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.