Immersion in Local Culture: My Tips & Experiences

immersion in local culture

Today’s Culture with Travel post is by Andre Arriaza

When traveling abroad, people want to get the most out of their experiences and share about amazing trips. While nowadays it is easy to to book flights and different accommodations, as a traveler you cannot get the authenticity and flavor of the place you are visiting unless you really immerse in local culture.

Having traveled for the last 15 years to remote and touristy locations, I’d like to  share some fundamental tips with you.

Travel light and mingle with locals

Imagine what would happen when you pack a 23-kg bag plus a carry-on luggage and a backpack. The moment you arrive at your destination, you are sweating over the weight of your stuff, and you’ll likely be looking for a cab to get to your hotel.

Personally, I do love to have plenty of gadgets and clothing at home, but when I travel, I prefer to have a few fundamental things I need with me.

So, travel light. You don’t need two pairs of sneakers – just the comfortable ones – I think I’ve made my point.

pack light

When you travel light, upon arrival, you can use public transport and mingle with locals instantly. Be curious and cautious, there is always someone who will talk to you.

I found that by doing this, you get more confident to explore unknown parts of a destination. And, if you do fall in love with a nice and bulky product, you might be able to bring it back home at no additional cost, as you will have space available.

During my trips to Africa, I used to bring amazing stuff home that I found at local markets.

When packing your bag, put aside all those things you “might need” because you actually won’t.

For my trips, I have the following rule of thumb: pack clothing for 4-5 days, hygienic stuff, my camera and tablet, plus a portable charger. The latter is actually my last addition after I was living “unplugged” few times in the woods.

Finding real food haunts and discovering local culture

Food connects people. No matter where you’re from, food is the common ground with which to make conversation. Food is a life force, and locals just love to talk about food.

It is the safest topic to strike up a discussion across the globe. Once you’re arrived, just ask locals about their favorite places! Get brownie points and greet the person first in the local language. Ask if they speak English, and chances are they do!

I love getting to non-touristy food markets when I visit a city and spot a table at one of those restaurants in the surrounding area. Recently, on a trip to Belgrade, I got to know plenty of people and enjoy liters of beers simply by asking the next table what would they recommend on the menu for a first-comer.

Finding local joints can be a daunting task because you may not speak the language or because your time may be limited. 

But, remember that sensory memory is the most powerful.

You’re much more likely to remember the pleasant bite of the fresh paella paired with local wine in Barcelona rather than the beautiful sightseeing recorded with your camera.

By getting off the tourist track, talking to as many people you can along your way, and observing the local patrons, you’re going to have unforgettable experiences no matter where you travel.

immersion in local culture

Participating in local events

Get off the tourist track and check the agenda for local events.

Tip: I prefer to find a cafe or coffee spot, and ask around locals there, rather than asking the hotel reception.

In most cities, there is a website or free magazine that showcases all sorts of events, where you can find something that genuinely interest you.

Be as intrepid as you feel necessary, and spend time discovering the lesser-known areas of your destination. You will most likely find a lushness of the culture that’s matched by the lack of tourists.

In a trip to Senegal, I entered into a music instruments store. I love all types of music (except classic), and I asked where I could go and listen to local music. The experience was unforgettable. I returned to the bar that hosted local artists almost every night.

Tip: try finding a local store that sells products you are genuinely interested in and establish a conversation with one of the vendors. This could help you get set to start your cultural adventures.

Andre Arriaza is an avid traveler, blogger and aid worker. He is the founder of Barcelona Eat Local. Follow him on Instagram, as well.

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