Sometimes it happens. You’re excited to go on a trip to a faraway destination, away from the fast-food chains, honking taxicabs and hoards of English speakers. However, despite looking forward to culture shock, when you get there you feel as if you never left home. The truth is, you can usually drive to the next city over from your hometown and still find differences, whether it’s the architecture, the vibe or the type of people who live there. To help you feel more like you’re traveling and less like you haven’t left home, use these tips.
1. Seek Out A Local Celebrity
When I say local celebrity I don’t mean Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt. A local celebrity can be anyone from a talented community artisan to a someone who runs a successful nonprofit to a quirky character with an exciting past. Getting to know a local celebrity allows you to get to know the local culture through the stories of its members. Sometimes, you need to dig below the surface to find differences that help you feel like you left home.
2. Get Lost
It’s likely you don’t get lost very often at home. Ask your hotel for a map and a business card just in case, then hide in it your backpack and get lost. Roam the streets and keep your head up, searching for interesting spaces and hidden spots worth exploring. Walking helps you really get to know an area, which allows you to discover differences between there and home.
3. Do Something You’ve Never Done Before
The easiest way to help your travel destination feel less like home is to do something you’ve never done before. This could be as big as skydiving or as small as taking a cooking class at a local restaurant. Doing something new helps set your routine apart from the norm. Plus, you may discover a new passion.
4. Give Yourself A Mission
Be a real life Carmen San Diego and give yourself a mission like trying to find the tastiest local tacos, the most scenic hike or becoming an expert on abstract art in the area. Giving yourself a mission allows you to learn about one aspect of a destination in depth while occupying your mind with a set task.
5. Take Day Trips
If you’re feeling like your destination reminds you too much of home, get away for a few hours with a day trip. Ask your hotel about nearby national parks, historic villages and cultural attractions and discover a setting that’s near to your destination but feels like a different world.
6. Get Involved In A Community Project
Another option for helping your destination feel less like home is to get involved in the community. This will allow you to get to know the locals as well as current issues, while also helping to make a positive difference. The deeper you dig into the destination, the more differences will become clear.
7. Head To A Museum
Museums are great for expanding your knowledge in a short amount of time. Choose a museum that relates to local history or culture and learn as much as you can. This will help give you a background on the destination and discover interesting tidbits of information not immediately apparent. Moreover, you may learn something so interesting you’ll want to dig even deeper.
8. Seek Out Cultural Differences
Just because the culture looks similar to yours upon first glance doesn’t mean it is. Befriend knowledgeable, friendly locals like taxi drivers, hostel owners and tour guides and ask them what some aspects of the culture are that aren’t immediately obvious. Ask questions about rituals, customs, holidays, cuisine, how people interact, schools of thought, government policies and anything else that may affect the daily life of locals. You may even want to do some online research. Once you discovered some interesting tidbits of cultural knowledge, find out how you can experience it firsthand, whether through an excursion, class or site.
9. Stay Away From International Chains
Sure, McDonald’s is great if you want to grab a quick burger and fries on the go, but don’t expect to get any real value from your stop there. First of all, while people think these international fast food chains help them save money, the truth is eating at local restaurants and cafeterias is often much cheaper, healthier and tastier. Additionally, you’ll gain cultural insight by dining at local eateries and seeing what everyday people eat and how they dine.
10. Take A Local Class
When traveling to a new place, I love taking a class that is related to the local culture. I’ve taken Tai Chi in China, learned to tango in Argentina and cooked traditional mole in Mexico. Even if the class ends up not being something I would stick with, I always leave feeling like I learned something about the city I’m visiting.
11. Skip The Hotel And Opt For A Homestay
For the most part, staying in a hotel is a surefire way to be blinded from the local culture. Sure, you’ll feel pampered and have access to a great restaurant and spa, but a hotel’s main focus is usually ensuring the guest has a comfortable and pleasant stay, not that they feel culture shocked. While there are some great experiential hotels out there, nothing beats a homestay when it comes to getting to experience the culture of a place. You’ll get to live with a laying on beach family and learn about cooking, how the home is run, dynamics between family members and general daily life firsthand.
12. Revel In Your Comfort
If you are really having a difficult time finding cultural differences and still feel like you haven’t left home after trying the above mentioned tips, just go with it. Be happy you’re in a place you feel comfortable, and just have fun exploring and discovering new things.
This post was adapted from my original article on Gadling. Top photo credit: Image via Cia de Foto.