Tamz Explores

Smart Ways to Truly Understand a Culture When You Travel

Whenever you travel, you always experience new aspects of different cultures. Even when you travel within your home country, you will come across various cultural quirks. You might discover a popular local dish or learn a word from local dialect. If you love culture, one of your goals when you’re traveling might be to experience it as authentically as possible. However, whether a traveler can ever truly understand another culture is an age-old question. You may never see a culture through the eyes of a local, but you can still make an effort to understand it. Here are some of the things you can do.

See as Much as You Can

The first thing you should do is try to see as much as possible. That doesn’t mean you have to go all over the country, although that is one option. If you want to explore how the culture differs in various regions, consider planning a journey that spans across a considerable area. You can easily find famous, well-trodden paths such as the Char Dham in India. However, you can also plan to stay at one place for all the days of your trip. If you do, make sure you don’t still to just the city center or one small neighborhood. Try to visit different parts of the locale and experience different things, from the nightlife to local festivals and foods.

Go Where the Locals Go

One of the worst things you can do when you’re traveling is to stick to the tourist areas. It might be fine if you’re just “on vacation”, but if you’re traveling, you need to get out there. The tourist traps are expensive, overcrowded, and don’t show you the real local culture. If you want to see an authentic side to your destination, you need to wander and follow the locals. Take Venice for example, one of the most popular places for tourists. The busy parts of the city aren’t for everyone. If you start to wander the streets, you might get lost, but you could also find some great secrets. Similarly in Hong Kong, if you head out of the maze of skyscrapers or skip the obviously popular Disneyland, you will find a lot of hiking/trekking trails amid beautiful mountain ranges and waterfalls.

Don’t Be Afraid to Participate

Joining in is a great way to get to know a culture. You should be willing to experience it yourself so you can understand it. Of course, it’s perfectly acceptable to have boundaries. You don’t have to compromise your morals to join in. However, you should keep an open mind about trying new foods or experiencing activities. If you’re offered an opportunity, consider it carefully before you turn it down. Even if your immediate instinct is not to do it, make sure you won’t regret it later. For example, I participated in an adventure marathon at a remote village in Indonesia while I was there on a volunteering stint.

Stay for a While

If you’re only on a flying visit, it will be hard to get to know the local culture. Similarly, staying in a hotel means you’re disconnected from your destination. If you want a more in-depth experience, you could consider living like a local for a while. Rent an apartment for a longer period or perhaps even look for a homestay/couch-surf. Alternatively, you can get involved in some volunteering activities during your travel which is a wonderful way to understand the local communities.

You might not ever be a local when you travel somewhere, but you can still try to understand the people who are. Not only you get to experience something new but understanding different cultures opens up your mind in a lot of ways. You start appreciating the importance and existence of diversity all around the world. You go home a more enriched person if you make the effort to absorb the various shades of a new culture.


31 thoughts on “Smart Ways to Truly Understand a Culture When You Travel

  1. Bella WW

    I love your post and I definitely agree with everything you wrote. Personally, when visiting a new country, I always try their food, but at the same time, I keep an eye on the way they dress and the way they treat animals. These details help me unerstand more about the respective culture.

  2. Anamika Ojha

    Great tips shared! I totally believe that engaging with locals really helps you to get to know your destination better. Also try to do history, museum and food tours to get a great insight and information related to your destination!

  3. Shane

    One thing i really regret about my 18 country Eurotrip is that I did it with a tour group so didn’t get to engage with locals enough. We also didn’t get near enough time to immerse ourselves in the culture of each city. Great advice to keep in mind!

  4. blair villanueva

    I agree with your post. Whenever I travel (even here in Asia) I always try my best to experience local life. I learn how to communicate with them in their local language (even a simple Thank you, Please, Good morning in local language) are quite helpful. Locals are great guides too! In HK, I’ve met this local Uncle owning a small restaurant in Wan Chai, and he serve really good dimsums! He noticed that I eat happily and offered me that my dimsums are from-the-house. So cool!

  5. Subhadrika Sen

    I completely agree with you. I recently went to my first ever solo trip to Wales. I had my eyes and ears open all the time. in fact our hostel had a nice common room for evening get togethers with tea or coffee . I met so many different people that day from Iraq, Italy, London, york, and it was an amazing experience.

  6. Tae

    Sage advice here, especially the tip on going where the locals go. I love to ask locals, “what would you do if you had the day off of work?” Usually they’ll point you to a non-touristy local vacation spot or hideaway πŸ™‚

  7. Rashmi and Chalukya

    Learning and admiring different cultures is one of the reason why we travel. It is always fascinating and intriguing to know the cultural aspects of the places we visit. Definitely walking the path of locals, talking to them is one of the way to learn local culture and customs.

  8. The Solivagant Soul (@Thesolivsoul)

    I agree with you that there’s no point in travelling if all you want is see the three turistic spots and move one. I usually travel fast and with a packed itinerary, but I tend to ask locals in shops or in non popular places about what should I not miss ot where should I eat. At the end, they give the best recommendations! Thanks for this interesting post!

