There are so many ways to travel, and one way isn’t better than any other. It comes down to personal preference. Over the years, I’ve found that I like to move around like I live in my destination city. Sure some comfort has to go into it, but I’ve had some of my best experiences traveling this way. Even though you’re just visiting, you can still do things that help you get a real sense of what life is like in your destination city.
Doing some or all of these tips, depending on your comfort level, can help you get a different experience from your trip.
Before you go
Read up on the place
Blogs and Instagram can help you find a lot of information about where you’re going. What do people wear when they’re walking around or going out at night? What do people do during their downtime, what things are going on that might be of interest to you? You can find out all of this information before you go.
Learn common phrases in the language
You’ll feel a lot more comfortable if you learn some basic phrases in the language of your destination place. Learning to say please, thank you and I’m sorry, can go a long way. I also like to learn the words for I’m hungry, beer and wine, but that might just be me.
If you’re a language whiz, you’re able to learn more words before you go and that should help your comfort level.
I also use the iTranslate translation app for iPhone (a language dictionary works too) when I’m somewhere I don’t speak the language. It works offline so you don’t need WiFi or use any data. The Telegraph has an article on the top five translation apps. I talked about it previously in a Q&A post.
Know where to go and where not to go
Don’t let fear rule you. Of course, there are places that you want to stay away from depending on what is happening and also areas that you want to be careful of when you’ve reached your destination. Make sure you research ahead of time what areas to stay away from and double check the information when you arrive in your destination city. The people you stay with should be able to make sure you spend your time in the right spots.
Use common sense and be observant of your surroundings, and you should be ok. If you come close to dangerous neighborhoods, you’ll usually find that someone will warn you before you get into it too far.
If you’re traveling alone, be extra aware of what’s going on around you.
Try Couchsurfing or Airbnb
If you want to experience a country and its people, staying with someone who lives there is the way to go.
Couchsurfing.com is an online community of travelers around the world who share their spare rooms or couches with strangers for free. They’re willing to host you and provide recommendations on where to go.
Through airbnb.com, you can stay in a room in someone’s house. The ratings and reviews on the site can help you find places to stay with reputable hosts.
Once you’re there
Keep an open mind
Don’t be judgmental. Lifestyles and customs may differ from yours. Listen, even if you don’t agree. Embrace the different possibilities, opportunities, people and interests out there. Don’t assume your views are correct and others are wrong. You don’t have to agree, but you may be surprised at what you can learn.
Learn from those who live in the country you’re visiting. Make it a point to avoid other travelers occasionally and start conversations with people that live there. People across the world speak basic English, so it’s easier to communicate than you might think. Hand gestures and body language also help express messages.
If you feel uncomfortable talking to strangers or think people seem unfriendly, try making eye contact and smiling. If they smile back, say hello in their language and take it from there.
Make new friends. If you’re not comfortable couchsurfing, try citysocializer.com. Through this site, you can find people to meet up with for dinner, drinks or a show.
I find that people can enrich your experience more than sights do.
Hang around and people watch
If you want to get a feel for the place, spend a few hours sitting in a park, coffee shop or on a busy street to see what’s happening. I like to people watch anyway, but this can help you pay attention to how people interact, mannerisms and social norms.
Volunteering some of your time while traveling is not only rewarding, but you’ll learn more about the country and its people. It can also help you make new friends.
Grassrootsvolunteering.org recommends volunteer opportunities around the world.
Get around on foot or by bus
Taking taxis or bus tours can get you where you want to go, but you won’t experience the area the way everyone else does, even if the tour guide or driver is knowledgeable. You really get a feel for residents’ day-to-day when you see them going about their regular lives.
Resist touristy restaurants
Taste a bit of everything when you travel, even if it’s something you’ve never tried before. Each country has its specialties. Ask people for recommendations. Try staying away from touristy locations to get more authentic tasting food. Tourist spots sometimes make the food a bit different than you would normally find; it helps appeal to a broader range of taste.
It’s good to be a tourist sometimes
You’re there to see as much as you can, and even residents go to tourist attractions sometimes. I live in New York and still go to Times Square, often. If you want to see something, don’t skip out on it because you think it doesn’t fit into the type of trip you’ve planned. It’s part of what makes a place great and you’ll probably regret it afterward.
- Let someone at home know your plans and keep them up-to-date on how things are going
- Tell your credit card company of your travel plans so the bank doesn’t put a hold on your card while you’re away.
- Beware of what sites you log into and your passwords when it’s free wifi, especially if it’s not password protected.
- Always be aware of your surroundings.
These are some of my tips. What are some of yours?