia. Going out of your way to do as the Romans do when it comes to food may also open the door to conversation and adventure. If you’re the only foreigner eating at a local stall while all the other tourists cram into larger, fancier restaurants, local people will be much more inclined to talk to you and recommend things to see and do in the area.
5. Remember What People Tell You, Especially Their Names
Whether you’re planning to be in one spot for a few days or a couple of months, make a point of learning names of some of the people who work at the hotel, hostel or guesthouse where you’re staying. The same goes for anyone you see pretty often in the common areas. Names are one of the hardest things to remember when you’re travelling, particularly if you’ve already got a problem remembering European names! However, if you make a point of repeating those names over and over in your head, or even writing them down, you’ll find it so much easier to make new friends and keep them on the road. Everyone’s favorite word is their name, and using people’s names is crucial to forging a close relationship, especially if you’re not going to be around for that long. A large part of respect and acceptance will stem from simple acts of courtesy like this. These, in turn, will open opportunities for a more full and memorable travelling experience, wherever you go.
If you’re worried that your travelling experiences are becoming a little too “cookie-cutter”, make a point of practicing this advice on your next big trip. You’ll get to meet more people, have richer experiences, and come back feeling like you really got an authentic taste of the country.
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