Saturday, January 9, 2016

When In Rome Do as the Romans... 4 Tips on How to Immerse Yourself in a Culture for a Better Travel Experience

I’m an anthropologist by day and a nomad by night so perhaps my opinion on the benefits of immersion while traveling are a bit biased. My professional and academic experiences are heavily focused around culture and I absolutely see the benefit of exploring cultures while traveling and not just exploring places. You might think that the two, places and cultures, go hand-in-hand but that is not necessarily the case. It is easy to explore a place and completely miss the culture. Landing in a new land only to be shuffled off to a coastal all inclusive resort completely barricaded from it’s surroundings is one example of how you can be in a place and completely miss the culture. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with all in inclusive resorts that a shut off to the outside world. Trust me, I get it. There are times I need to get a way to refresh and recharge and don’t want the distractions of the world. But if that is the only way you travel, I hate to be the one to tell you but you are not well traveled. I know, I know… I’ll probably get flamed for that but it’s true. A true traveler, a wanderlust at heart wants to be immersed in there surroundings. The sights, the sounds, the smells and food and the culture they are visiting are just as important to them as is the white sandy beaches of pool side cocktails are to you behind the walls of your resort.

There are many benefits to this type of travel and while I won’t list them all here I will challenge you and take it a step further. Not only should you visit the area you are… well, visiting… you should seek experiences that completely immerse you into that culture. What are some ways that you can do this? Here are four quick tips that may help you.

A&M Peanut Shop was jammed pack so of course we had to see why
  1. Ditch the fancy resort and stay in an Airbnb. You want to really know what it is like to live in a particular community? Then stay in someone’s home inside the community. What better way to understand how people live then to live it? Waking up to the sounds and smells of a neighborhood are a good start to a day. Wandering the neighborhood can lend to a sense of place and allow you develop a deeper connection with the area around you.                                       
  2. Learn the language and then completely immerse yourself in it. How exhilarating to be able to communicate with someone in their native tongue. Not only that but it will be much appreciated by the locals. Forget the American expectation that everyone you encounter must speak english or try too. Learn a few basic phrases of the language and give it a shot in a conversation. Most people will recognize that you are not fluent and will either help you communicate what you want or try to understand and assist. Even if the conversation doesn’t go well you will be so glad that you tried, and so will the person you were talking to.      

  3. Art festival in Mobile, AL
  4. Dance the dance and sway to the same beat as the locals. I’m not talking about breaking it down on the dance floor, although that’s okay too, but instead I’m encouraging you to participate in local practices and customs. If Tuesday is a day of fasting in the community you are visiting, then fast on Tuesday. If Friday is where green day, then by all means wear green on Friday. Attend religious ceremonies, go to local festivals, visit the community cemetery (I know that one might sound strange but I will explain in a later post), and finally accept invitations from locals to visit, try, and explore the non-touristy things.                                                                   
  5. Taste it and don’t spit it out. One of my very favorite things to do in a new place is to try the local cuisine. I always ask what’s the local favorite on the menu and I try that. I have not been disappointed yet. Take a chance and try something off of the menu that is a favorite, even if you don’t recognize it or can’t pronounce it, and I bet you won’t be disappointed either.     

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