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This post was last updated on April 28th, 2019 at 12:51 pm
The travel business thrives on knowing what most people want—which is somewhere that is very like being at home. But there are plenty of travelers out there who want something different: to come away from a vacation feeling that they have had their minds broadened and their experience enriched.
First Things First
Getting under the skin of a new culture takes commitment, time, and hard work. Decide if that is really for you (I love it!). You will need to spend more than a couple of weeks somewhere—do you have the resources to do that? If you need to take out a personal loan to cover the cost, click this for more information.
Start well in advance with your homework. The language is an obvious place to begin, and the more words and phrases you can learn before you travel, the better you will find the experience.
Read as much as you can about the country before you go: its history, its politics, its favorite sports and pastimes, its food. You are then well equipped to talk to locals about the things that might interest them and to ask them intelligent questions. Brush up your etiquette to avoid social pitfalls.
When You Arrive
Arrange to stay somewhere that is going to force you to interact with locals. Avoid western hotels and backpacker hostels except as jumping-off points. The ideal arrangement is to stay with a local family, especially if they will also provide you with some meals. Alternatively, Airbnb may be the best option for locally owned accommodation and this is my usual choice.
Asking for help is a great way to initiate contacts with local people. There are rogues and con men out there, but trust your instincts not to get yourself into any dangerous situations, and stay in public spaces.
Find out if it is safe to eat street food, which is a major part of the lifestyle in many countries. Look out for restaurants that are frequented by locals, and use an up-to-date guidebook to find the places that will offer the most authentic eating.
Keep your eyes and ears open, and do what the locals do. You will make a fool of yourself sometimes, but who cares?
Really to get under the skin of a foreign culture takes time. You will need to develop your language skills considerably, so work on them every day.
If you can find work in the country you are visiting, you will not only be able to stay longer but will also make more and better contacts. Teaching English can be a useful trade—even if you cannot work for money, you can still swap English lessons for conversation practice in the local language, or look for volunteering opportunities.
Broaden the Mind
Travel will change you and give you a deeper appreciation of the world we share with other nations, who take different things for granted and look at the world through different eyes. Your home may never change, but you can be sure that you will.