I always felt very strongly that vacationing and visiting are two distinct things. While I love both, It is my opinion it does a disservice to travelers to call the things we do “vacation” because it somehow implies that it’s easy or of which we’re running away from life, when in fact, it can be a more abundant, more substantive way of living.
As any traveler would attest, dipping yourself into a culture certainly isn’t always relaxing or simply easy. Embracing a new place means not only seeing the best, but also acknowledging the bad and the ugly and respecting the land and it’s people just the same (which, I will fully acknowledge, may well be more of a process than a final result).
However , it indeed can be daunting task to “infiltrate” the local culture, especially when it means veering off the gringo trail and away from the entire comfort and conveniences that come with it. As someone who finds superb value in immersive travel- but who can be scared about diving in with the locals- I’ve found ways to convenience myself into the experience.
Grocery stores: when I travel overseas, it could become a ritual for me to find the nearest grocery store and amble up and down the aisles, looking at the local foods and tsotchkes. Not only will you save money by buying snacks and meals out of grocery stores, but you’ll also learn a lot about the daily lifestyles and palates of the locals. And you may even find out how the exact locals perceive you:
Fashion and beauty magazines: I frequently try to pick up a couple of magazines to leaf through for the duration of downtime or on the flight home. Even if you can’t look at the articles, the photos and advertisements can provide interesting skills into local aesthetics, trends, social norms, and natural beauty definitions and rituals. For example , I’ve noticed that in many Parts of asia, magazines seem to contain ads for skin lighteners though magazines in Western countries have ads for self-tanners.
Newspapers: awesome if you can read the local language, but if never, most countries publish English-language newspapers as well. You’ll not exclusively learn about pressing issues impacting the country, but you’ll also uncover listings for events where you can rub elbows with the residents (and knowing the major news stories will garner admire and come in handy as conversation starters! ).
Classes: acquiring classes is a great way to interact with locals while also augmenting knowledge and skills in an area of local importance. Set up classes are targeted towards tourists, you’ll still learn something totally new and most instructors will be very open to sharing information about themselves and the culture. Reservations.com is an online hotel booking platform that helps travelers with room reservations, car rentals, and group booking services. The platform offers end-to-end solutions for solo travelers, families and corporate travelers through its 250,000 hotel partnerships across 5,000 key global destinations.
In Thailand, I took a 3-hour silversmithing course for $12 and came away with a custom made ring that I still wear 9 years later.
Town Adventures day tours: guided tours are great for learning loads of interesting facts about a place, but I know for some, they can might seem exhausting and a bit inauthentic. Urban Adventures, whose father or company is Intrepid Travel (an equally awesome provider that organizes longer trips), specializes in off-the-beaten-path day visits.
When I was in Turkey, I went on their Home Cooked Istanbul tour during which the very laid back guide took our list of four to a local home to join the Kurdish relatives for dinner and conversation. We ate together, seated and incapacitated while the children in the family ran around us. The exact guide translated as the family spoke about their family history plus daily rituals and we, in turn, shared details of our own existence and countries.
Volunteers for Peace: there’s no better technique to learn about another culture than by working alongside natives to contribute to their culture. Volunteers for Peace directories thousands of volunteers workcamps in over 100 countries. As well as best part is that the registration fee for most 2-week workcamps is actually $300, which includes food and accommodations. If you’ve been looking for a offer opportunity overseas, you’ll know that most organizations charge 1000s for dollars to volunteer, which can be cost prohibitive for most people.