ONE OF THE BIGGEST reasons to travel is to expose yourself to a new culture, to see how things are done in another place.
As a traveler, you should strive to embrace cultural differences. But we are all creatures of habit and might not recognize our actions that are not appreciated in certain places.
For instance, in Japan, my friend blew his nose in public only to be met by odd stares and embarrassed looks. We later found out this no-no was considered distasteful, something Japanese only do in private. (Makes sense, actually!)
Some cultural taboos are culture-specific. Others are nearly universal. And fear of breaking cultural taboos can lead us to make the most inoffensive choices. But you can keep your travels interesting without offending anyone else.
Consider these 8 ways to make the journey a little less comfortable and a little more memorable.
DON’T Hail a Taxi
Stretch your travel budget by avoiding these gas-guzzling, wallet-draining rides as much as possible. Most cities â€˜round the world have some amazing public transportation that is often clearly marked and easy to understand if you take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the system.
Traveling with the locals provides a great feeling of accomplishment as you navigate your way through the airport to the city bus or metro train.
DON’T seek the nearest McDonald’s
First of all, you can always eat at McDonald’s, KFC, or Starbucks at home. When you are somewhere different-take it all in by indulging in the many tempting treats at your fingertips.
From local food stands to gastropubs to sensory-overloading markets, trying local foods can be a cheap, fun, and a palette-expanding experience.
DON’T stick to expat bars
It’s time to immerse yourself in the culture of the city, including the people. One of the best places to meet people is at the local watering hole where the beers are cheap and the locals are (almost) always friendly.
Drinking with the locals is a way of embracing our differences and realizing how alike we all are at the same time. Don’t miss this amazing opportunity to enrich your trip tenfold.
DON’T party at your hostel the entire week
Yes, hostels are great. We all know the amazing benefits and the comfort of having other travelers and your fellow countrymen to vent, empathize and share general travel highs and lows. Get out instead. You are traveling to discover new places and people.
DON’T blather on in English
We are extremely fortunate to speak English and even more fortunate that so many people in the world speak it also. But don’t expect everyone to speak English or understand you.
Take the time to learn a few words in the mother tongue of the country you are visiting. Challenge yourself to try and speak the local dialect. Greeting someone with a smile in their language is easy and goes a long way.
DON’T keep your nose in a travel guide
There is no denying that your dog-eared, coffee-stained Lonely Planet Guide is an extremely helpful amalgamation of maps, tips, and sleep/eat suggestions. But don’t become too LP dependent.
Pick up a local paper. Ask other travelers. Query your inn-keeper where he likes go. Then leave your guidebook in the room and explore.
DON’T keep your eye in the viewfinder
Travelers tend to sightsee with one eye looking into an LCD screen. It’s great fun to take home these precious memories, but don’t forget to enjoy the moment while it lasts. Put the camera away and focus on the here and now-breathe it all in-the sights, sounds, smells-of this boundless present moment.
DON’T expect things to be how they are at home
Whether you are in Tulsa or Timbuktu or Togo, remember that each place has its own way of doing things. Open yourself up to the idea that your way is not the right or best way.
Profound travel comes down to exposing all of your senses to this amazing world. If you travel wide open, you will know that travel is about more than sightseeing and souvenir-shopping.
The greatest gifts come not from what you see or buy, but from who you meet and the experiences you share with new friends from all over the world.
Matador is a community of passionate, engaged travelers. We are dedicated to building empathy worldwide. Join the conversation by checking out the people of Matador today.
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