There’s so much to look forward to when heading to a new destination. It’s a chance to discover exciting cities, see fascinating sights, explore beautiful landscapes, and experience different cultures. And making connections with the local culture is a key element to getting the most out of your trip. Having ways to experience and engage with it can make all the difference, so we’re sharing how you can easily immerse yourself while traveling the world.
1. Learn Basics of the Language
It’s practically impossible to fully immerse yourself in the local culture without garnering some understanding of the language because culture and language are inextricably mixed.
It’s not only going to help you read restaurant menus and decipher signs—having a few phrases in the local language(s) up your sleeve will tip off locals that you’re interested in their culture and took time to learn it, instead of assuming they would understand English.
Getting a basic grasp of greetings and common questions will help you connect better. Even simply learning “please” and “thank you” will show courtesy. When you make an effort with the language, you’ll get big smiles from the locals—and they’ll be happy to teach you more!
2. Take Local Transportation
When you’re not traveling as part of a tour or on pre-arranged transportation, travel as the locals do! Use the buses, metro, rickshaws, bicycles, trolleys, or whatever you see locals using. You can also usually download transit schedules and tickets to your phone. Or, seek out a savvy-looking local who just hopped off the bus and ask for guidance. In most destinations, the residents are happy to share a few quick tips for getting around their city. And just remember to always take proper safety precautions by staying in populated, well-lit areas and researching beforehand.
3. Tuck Away the Technology
It’s undeniable that you’ll absorb more of your surroundings by putting technology away. When you avoid the social media scrolling and constant checking of your phone, you can better savor those precious moments that go by so fast. Sometimes it’s even worth it to put the camera down and just embrace the scenery, sights, and culture, rather than documenting them. Or, take one or two nice photos, and then put the camera to rest.
With all this said, it also helps you stay safer. Pickpockets are quickly tipped off by tourists carrying massive cameras around their necks and toting a selfie stick around in plain view. Be discreet by tucking those items away when not in use.
4. Get (a Little) Lost
Wander a bit and explore the streets and alleyways that are hiding just behind the main road, city squares, and bustling markets. These quieter, more authentic areas are often more representative of the destination’s culture and are usually home to family-run restaurants and cafés frequented by neighborhood residents, off-the-beaten-path shopping, and local homes and apartments—a great way to get a slice-of-life perspective. Again, do your research or ask your tour guide for their insider recommendations on skipping the crowds and “usual” spots.
5. Be Respectful of Local Customs and Rules
Just as valuable as learning the language of your destination, researching the local customs will give you a more in-depth understanding of the culture. Plus, nothing is more off putting than a loud, brash out-of-towner acting like they don’t understand the local rules or that those rules don’t apply to them just because they don’t live there. Abiding by the local guidelines, dressing appropriately for sightseeing venues (particularly sites with religious significance), and learning the local body language customs, such as hand gestures, eye contact, and greetings, provide a distinctive way to immerse yourself and also helps avoid negative perceptions of foreign visitors.
6. Dress for Your Destination
Pack your bags with your destination in mind—do a little internet sleuthing or read through your tour’s “Before You Depart” information ahead of time to get a feel for the local wardrobe. A few minutes of research can pay huge dividends when you’re able to dress appropriately in the traditional style of your destination, i.e. a head wrap for when you’re on a Morocco camel trek or covering your arms and legs while visiting a Hindu temple. And when you’re in your destination, buy articles of clothing that you can wear and also take home as souvenirs, such as scarves, jewelry, unique accessories, etc.
7. Act Like a Local
Read local newspapers and magazines. Buy a reusable grocery bag at a neighborhood market and use it to tote your belongings. Hop on local transportation as mentioned. Try the local delicacies, even if they feel intimidating or strange, and ask local residents for their favorite restaurants, coffee shops, and bars. You could even strike up conversations with waitstaff, baristas, and bus drivers. Ask about their life and share tidbits of yours. When you act like a local, you’ll start to get their perspective.
True culture immersion is all about researching your destination beforehand, tapping into the local hot spots and traditions, and making sure you understand the customs, dress codes, and some of their language. Make strong connections when you travel and you’ll surely have a trip that’s unforgettable!