One of the best parts of traveling is experiencing a local culture firsthand. Seeing how others live, work, and play can give us valuable insight into our own lives. According to Psychology Today, cultural immersion can also have a positive impact on our personalities. A 2013 study found that people who studied abroad in college for a semester or longer were more conscientious, agreeable, and emotionally stable than those who stayed put in their hometowns.
And, not surprisingly, people who traveled were also found to be more open to new experiences. The best way to immerse yourself in local cultures? These six suggestions should get you started.
Get Away From Tourist Attractions
This is the most important tip when it comes to cultural immersion. While it's okay (even recommended) to visit world-famous sites when traveling, be sure to get away from popular tourist attractions, as well. Here's why: as formerly pristine destinations become better-known, they begin to lose their unique identities through commercialization and over-development.
Our advice? Start walking. Head away from the hot spots and venture into rural locations and neighborhoods. When you reach an area where the locals live, work, and play, you'll be well-positioned for some authentic cultural experiences. Sometimes, getting a few blocks away from the tourist hot spots will change the tenor of your visit profoundly.
Learn the Language
One of the most important things you can do is to learn the local language before you arrive. Don't worry about becoming fluent before you take a trip, however. Learning a few words like "hello," "please," and "thank you" can open many cultural doors for you.
But, how does learning the local language help? According to the language website Omniglot, learning even a little of the local language will help you get away from the major tourist attractions and out to where the locals live. Residents in rural destinations are less likely to understand English. So, knowing a few words in the local tongue will help you find great restaurants, order food more easily, get around, and find suitable accommodations.
The better you get at the language, the more you'll be able to communicate your intentions without fear of error. Besides, locals appreciate your sincere attempts to speak their language and will extend help more readily as a result.
Eat Local Cuisine
Every culture has dominant foods that define its character and national spirit. Food is an articulation of cultural identity. And, that's true across much of the world. So, if you'd like to know what it means to be a local, then you'll need to eat like one. Get adventurous and find the hottest local eateries off the beaten tourist path.
This usually means you'll need to travel away from major tourist destinations. Head out into neighborhoods where locals eat and live. The New York Times recommends signing up for a food tour as well as asking your bartender for recommendations.
Be sure to know what the locals eat before you go; memorize the names of popular dishes, if possible. So, when you arrive, you can make inquiries about where to find the best-tasting versions of your targeted cuisine. Pay a visit to the local grocery store, as well, and try shopping like a local. It's good for your travel budget, too.
Attend Local Events
You can get a dose of local culture by attending local events and festivals. It's here that you're most likely to find traditional foods. Lucky attendees may even see more elements of the local culture such as traditional clothing, dances, and religious rituals.
Events should be easy to find, too. Check local notice boards and watch for signs posted around town. You can also check on social media for local events or download an event app onto your phone. Lifewire has a selection of app recommendations for finding local events. Look for religious festivals, annual events, and even local sporting competitions.
Stay With Locals
Want to live like a local? If so, stay with one. Websites like Couchsurfing and Airbnb make it easy to find accommodations in homes. You'll usually have a bedroom to yourself and share the rest of the home with the hosting family. This is a great way to learn more about what it's like to live in that particular culture.
Many host families are also happy to share a meal with you, answer your questions about the local area, and even invite you along on a night out. Take advantage of these opportunities: not only will you learn much about the culture, but you could also end up making some new lifelong friends.
If you aren't crazy about sharing a house with others, then consider booking a local apartment for yourself. And, if you'd like to learn more about the region you're visiting, consider sharing an Eatwith meal experience with a local.
One of the best ways to experience the local culture? Slow down. Forget about racing to as many destinations as possible and trying to cram in a ton of sightseeing tours. Instead, spend as long as possible in one place. Totally immerse yourself in a new culture and focus on making new connections.
Ever heard of slow travel? It's the practice of rejecting the exhausting pace of conventional travel for a calmer, more reflective sightseeing experience. Many proponents of slow travel also favor eco-friendly means of moving from one tourist destination to another.
At its heart, slow travel is simply about ditching a prescribed itinerary and being more mindful of your experiences. Eat locally, shop locally, and spend time soaking in the culture around you. It's a form of travel that you should try at least once in your lifetime. Here's a fair warning: once you do it, it's likely that you'll be hooked for life.
Not only is it a better way to experience the local culture, but it's also easier on your budget. You'll spend less on transportation costs and experience less stress. Plus, you may find that your vacation actually feels more relaxing and enjoyable.