Recently, it has been a trend to travel to countries to gain a taste of the culture. Whether vacationing for a couple of weeks or studying abroad for a few months, you want to make the most of everything that you can. These trips are usually once in a lifetime, so I have compiled a list of the five best pointers I follow whenever I travel. These can be applied both within the United States and in almost every country around the world (but I would recommend reading up on normal customs and etiquette of the destination before you depart).
1. Talk the talk. Make an effort to talk to people, other than just ordering your drink. Especially if you have a grasp on the native language. Even if you aren’t fluent, the attempt above else will please them and break the ice. Chances are they are eager to share their ways and hear about yours in return. As an added bonus, you’ll gain brownie points and get better service than other fellow foreigners.
2. Avoid touristy spots. I don’t mean just the tourist traps, but also the big tourist spots. Find that little beach or port city a couple miles down the coast from the main tourist attraction and you’ll be thanking yourself. Every time that I have done this, I have been glad. Right down the road is always a less busy and traveled area, which means less traffic and less mess. Usually that so-called “neglected” spot is more beautiful and much cleaner and still jammed packed of historical significance.
3. Bargain it. Particularly in areas that are well known shopping centers for travelers, the vendors build in wiggle room for bargaining. Almost all the shops are priced high, both as a gimmick for the naïve traveler and leeway for the more savvy.
4. Don’t ignore the children. The best part about children is that they don’t care about language and cultural barriers. They simply want to play and enjoy friendship with the “white-girl-from-out-of-town.” You’ll learn much more about daily life and get a chance to piece together more of the culture. On top of that, you’ll capture the hearts of the parents and community members when the see you are safe to trust.
5. Help out. If you can, do something to help out the local area where you are staying. Simple things like asking who to buy X service for to spending an hour picking up litter around town goes a long way to show that you are not there to be destructive. Plus, they might see you doing something that they never payed much thought to and join in. Lead by example.
I have experienced the benefits of these tips first hand, both on my most recent trip to Ecuador and before. You’ll not be disappointed and return with a fulfilling dose of the culture. Now get out there and travel on!