Embracing The Destination: 5 Ways to Immerse Yourself in Local Culture

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When people tell me they have visited the Dominican Republic – where my family is from and where I spent a good part of my youth – the first thing I want to know is where they stayed. When the answer is at an all-inclusive resort or another, I can’t hep but let them know that by choosing to be enclosed in a resort with limited access to anything else, they failed to embrace the culture of the island, and thus connecting with its people.

I don’t judge how people choose to travel because I think that the most important thing is that you travel. Period. However, even if you do choose to stay at an all-inclusive, or travel with a tour group, it can only compliment your experience to find ways in which you can connect with those whose home you are visiting.

Most resorts are realizing the importance in connecting travelers with the local culture, even the all-inclusives, and partnering up with tour agencies and expedition groups to provide that experience. And you should take advantage of these offers for I have found that the stories and history as shared by a local often can’t compare to anything you can read in a guide book or pamphlet.

Some people have an easier time finding ways to embrace the new destinations they visit than others, so for those of you who are maybe a little bit more shy and apprehensive, here are some tips to help get you started.

1) Rent an apartment

There are so many great companies nowadays who help connect travelers with the homeowners in places they wish to travel. Companies such as AirBnb, Go With Oh, and New York Habitat offer travelers of all types options for the perfect vacation rental, whether it be for a few days or a few weeks, for the family or the couple, in the countryside or city center. Often times renting an apartment or house offers you more space for your money and all the comforts of home. It also gives you the chance to experience life “as a local” with trips to shops and markets and interacting with locals becomes part of the course when choosing the vacation rental option.

2) Ask the Service Staff

I love using the services offered by the concierge at hotels I stay in. But if I really want to know where to find the true local flavors, I ask the cleaning staff, waiter or the cab driver where they eat, hang out and play.  I have found that not only does it really give me access to true local flair, but it saves me money, and often times they are so happy to share that they will offer more information and tips then you expected. For us, this approach has never failed to deliver in positive experiences while in a foreign land.

3) Attend the local festivals and events

Find out from the visitor’s center or other tourism resources what local celebrations and festivities are taking place during your visit, and plan on attending even if they aren’t really considered huge tourism attractions. Nothing more fun than taking part in the local parties with the locals themselves!

Strangers you meet during your travels often become lifelong friends if you open yourself up for the adventure.

4) Walk and take public transportation

I always tell those visiting NYC to avoid the comfort (and expense) of taking a cab, and take the train or walk like the rest of us. Not only will you save time. Traffic in NYC is horrid, you wouldn’t want to get stuck in it, but by avoiding the enclosure of a car, you get to see more of the sights and really get a feel for the energy and vibe of the location. Bike or walking tours are also a great way to familiarize yourself with your surroundings before taking it on by yourself.

5) Start at home

I can’t even begin to tell you how very few New Yorkers actually know about some of the most historical sights of their city. We take it for granted and with the busy-ness of our every day lives we seem to just not notice or take the time to pay attention. You don’t have to travel far to immerse yourself in local culture. Often times the richness of your very own hometown is enough to keep you busy and inspired for days on end.

I hope those tips help to get you started on your next adventure. In the meantime, here are some other tips from fellow travelistas on how to immerse yourself in local culture:

Blog: There’s So Much To See
Post: 5 Ways to Immerse Yourself in Local Culture
Blog: La (Not Always So) Vida “Normal”
Post: 5 Ways To Immerse Yourself in Local Culture
Twitter: @MissJoriQT
Blog: Travel with Eva
Post: 5 Ways to Immerse Yourself in Local Culture
Blog: Women of Color Living Abroad
Post:  Five Priceless Possessions for Traveling like a Local
Blog: Savvy Traveler
Post: 5 ways to immerse yourself in local culture
Twitter: @savvytravelling
Blog: Ad-lib Traveller
Post: 5 Ways to Immerse Yourself in Local Culture
Twitter: @Adlibtraveller
Blog: Awe Inclusive
Post: 5 Ways to Immerse Yourself in Local Culture
Twitter: @AweInclusive
Blog: Solo Woman Traveler
Post: 5 Ways to Immerse Yourself in Local Culture
Twitter: @TravelOptimist
Blog: BTB Black Travelers
Post:  5 Ways To Immerse Yourself In Local Culture
Twitter: @skychi_travels
Blog: The Absolute Travel Addict
Post: Five Ways to Experience Local Culture When Traveling
Twitter: @AbsoluteADT
Twitter: @LisaLightnerLL
Blog: A Day in Our Shoes
Post: 5 tips for the {special needs} family to make the most of local travel and culture
Blog:Smart Spending Spot
Post: 5 fun and frugal ways to immerse yourself in local culture
Blog: Mo Travels
Post: Ways to Immerse Yourself in Local Culture
Twitter: @Monique_Rubin
Blog: Take A Leap
Post: 5 Ways to Immerse Yourself in Local Culture
Blog: Global Insights
Post: 5 Ways to Immerse Yourself in Local Culture
Twitter: @globalmaisha
Blog: The Delusional Divas
Post: In Between the Sheets (or 5 Ways to immerse Yourself in Local Culture)
* * * 

The next Traveling Brown Girl’s Carnival Host is  @Monique_Rubin
Carnival Date:  February 5, 2013
Travel Topic:  The Top 5 Travel Necessities No Travelista Should Live Without
Publish your post and then submit to MsWoodenShoes@yahoo.com on February 3, 2013



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Carol Cain

Carol is her happiest when on an adventure, either close to home or farther away. She's the mom to three fun boys and wife to a handsome Irish/Scot. She lives in New Jersey with her happy crew, but will always be a girl from Brooklyn. You can read her full profile here.

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7 Responses to Embracing The Destination: 5 Ways to Immerse Yourself in Local Culture

  1. Lisa says:

    I hear you on that last one! It pains me when I have relatives that have lived here 40 or 50 years and haven't visited Philly (the actual city) since an elementary school field trip.

    Great tips!

  2. Carol Cain says:

    @Lisa: So true!

  3. Michaela says:

    Walking is an ideal way to experience a city. Passing a storefront by car or bus goes by so fast that you hardly know what type of goods/services are available.

    I've found great places by just walking around and peaking my head into an interesting looking store. Plus, the owners of smaller shops are eager to engage their customers and talk about their city.

  4. Carol Cain says:

    @Michaela: I agree with your point about smaller shops! So true.

  5. A good part of my international travel experience involved working with the local youth. Short of moving there for awhile, I can't imagine a better way to get to know the culture of a place than by interacting with their kids. It's not practical for everyone, but it can't hurt to look for a local volunteer experience to do if you can spare the extra day or so.

  6. Liz says:

    #4 and #5! Yes! Well, yes to all of them… But especially those two! Family In New York is a great option for those traveling to NYC who want a more authentic New York City experience (or for those New Yorkers who are wanting to experience and learn some more about the city they live in!). Family In New York offers custom private New York tours. They specialize in tours that take you off the beaten path. Their tours go beyond a typical NY tourist experience! Time spent with them is sure to be the highlight of any trip to NYC!

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