Have you ever travelled and wanted to engage with the local people, learn about their culture and make friends from people with a totally different background? Whether you are a newby or an experienced traveller, there is always some room of improvement. Get the best out of your travel adventure and learn how to fully immerse yourself with the culture and diversity of the world when you are travelling.
1. Learn the local language to immerse yourself!
What might not be as easy as it sounds, is one of the most efficient ways to connect with a local culture: Speaking the language. Language is not only rich of words, but rich of diversity. It is stylized by personal background and the best tool to understand the uniqueness of a society. If you are just going to visit a country for a few weeks, and the language spoken is a mysterium for you, many times it is enough to know the absolute basics. “Hello, my name is Lene, how are you?” is a friendly way of showing interest in the other person and their culture. Learning bits of language and some funny words is also a good topic to dive into, and you can ask locals to guide you through their expressions.
2. Go to language exchanges
If you have a bit more time, try to go to language exchange events or use applications such as Tandem to find the perfect match. You will not only get to meet many people, but have great conversations and improve your language skills. This might be the fastest way to immerse yourself with the local culture!
3. Research on history and politics
Off you go without doing some background research on the country you will visit. It is truly essential to know about cultural diversity, political situation, important historic events and geography. In Argentina for example, you should definitely have heard of Diego Maradonna, even if you are not much into football.
Visiting Colombia, do not fall in the tourist trap and mention Pablo Escobar, but rather ask people about the carnival in Barranquilla, the metro cable system of Medellín or their affinity to Arepas. Showing some initial interest, most of the people will love to explain you more about their country’s history in no time. And you will get colourful stories and anectodes, that no text book can tell as good as a local.
4. Start a conversation with cliffhangers or joint activities
Cliffhangers for conversation are as essential as knowing some background information on your travel destination. They can include asking about history, politics or culture, but there are plenty more possibilities to start an interesting conversation and even make new friends. Instead of using your phone to google the way in advance, why not asking people on the streets where to head to. Most often you will be asked where you are from, and you will be invited for a tea or house visit before you can say no.
Alternatively, ask people getting food at a street vendor what their favourite dish is, where their favourite nature spot is in the city, or which football team they support. In fact, the golden small talk topics work all over the world. Not so much into talking? Get active and join a local sport activity or kids playing basketball on the field. I can promise you, opening up and getting out of your comfort zone is worth the shot.
5. Join people if they invite you and immerse yourself with their culture!
Congratulations! You mastered a conversation and got invited to meet the person again or to go on a cup of tea right away. Sometimes we might feel insecure about the situation and whether we can trust the person to have the right intentions. First of all, listen to your gut, strangely as it is, this tiny organ knows others better than we think.
Then, consider alternative options. Suggest to get a cup of coffee around the corner, or to meet later that day at an event or in a local bar. Most often you will be invited to meet friends and family of that person as well, which is a truly enriching experience, so do not hesitate to join.
6. Explain others who you are and where you come from
Visiting a culturally diverse country with a beautiful landscape and many friendly and warm hearted people might make you feel like your own culture is not as interesting. Trust me, for others it is, and people will quickly ask you about your origin, your country’s best dish and what they can do in your country if they’d ever visit. Sharing your own story is as important as listening to the story of the others.
7. Listen to local music
I doubt there is any better tool in this world to connect people than music. Music reflects culture, history, politics, language and personal and communal experiences all at once. Don’t hesitate and ask locals about their favourite songs, about upcoming music artists and listen to their suggestions. You can already do some preparations before starting your travels, by checking out my music playlists on Spotify separated by regional area!
8. Keep in contact
Your holidays ar over and you are back in your city? Do not forget to collect social media names and telephone numbers before leaving, and try to remain in contact. Your future you will thank you, particularly if you want to come back one day. It is also nice to just see how people are doing all over the world. This was particularly interesting to experience during the pandemic: How often does it happen that we are all worried by the same big incident, staying all at home all over the world? Following my travel contacts on Instagram was not only interesting, but connected me with far away places directly from my couch.
Following some of these tips, I hope you are becoming a culture traveller as soon as possible.