Have you ever returned from a trip abroad and remembered all the amazing things you have seen and done? Then when you look at the numerous pictures of your camera you start to wonder – the women collecting seaweed on the shores what will they make out of it? The children approaching me with big smiles – what are their favorite games they play after school? The man in the black suit who helped me find my hostel – what is he doing for a living? If you feel that during your next trip you would love to deep dive further into a foreign culture and connect more with locals find here various ways to enrich your next travel experience.
First of all, let´s have a look at what slow and conscious traveling is. The answer is simple – it’s what you make of it! Every one of us has different ideas on how much time they want to spend in a country and yet many agree that some of the best travel memories come from connecting with the local people and culture of the country visited. If you feel that you are sometimes lacking this special connection to the country´s culture it might be a good start to slow down your travel. If it means that instead of moving every night to a different hostel you now stay a minimum of three nights then you are already slowing down your travel. If it means that instead of seeing the whole country in three weeks, you stay three weeks in the same place then you are slowing down your travel. If it means that instead of traveling for three months to several countries you will work or volunteer during the same time in just one place you are slowing down your travel. There are numerous ways how to travel in a slower and more conscious way. All have in common that they leave more room for encounters with people, more chances for unplanned events, more opportunities to observe and learn from the countries inhabitants and not to forget more time for your mind and soul to process everything experienced.
Now let’s have a look at what you could possibly choose from during your next trip in order to immerse yourself fully in the countries culture.
One of the fastest and easiest way to enter the door to cultural interaction is to stay with locals in their homes. Not only will you see and experience how people live but there are also the little things you will notice. How often do the neighbors come to visit and do they bring something to eat? What are the greeting courtesies between the family members? What does your host do for a living and where do they buy their groceries? What does the family do together in the evenings? Apart from being part of their everyday life they also act as an indefinite source of local knowledge when it comes to cultural norms, customs and religion. There are several platforms where homestays are offered. You can also find agencies which place you in host families. If you want you can also try networks such as CouchSurfing where people offer to host you for free.
Working and volunteering abroad
During your travel it is very likely that the majority of the population is busy with making a living, so why not be part of it? Working and volunteering abroad gives you numerous insights in how the locals pursue their jobs, how they interact with each other, how they combine their personal and professional life, what matters to them and many more.
Being part of the working part of the population provides you with plentiful opportunities to get to know a country from within and during a given time frame you are as well part of the local society. In many countries, there are numerous working and
volunteering possibilities which you can largely find online. Make sure to also investigate the topic of responsible volunteering before you start your adventure.
Join local meet-ups
With the help of several applications, you have the possibility to meet locals for a drink or walk. Apps such as Couchsurfing or Meetup allow connecting travelers to locals. Many locals are interested in showing you around, inviting you to a family dinner or practicing their language skills.
Take public transport
Taking local buses, trains and other means of public transportation is a sure way to be surrounded by locals and in many cases, you are met by curious eyes ready to hear where the traveler is from and start a conversation. Only by observing how the passengers interact with each other, where they get on and off, what food you can buy during your trip and how speed, time and personal space is interpreted you can learn many things.
Buy & eat locally
When strolling through the local markets you can easily see what the locals are buying, if they have long chats with the vendors, how they haggle and how the food is presented. When going to local restaurants you can also take the opportunity to talk to the personnel about the regional food culture, their favorite dishes and whether or not they offer cooking classes.
Learn a few words in the local language
It really does make a big difference to know a few words in the local language. Even though it might only be “hello”, “please” and “thank you”, what you show most of all is interest in their culture and many times when they answer back and look into puzzled faces it is a great start for more conversations.
Read a summary of the history, culture and religion
Having a brief overview of the history, culture and religion gives you the basis to understand certain norms and customs applicable in each country. It will help you to engage into meaningful conversations when you ask locals about certain aspects you have read about. It is then also a great bridge to bring the exchange further than just exchanging on where you are from.