06 Mar Tips for the culturally immersive traveller
by Wei Li Crawford from United States
I hate travelling. The confusion, the crowds, airports, and the general foreignness. However much I love museums, without cultural context they mean very little and no matter how amazing they are, eventually, all castles look the same. That being said, I love exploring different cultures and am a self proclaimed xenophile. For example, Switzerland has 26 cantons, or states, with 4 official languages and individual accents depending on the canton. All of that in a country that is 10 times smaller than the state of California. That’s insane!
Portugal by Wei Li Crawford
If there is so much to learn in such a tiny country, imagine how much there is to take in from the rest of the world?! Three days in Zurich during a whirlwind Euro trip won’t teach you that.
So, how do you see the world and avoid the touristic pitfalls? There is no magic formula but here are a few of my tips and tricks to a culturally immersive experience.
On the Eiffel Tower by Wei Li Crawford
Different not weird
Being submersed in a foreign culture can be very disorientating and, let’s face it, culture shock’s a bitch. The Rotary Youth Exchange program, the most culturally immersive program I have ever found but I digress, stresses the importance of verbiage. Cultural differences are just that, different, not weird. Weird has a negative connotation which can subconsciously influence your view of the local culture.
In the Balkans, a Greek salad is just cut up tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and mozzarella and nacho cheese is Doritos with cheese by Wei Li Crawford
The important thing to remember is that their way of life is not wrong, just different from what you know. And behind every difference is an insight into their lifestyle waiting to be discovered!
Amsterdam by Wei Li Crawford
Personally, I am not a fan of hostels. They are great for meeting other travellers and making foreign friends. But meeting locals is an integral part of creating an immersive cultural experience. I prefer to do this with Airbnb. Airbnb gives me a direct connection with a local who usually gives you advice on their can’t-miss spots around town. If you’re extra friendly try couch surfing! Generally, the people who open their homes to strangers are eager and proud to share their experiences and learn about yours.
Pristina, Kosovo with my local museum guide by Wei Li Crawford
As I said before, connecting with locals is key to understanding a foreign culture. My mom’s fav Rick Steve introduced me to the Greeter tour program. Present in over 100+ top international destinations, locals volunteer to give guided tours for free! These locals are friendly and excited to exchange with you which explains the Paris Greeters slogan, “come as a visitor, leave as a friend.”
Montmartre, Paris by Wei Li Crawford
It’s a great chance to ask a local about cultural differences you’ve run into. Just make sure to book your tour a couple weeks in advance! In addition to tours, I look for locally run city guides, such as Time Out, which gives me well organized insight into local favorites.
Don’t be afraid of looking like a tourist!
No matter what you do, you’re going to look like a tourist because you are one! Tourists have earned a rotten rep lately, but chances are, you are a big fat tourist, so embrace it! Don’t be afraid to ask directions or recommendations from locals, you might just get a friend out of it. That being said, remember to be aware of your surroundings. Check out how people interact: do they hug when they meet friends? Or do they kiss? Do people smile? Little details can help you better immerse yourself in the culture and will be greatly appreciated by the locals!