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A Seasoned Traveler’s Checklist to Experience a Country’s Culture

Updated on October 30, 2015

Traveling can be considered as one of life’s greatest pleasures. Since there is so much to see, enjoying vacations to the fullest is very important. Apart from taking photos of beautiful scenery and landmarks, what makes a trip to other countries more memorable is having a taste of their different cultures.

Each country has a rich culture. When visiting a country, you mustn’t just rely on visiting a list of spots to “experience” being in that country. For a more in-depth exploration, there are some other things you can do as a traveler. It is important to keep an open mind when traveling, and allowing yourself to be immersed in the local culture can make each of your destinations more memorable. Not only will you go home with great pictures and souvenirs, you will also take home enriching life experiences by embracing a new culture when you’re in a different country.

Consider these things when traveling and cherish each moment you set foot in a foreign land.

Visit Local Markets

Local markets give tourists a genuine feel of a country’s culture. At a local market, you can observe how people trade and how the residents make money. Instead of shopping for souvenirs at the malls or tourist shops, consider visiting local markets.

Look around and you might see the freshest products. Have a taste of exotic local fruits or buy some fresh sea foods if you’re in a coastal area. If you’re lucky, you might find eateries where you can point at what you want to be cooked and they’ll prepare it in front of you.

You might also find some ethnic minorities at the market selling their own products. Most of them will be selling goods such as woven fabrics, baskets, and other crafts. A market is where you can find fabulous things that are more affordable and authentic than items at the souvenir shops.

Some may be discouraged because of the otherwise “messy” surroundings but this is all part of the fun. Just keep your valuables close to you, get ready to snap photos of the colorful surroundings, and you won’t regret visiting these busy places of local trade.

Try Local Food

To literally taste a country’s culture, you must definitely try their cuisine. There are countries where dishes have special methods of preparation. You should try the different kinds as much as possible. Take Japan, for example; different prefectures have particular ramen specialties. In Germany, different towns have different styles of wursts and sausages, as well as different kinds of liquor. In India or Thailand, you can expect an explosion of spicy flavors owing to their abundant use of herbs and spices.

Try not to frequent fast-food restaurants, especially those that you’ve already tasted before or those that you can always eat back home. Be adventurous and expose your palate to different dishes—meats that are roasted, fermented, or boiled, vegetables in coconut milk or special sauces, or fresh seafood at much more affordable prices in coastal areas. Check out small eateries that offer home-cooked meals.

Small restaurants usually serve traditionally prepared food and this is a great way to truly experience local cuisine. Resort to more conventional food items only when the food is too different for your taste, but as long as you can tolerate the new flavors, savor the unique ingredients that you may not find ever again when you go home.

Visit During the Festival Season

Festivals are merry occasions and for travelers, it is a great bonus to go to new destinations when there are festivals. Prices may be at the peak but when you book tickets and accommodations in advance, you can be save on expenses. Take some time to research about the interesting festivals of a place you are planning to visit and plan ahead.

When you visit countries during their festival season, you will be exposed to cultural spectacles such as parades, street dances, cultural theater performances, and interesting displays of festival-related artifacts. Of course, you can choose to just visit local museums during lean seasons, but festival seasons make places more alive and buzzing with local and foreign energy. You can learn more about the historical background of the festivals as well as the locals when you join these festivities. You can enjoy tales of heroes, saints, and other local celebrations you have never heard of before.

Take Classes

A lot of countries now offer classes for tourists who want to experience local activities. Taking classes will allow travelers to be more familiar with the locals, and the locals always appreciate it when foreigners try to do things or participate in events in their country. Below are some of the things you can consider:

  • Cooking lessons – These can be offered in smaller eateries where the owners themselves give foreign guests lessons on how to prepare local meals. These lessons are usually easy and enjoyable. The best part is you can try and remake the dishes when you go back home.

  • Dance lessons – Ever tried belly dancing? Middle Eastern countries have belly dancing schools where the dance can be learned for just an hour or two and you can even perform right after.

  • Martial arts – You can enjoy these in Asian countries specifically, and you can experience being taught by experienced martial artists. Try karate, wushu, or even the more mellow tai chi. Just be prepared to get those muscles worked out!

  • Surfing lessons – In surf destinations like the islands of Indonesia and the Philippines, locals can give you surf lessons even if you don’t have your own surf gear. You can ride the waves and take part in local wave-riding customs. Locals love to give surfing lessons to tourists.

These experiences are things you cannot have by looking for online tutorials. These are authentic lessons you will learn first-hand and have memories of that you can tell your family and friends when you go home.

Walk, Wander, and Enjoy Local Transport

Although traveling and following an itinerary is good so that you can do as much as you can in one place, you should also consider winging it sometimes. Take a stroll from the hotel or transient house you’re staying and walk around to see other things that the place has to offer. Wandering may lead you to parks, shopping areas, temples, a whole street of eateries—you may be in for a lot of surprisingly great destinations when you decide to just walk around!

If you have the money to spare, you can dedicate a day to go around the city through local transportation. Some countries still make use of rickshaws, carriages, and more traditional transportation methods. Try taking a ferry or perhaps a gondola! Instead of going for taxis, consider other local transportation such as modified motorcycles or buses.

Be mindful of the scenery around you and listen to what the locals are saying (and ask for translation if you must). If you’re in a place where English isn’t widely spoken, it may help to learn a few phrases before your trip. You may even befriend some locals who are able to speak English so they can help you out with directions and other information if you don’t have a guide and are traveling alone.

Take this checklist with you the next time you visit another country. Embrace the experiences and discover how much the world out there has to offer.

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