More and more, travelers really want to immerse themselves into, or experience the culture of the regions they travel to. So, how do you immerse yourself into a culture? What can you do, so that after your 2 or 3 week vacation you return home with a better understanding and real connection to another people?
So what makes up a culture in the first place? It's a language, a religion, traditional foods, arts and entertainment, the sports they enjoy, traditions and architecture, and how everything is shaped by geographical location. So, prepare yourself for your next trip by learning about the culture of the people of the region you plan to visit. Here's how to plan your trip:
1. Learn the language, at least a few phrases so that you can ask for directions, say please, thank you, your welcome, or ask for the check in a restaurant. A good website for this is Duolingo. Or, to really immerse yourself in the local culture, consider a language school vacation where you stay with a local family while attending classes during the day for a week or two, then explore the area evenings and weekends.
2. Schedule local cooking classes where you go into the class with a few other students, learn to cook traditional dishes such as Paella, Mole, or Mousse au Chocolat and when done, students and instructor sit down and dine on the meal they have just prepared.
3. Plan at least part of your trip, to get out into the countryside to visit small downs and villages, walk as much as you can, visit local pubs, attend a local church service, visit farmers markets, stay at a farm and get acquainted with your hosts. We've had hosts volunteer to take us sightseeing and to lunch.
4. Find out if there are any festivals going on, or concerts, or theater performances and plan to attend. You'll get many opportunities to mingle by attending a bullfight, a Rugby game in Wales, or a soccer game almost anywhere.
Here are a few of my own memorable travel experiences:
*Samba dancing late into the night with hundreds of others in a giant dance hall in Rio de Janeiro...loud, nonstop, and fun!
*Venturing from Hong Kong to Lantau island by ferry, then bus with a friend, finally reaching the village by being rowed across a stream by a little, ancient Chinese woman for just a coin.
*Having a coffee at an outdoor cafe in San Marco Square in Venice on a balmy evening while listening to an orchestra playing wonderful classical music.
*Enjoying an overnight sleeping compartment on a train from Nice to Rome along the Mediterranean while practically hanging out the window watching the passing scene of locals partying on terraces late into the evening.
*A 9-night fly-drive farm tour in 3 regions of the English countryside which included good home-cooked meals, and a local farmer's market held at our farm.
*And going out on a fishing boat from Lahaina, Maui, catching the fish, then cooking it that evening on a grill at our condo.
The point is to not just visit a place, but to really experience it, become a part of it.