Have you ever found yourself in a new place, looking around in confusion and not knowing what to do next? The fear that you’re missing out on the best experiences that a new place has to offer can be paralyzing. Here’s a few hacks to help you unlock the most enriching travel experiences.
- Smile and be open towards everybody you meet in the street.
A warm, genuine smile will open infinite possibilities for you! Going to the local market for those weird fruits they eat here, or simply walking around a new city, will definitely be a different experience with an open heart and a smile on your face. It tells people that it’s safe to approach you, and it will make them more willing to share their stories. Or even share a warm-cooked meal, why not?
You can read here how this worked out for Jan while travelling in Mexico. He got to go fishing with locals from a fishermen village!
- Get a local host.
There’s no simpler way to understand the lifestyle and culture of a new place than by living with a local. In some cases, it can be the exact thing you need to keep you going with your travels! Daniel almost gave up travelling West Africa, until he met his first host from Ghana.
Couchsurfing is a great way to find people who are willing to share their homes with you. There’s also many tourist agencies that collaborate with locals to provide an authentic experience. But in many cases, no. 1 works best! Being open and friendly with the people you meet on a plane, or on the street, or in a bus, will almost always open doors for you! Contrary to our first impulses to distrust strangers, in most cases people prove to be kind, warm-hearted, and willing to share their home and food with you. Of course, you always need to be prudent and trust your instincts – but I’m sure we don’t need to tell you about that.
- Get involved in a local cause.
Volunteer in an NGO, or any other type of project ran by locals. Find them on-line before travelling on platforms such as VolunteerBase, Workaway, or Couchsurfing forums – to name just a few. If you keep an eye open, and also an open mind, you’ll also find these kind of opportunities in local publications – if you understand the local language. Read here about Carmen and Monica’s volunteering experience in Kuala Lumpur. It all started with a free newspaper lying around in a taxi!
By understanding the issues that a community deals with, and by contributing to the solution, you feel more a part of that community, like you belong in the new place that just a few days ago was completely unknown. And you will recognize that no matter where in the world, people have the same basic needs. It’s an important step towards feeling like the world is your home.
- Meet other travelers.
If you are in a new place and you really have no idea how to start exploring, ask travelers who’ve been there for a longer time. You find them in backpackers’ hostels, on on-line forums and facebook groups, or in local Couchsurfing events (yes, Couchsurfing comes to your rescue yet again!).
Meeting other travelers is the best way to get started if you need more time to get comfortable in a new place. However, if someone will tell you “definitely don’t go to place X” because they found it boring, keep in mind that it’s their personal opinion.
- Walk aimlessly on the streets.
What better way to get into the vibe of a new place than walking around with no set purpose? Something might come up as you walk, or you will simply enjoy the architecture of the buildings, the smells (though not always pleasant…), the views, the way people dress and talk to each other, the foods from the street vendors, and so on. Something as simple as this can work wonders for your morals. Not to mention all the ideas you’ll come up with after such a stroll.
- Learn some vocabulary in the local language.
You may not know how to ask for bread or water in Swahili, but “tafadhali” (please) and “asante” (thank you) will gain you many grateful smiles. Locals are more open to travelers who at least try to learn a little bit of their culture. And what better way to start than by a few words in the local language? If you stay more time in one place, there’s no better challenge than to reach at least a conversational level in the local language. The benefits are so many, that they deserve a full article! Until then, get your backpack, your smiles and an open heart – and happy travelling!