7 Ways to Get to Know the Local Culture While Travelling
Travelling is one of those things that we buy that makes us richer, many say. However, if you stick to your crowd and only go to familiar and very touristic places, how can you experience and enrich yourself with the local culture? So don’t automatically assume that you are getting all the benefits of experiencing a different culture when you are not actually making an effort to do so. Based on that, I decided to put together a list of recommendations on how you can learn about other cultures when travelling, which will hopefully help you become a better person, connect with people, and reward yourself with the benefits of travel.
Rent a Car
When you rent a car and not just rely on tour buses, you are not only allowing yourself the possibility of going where you want to when you want to, but also of getting lost, which could be a great thing because you will try to find your way back by asking the locals, making an effort to understand the signs and understanding the local geography.
Also, by not taking local tours, you won’t just be passively receiving information about the location, but rather be more inquisitive and actively learn about the history and customs of each stop (and let’s be honest that a lot of the times you will not be paying attention to what the guide is telling you anyways). You will be searching for this information on your own when you read the signs and actively make your way through the unknown path. However, local tour guides can indeed give you some great extra information about the spots, so it is definitely a valid idea to hire one when you are at a certain destination.
Try Local Restaurants
This point is extremely important when you are experiencing a culture through food. Try to avoid any well-known chains and choose to go to that local joint instead. The smaller the better! You won’t have the certainty that the food will taste good or a certain way, but you will allow yourself to be surprised by how the local spices and blends can taste different, maybe even better than what you expected. There is no denying that a country’s cuisine can tell a lot about their culture.
Also, when at the restaurant, try asking about the local and most traditional dishes and go for those. Street food can be a great option for trying authentic cuisine too, as well as local markets. However, always have an eye on how clean and hygienic the place seems, as I don’t want you to be getting a stomach bug.
Hang Out at Local Cafes or Bars
This option is perfect for people-watching and interacting. You can observe and learn a lot about the locals’ behavior when going to these places. It is also a place that offers opportunities to start a conversation and get to know the locals better. One experience I can give you as an example is when I went to Isla Mujeres, outside of Cancun. This is a very touristic part of Mexico so we really had to look closer to find a bar where mainly the local people would go. When we got there, people started staring at us but soon after we were making friends, trying the local drinks, and we ended up having the best night of our trip there.
By the way, when at these places, don’t forget to try the local coffee, tea or beer!
Attend Local Concerts or Events
This one is another great way to learn more about local behaviors, tastes and music. Can you think of anything that says more about a place than its own music and dance? And this is probably one of the main things I like to do when I visit another country. I love seeing how they move and learning what they sing about. Some lyrics come from the heart and can say a lot about their social standing and their ways of seeing life.
And when you do go to one of those events, dare yourself to learn the local moves, join the party if that is the case, and try to have a good time.
Walk to as many Places as You Can
This is another thing that I always try to do when travelling, and you know why? Because you can easily stop and pay attention to details while experiencing the life of the streets. When you walk, you mingle with the environment and start absorbing how it feels like to be one of the locals around you.
I understand that this is not possible in some destinations, like in some cities in the US for example, where everything is spread out and you are better off driving a car. But whenever you can, do so and you will see that there are many benefits to it: you will start realizing how the streets work and how you can get from one place to another, you can easily stop and admire the local architecture, you can adventure through hidden paths, you can readily stop and take pictures, you can hear the sounds of the streets, and, if you walk long enough, you will also be losing some calories as it makes you a more active traveller. For tips about how to stay fit while travelling you can click here.
Check Out Museums of Local History and Art
Learning more about the local history can give you such an important background on the culture and help you understand their current situation. And could there be a better place to start than visiting a museum? It could be a museum that is located on a historic site, or just a general national one - they will provide you with information and artifacts that can give you a better clue on how the locals view their own history. One example was when I visited Check Point Charlie in Berlin and its museum - gosh just by being there it gave me goosebumps! I learned so much about its history and importance during the cold war days in a way that I'll never forget.
Another way of getting to know the local culture is through art. How people express themselves says so much about how they see themselves and the world around them. When you start to understand their minds, that is when you actually begin to absorb all the richness of the cultures around the globe.
Learn Some of the Local Language and Interact With People
A great way to connect with people is through language. You don’t have to be fluent, but their language will give you a major tool on understanding their culture and how they express themselves through words.
When you try to speak their language, you stimulate your brain to communicate in a different way style yours, and so it will literally start creating neuronal connections that is closely related to the country/place you are visiting. Again, I am not saying you have to become fluent in every language spoken in the places you visit, but you can already get some of the benefits just by learning some phrases and words. One example is when I go to France and try to speak the language. I am far from being fluent in French but, somehow, just by trying to communicate with them through their words, I feel closer to them more than if I didn't.
Also, when you speak with people in their language, you will not only sound less patronizing, but many will also be appreciative of your efforts for trying to communicate with them in a way that they feel more comfortable, which makes you a better traveler, as a whole.