6 Ways to Have an Authentic Cultural Experience
There is a difference between tourists and travelers.
Tourists tend to travel within their comfort zones. Sure, they’ll check out some sights (as recommended by the tour guide or guide book), but they’ll stick to international hotel chains they know and food types they’re familiar with. They’ll leave with a few good photos and some pleasant memories, but with few stories that will stick with them forever.
Travelers, on the other hand, seek an authentic cultural experience—even if that means stepping outside their comfort zone. They’re well-prepared for the trip, but they’re also open to straying from the planned itinerary. They seek new experiences, meet interesting people, and live some bona fide adventures that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.
Here’s how to see the world like a traveler, not a tourist.
Plan Some Things, But Not Everything
Planning your trip is smart, plain and simple. You want to make sure that you have the right documents in check, that you have enough money to make it back home, and that you have the right medical clearances to visit your country or countries of choice—these things are a no brainer.
But it’s equally important to leave some elements unplanned—namely, your precise itinerary. Leave some room for spontaneity—unanticipated stops recommended to you by a new friend, a few extra days in a place you enjoyed even more than you could have imagined, etc. Be a smart traveler, but leave space for adventure.
Stay Somewhere Unconventional
There is a time and place for chain hotels, but try to seek out something a little more authentic on your travels. See if there are any housing rentals or swaps in the city you’re staying in—living in a local’s apartment will give you an entirely different experience, allowing you to explore a neighbourhood you might have skipped over. Even a locally-owned B&B or inn is a good bet: your hosts will know the lay of the land and will be happy to share stories with you.
Talk to the Locals
On that note, spend some time talking with the people who call your destination home. You don’t necessarily want to ask them to take you to secret, locals-only hotspots—instead, ask them about themselves. Find out what it’s like to live there and learn the person’s story. If you’re lucky, they’ll mention some must-visit places nearby.
Do your homework: before you leave on your trip, learn about the history of the place you’re visiting. Find out what news items are making headlines right now. Learn local customs and, if they speak a different language in your destination of choice, learn enough to get by. Educating yourself about the context will give you a different perspective than just heading somewhere blind.
Leave Your Expectations Behind
Forget what you’ve seen in photos or movies, and visit your destination without any expectations. Visit without an agenda or an idea of what it’s “supposed” to look like—enter with an open mind.
Stray From the Sights
There are go-to attractions in just about every city. Sometimes, these attractions live up to the hype—but other times, they’re just tourist traps, offering the perfect way to waste both your time and money. Look beyond the most well known cities and neighborhoods. Explore university campuses, countryside towns, and random places along the way. Choose to walk when you can. Make impromptu pit stops on a road trip.
Magee Walker was a late bloomer to the snowboard scene, but thankfully discovered the joys of the sport after moving to Vancouver and spending weekends in Whistler. She’s now lucky enough to call Whistler her full-time home and spends her days conquering the mountain, by foot in the summer and by snowboard boot in the winter.