Modern technology has made travel easier than ever. It no longer matters much if you understand the language of the country you are visiting: Google Translate is here to help. If you want to find something to do, you can use one of many great travel apps. And if you want to get somewhere, whether by car, train, or bus, you can use Google Maps.
However, while these innovations certainly make the process easier, you lose something in the process. You learn the bare minimum about the language, culture, history, and even the terrain. Instead of immersing yourself in a new place, you remain a tourist the entire time.
That does not have to be the case. When you are planning for your next international trip, do the following to immerse yourself in your destination.
Learn the Language Basics
Learning a whole new language just for a trip to a country may seem like overkill. No one is going to spend months studying just to use the language for a few days, especially since it’s not technically necessary.
But you can learn the language basics fairly quickly, and some languages go a long way. If you are going to a Spanish- or French-speaking country, for example, you'll be learning a language spoken in many countries around the world.
As an English-speaker, what’s the easiest language to learn? Spanish and French are generally considered the easiest languages. You don’t have to learn a new alphabet and we all already know a fair amount of words in these languages. Instead of the hassle of using a regular language learning app, try out Lingopie. Lingopie gives you thousands of hours of foreign-language TV with interactive subtitles to help you learn.
Watching these series also gives you insight into the culture and might inspire you to visit certain regions. Language is far more immersive when you are experiencing it in the way the locals actually speak it.
Do a Deep Dive into the Culture
Many travelers learn as much of the language as they can, but neglect the cultural side of the place they are visiting. This is especially easy to overlook if you are going to a place that seems similar to your native country.
However, by neglecting to learn about the culture, history, and traditions, you not only set yourself up for awkward exchanges, but miss the opportunity to fully immerse yourself as well. When you know about the culture, you can understand cultural sites more vividly. You can meet people and actually connect with them. And you can learn that your way is not the only way.
These days, it is very easy to learn about different cultures. It is far easier than learning a language, with a ton of information online. You should try reading guides written by locals, although fellow tourists do have more context into which sort of things you probably won’t pick up on.
Read more: Top 5 Best Travel Guidebooks to Buy in 2021
Learn About the Food
Eating the local cuisine is a great way to immerse yourself in a place. However, before you ever get in front of a plate of food, you should do some research about it. This is especially important for picky eaters or people who are sensitive about certain issues with how food is sourced.
When learning about the food of a place, you may come across information you're not so comfortable with. This may help in advance, as you can choose to avoid specific foods. It also helps to make up your mind beforehand about what you will and won’t eat if given the chance.
An understanding of the food can also deepen your experience of it. You know what goes into it and the flavors to look out for.
Eat the Food
Learning about the food is still fairly easy. However, eating local food is no longer as straightforward as it once was. In the past, most people were happy to try local street food. There were, of course, some who felt uncomfortable with hygiene standards.
After living through a pandemic, it is understandable if your hygiene standards are much higher than they were before. A street food stand where the cook doesn’t have running water to wash their hands or where there are constantly passersby sticking their faces over the food may not live up to those standards.
The good news is that you don’t have to eat street food to experience local cuisine. There are plenty of sitdown restaurants where you can try different dishes. It helps if you know what you are looking for! Remember that restaurants not geared towards tourists are always more likely to give you the real experience.
Speak to the Locals
If you want to immerse yourself in a new place, you cannot afford to be shy. You need to be brave enough to speak to locals. In most places, you will find plenty of locals who can speak English better than you can speak their language, but they will appreciate it if you try.
That said, do not be pushy. No one likes an obnoxious tourist invading their space just to get an experience. Rather, speak to the locals who you come across organically. If they seem happy to talk to you, you can try and take the conversation further than strictly practical matters.
Not only will you learn about the people who live in the city, you will also learn about some lesser known spots in the region. The best beach I have ever been to was not on any travel website. I only found out about it when speaking to my rideshare driver.
Immersing yourself in a new city is the best way to experience international travel. You do, however, need to put in the work to make it worthwhile. Get acquainted with the language and read up on the culture. Try local cuisine and don’t be scared to speak to locals, even if your grasp of the language is minimal.