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By Karen Espig
Visiting other countries can be a magnificent learning and enriching experience, especially if you are willing to spend a little time, taking time, to let the place’s flavour sink in.
Here are a few ideas on just how to do that.
Take A Longer Trip
If it is an option, add a few days to your trip. This means you can check out the “must sees” of a new destination and slow down and enjoy where you landed. However, if you can only get away for a few days, I suggest skipping the main sites. I know this bucks the trend, but it’s your vacation, after all. So do it your way.
With an extended vacation period, you can really immerse yourself in a new place; even consider a volunteering or learning holiday. Being able to spend a month or longer somewhere is amazing and definitely affords you the time to really experience your new-found surroundings. Numerous organisations facilitate these types of experiences, no matter your age or interest.
There are workshops and retreats worldwide, allowing you to indulge in your favourite pastimes and passions. You could learn how to cook the local cuisine in Italy or perfect your painting techniques in France, with other fantastic options also just a quick inspiring internet search away.
Where And When
If possible, Travel during the low or shoulder tourist season. Without the crowds, you can relax and sit in that café longer or explore the streets and markets without feeling overwhelmed or rushed. The locals may also be more inclined to spend time with you outside of the hectic and stressful tourist season.
Consider a smaller city. Instead of Paris, Rome, or Barcelona (all fabulous, to be sure), look at Avignon (France), Bergamo (Northern Italy) or Ronda (Southern Spain). These cities will have fewer tourists, even in the high season but still reveal the culture and beauty of the country you want to experience.
The accommodations you select significantly impact your experience. I recommend avoiding hotels and opting for Airbnb or Bed & Breakfasts instead. For a really immersive experience, you may also enjoy a stay with a local family via HomeStay.
Local hosts can provide you with great insider tips or an evening of interesting and lovely chat over a coffee or glass of wine.
Eat Like A Local
For an authentic local eating experience, avoid the tourist areas (obviously), and opt for small, family-run eateries outside the centre of town. The food prepared is possibly seasonal only, but that’s precisely what you want. Try something new!
I find grocery stores in foreign countries fascinating. You will likely be able to buy prepared meals in the deli section that you can heat up at your accommodations. Farmer’s markets are equally fun—it’s best to go early in the day to see them in full action.
Something else I like to do is to buy the makings for a packed lunch (prepared at the accommodation) and head out to sit in a local park or by the water in your destination city. If you intend to do groceries, be sure to pick accommodations with at least a small refrigerator.
Try street food! To pick a good one, look for the vendor with the longest line of locals. They know what they are doing. Odds are it will be modestly priced and taste fantastic. Be sure to have local currency on you. You can also watch what the patrons in front of you are ordering and select that.
Getting Around Town
To immerse yourself in the experience of daily activity in a new place, I recommend walking whenever possible and local public transportation if needed. You will always be outside of the action when you are in a private car or taxi.
Most major cities have free walking tours given by local volunteers. It’s a great way to begin your trip. You will learn all sorts of insider information, and it may provide you with some novel itinerary ideas. It’s also environmentally friendly and healthy exercise!
Learning The Language
I left the most obvious for last. Of course, it takes time (a lot of it) to learn a foreign language, but a little goes a long way when it comes to travelling. Learn some basic words and phrases (make sure please and thank you make the list) and have a translator app installed on your phone. Fumbling through transactions in a foreign tongue, while exhausting, is also kind of fun. Be patient and smile while working on it with your local vendor or host.
So there you have it. For your next travel adventure, consider ditching the checklist of tourist traps and learn to get lost and found as you experience a new culture in a new way.
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