  9. Ami Bhat

    Very important points – blending in is the key alright. And Festivals – another aspect of a place that tells you so much about the culture of the place. Food is yet another part of the culture – avoiding those pricey joints and going in for the local ones.

  10. theglobeater

    That’s totally true, we’ll never get to know a culture fully, but there are good chances we can get to understand a good part of it when traveling.
    I love immersing myself in the local culture, eating traditional foods and, if possible, even join some non-touristy activities.
    When I was in Beijing last summer I got into a random park early in the morning and in a matter of minutes I found myself dancing along with a group of local elderlies. When I found out this was a morning ritual for them and they’d go to the park to dance every morning I started coming back more often in order to join them. That really was an enriching experience and it got me to know Chinese people so much better than any tourist activity I could have done during my stay!

  11. Berlin

    This momi loves to travel so much she indeed was able to tour most of North Luzon’s provinces because of work. She was able to fly at least six times in a week, again, because of work. Now she misses traveling. She stays at home with a one-year-old boy. She may sound real sad for not traveling now but then she learned that perhaps God granted her desire to travel before in order to tell stories of what she saw, felt, eaten and even heard from those travels to her sons.

  12. Reu Salvy Valdez

    I also love traveling but having work is difficult to travel. You know I love your camera and your shoots. I wonder how did you edit your photos. I have my frustration on how to have a signature color of my blog.

  13. Ferna

    When I travel, and since I travel solo most of the time, this is exactly what I do. My interaction with local is also one of my favorite it is where I get to know deeper the culture of a country

  14. verushka

    To me personally learning about a culture on my travels excite me. I love doing things that locals do and try to stay away from the very touristy spots. Before I travel I also tend to read up on where I am going so I have an idea what to expect. Thanks for the tips.

  15. GeekGirlGoes

    While I do agree that tourist spots can be a bit of a polished version of he city, they are often popular for a reason. They can still teach you a lot about the countries history and culture! But I do love getting lost on random streets too! haha

  16. Punita Malhotra

    Very valid inputs to immerse yourself into a destination while travelling. I agree that the deeper a travel experience, the richer it is…unfortunately, some of us are often hard pressed for time.

  17. Milton Coyne

    i think that is really one of the wonder of traveling… you are not just witnessing the beauty that the place has to offer but you also get the chance to experience and witness their rich culture! I love exploring other cultures as well and whenever i travel, i really do some research so I somehow aware of their traditions, history and culture! In that way, you can easily connect yourself with the people!

  18. Veeyah | The Indy Miss

    I couldn’t agree more with what you’ve pointed out here. Whenever I travel, I try to immerse myself in my surroundings and engage with people to see what things stick out to them and what the usual things to do in the area are. Your last point about home-staying is a struggle for me, as I find security in staying at hotels. I don’t spend my days inside though, and find that walking on foot allows you to “see” the place much better.

  19. Jessica Ayun

    I have been trying to stay for three weeks to one month minimum in one country. The visa issues are still difficult even if I wanted to stay longer. But yeah, I am still a slow traveler and prefer to stay with locals and let them guide me what their place can offer. It is a fulfilling trip and would always be memorable that days in top tourist destinations.

  20. Nicole Paler

    I love these ideas on how to immerse and try to understand the culture of a place. One more way though that I can see for us to understand the culture of a place we travel is through their food, and asking about the origins of why use these type of spices on their dish. πŸ˜€ Also, didn’t think that you can hike in Hongkong. But maybe that’s just me being ignorant and not using my common sense. Also the fact that when I went there I was still new to the traveling world and I became more of a tourist rather than a traveler…. I would very much love to check out now if we can accommodate mountain hiking in Japan by hopefully next year because of your post. πŸ˜€

  21. Mommy Queenelizabeth

    As much as i wanted to stay and really live for a moment in a certain place, but i cant.. Our travels are usually arranged and ofcourse budgeted including the time.. I envy travelers who can really mingle with the locals and learn so much about their culture. I guess that’s what travelling is really all about…


    Here you have a distinct advantage over many other travelers. Being able to stay in one place for a period of time to get to know the culture better. For most tourists, it’s a mad rush to go to places just for the sake of going. I know of many people who go and have photos taken, then off to the next place.

    1. mariaisquixotic

      Totally! It’s as if you just went there for the photos and the view and not for the experience. It’s like eat and run and eat again but in a different place. I really admire travellers who are in it for the experience or journey of the lifetime.

  23. Carmy @ Carmyy.com

    I’m definitely a fan of go where the locals go! We usually ask someone who’s just hanging out or is working at a store where their favourite place to eat or visit are and then we take it from there. I’ve gotten so many great recommendations that way.

  24. John Rodgers

    I love your post more than any I have read today. I wish people would write more on the experience than just the pictures of the places and what they had at meal. We love to meet and talk to people, swap stories and information about our country with them about theirs. We stay in every country we visit the max time allowed and even some of the time make a visa run to stay a little longer. We just spent several months in Mongolia with nomadic families and I could not recommend it more. Great insights.

  25. The Tiny Book

    I so much agree with you, go local is my motto when travel, surround yourself by true experiences, get away from packages and tailor-made trips, create and model a trip suiting your own needs and aways from touristy places, that’s the best way to travel…

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