8 Ways to Prepare Yourself to Be a Better Traveler When Life Returns to Normal

by Benjamin Schaye Apr 15, 2020

With the lockdown, isolation, quarantines, and social distancing currently taking place, now is a tough time to plan travel. There is so much uncertainty over when things will return to normal that it’s just not really possible to work out many of the details of your future trips. But things will return to normal at some point, so there’s absolutely no reason you can’t keep dreaming about that fantasy destination, and there’s actually a lot that you can do to get ready for that trip even without working out the dates and logistics.

It’s easier than ever today to immerse yourself in elements of a foreign culture without even leaving your own home. You can do this exploration passively through books, music, and film, or actively through language learning, cooking, and connecting with people. Either way, getting this kind of exposure will make sure that future you is not just another tourist. Here are our top ways to prepare yourself to be a better traveler when the coronavirus crisis passes.

1. Travel on the binge-watch express.

Let’s start with the absolute lowest-hanging fruit and something you’re likely doing a lot of anyway: watching TV. With just a small amount of research, you can easily find a number of different movies and shows that are either local to the place you plan to visit, or at least set and filmed there. Anything locally made is especially good as you can get an insider’s view on life in that place. Take films like Y Tu Mamá También and The Darjeeling Limited. The first instantly links you to the people, place, and culture of Mexico, and the latter has the power to immediately make you want to buy a ticket to India and hop on a train. Wherever you hope to go next, your television can inspire you and bring parts of that place to you now while you’re stuck at home.

2. Book travel

Diving in a bit deeper than TV and film, reading is probably the best way to get to know a place before you are able to visit. Nearly any book can be worthwhile to read, but when trying to acquaint yourself with a new destination, history books, travelogues, and novels tend to be great ways to find a better lens through which to understand a place. We recently published a list of the best travel memoirs to read while you’re stuck inside that includes great books set in the Arctic, France, Patagonia, India, Marrakesh, Greece, the US, and more. If your dream destination isn’t on that list, a quick search around Amazon or any online bookseller should give you plenty of ideas very quickly.

3. Musical exploration

It’s almost impossible to think about a destination and not hear the rhythms most closely associated with that place. Think about Jamaica, and you’ll hear a few notes of that unmistakable downbeat of reggae. Picture India and your brain will play a few bars of sitar music, even if you have no idea what a sitar is. Go ahead and imagine any place where you’d like to travel, you’ll see your brain will try to add a soundtrack.

Because of these kinds of connections, listening to the music of the place you dream of traveling to is one of the best ways to begin to familiarize yourself with the destination. Even if all you do is rock out to some local tunes while you cook dinner or clean the house, you’ll be beginning to shape a better understanding of that place. It should be pretty easy to find music from anywhere in the world, especially if you start by searching on YouTube. If you’re really having trouble finding tunes from your future travel destination, try asking in a Reddit forum or Facebook group. You’ll probably find plenty of proud locals who are happy to make recommendations, and you might even make some new friends.

4. Start learning the language.

For a lot of people, their dream trip is to a place where people speak an entirely different language. Knowing even just a few phrases in the local tongue is often the difference between being a tourist who observes local culture, and being a traveler who is absorbed into it. If you know exactly where you’d like to travel to next, starting to learn the basics of the local dialect now is one of the best ways to prepare for your trip. If you can already speak the language of that location, try to learn some local slang instead. For tips on learning a new language, check out our guide to the best language-learning apps and websites.

5. E-meet a local.

Few things can better prepare you to travel somewhere new than actually knowing a local and having a source of firsthand information. It can also be a big help to both of you during times of social distancing to have someone new to talk to. Doing language exchange online can be a great way to meet someone if you’re traveling to a place where the locals are eager to learn English or perhaps another language that you can speak. You can also try Facebook groups, Reddit, Matador Network’s app travelstoke, and even dating apps. As with any online interaction you need to be somewhat careful: Use common sense and never let anyone pressure you into sharing anything you’re not comfortable with. There are still plenty of good people out there who will be happy to share a bit about their lives, language, and culture with you, in exchange for you doing the same.

6. Create a foodie bucket list.

Food is one of the things you’ll think about the most, not only before your travels to a new destination but after as well. Like music, the food of any place can tell stories and give insights into much more than just what people eat, shedding light on a place’s history, migration patterns, cultural influences, and more. Starting to research local cuisine is a great way to prepare for a trip while also learning about the place.

Look up recipes, read cookbooks and food-centric non-fiction (here’s a list of 8 books that will take your taste buds on a global journey), browse the internet for food porn, and create a bucket list of must-try dishes. Also, seek out YouTubers or Instagrammers who are either cooking local food or exploring it in markets and restaurants. There are people out there making amazing content that will give you insights into both the local cuisine and the culture as well. Careful, though — you might tumble down a YouTube hole and find yourself wondering how you just watched three hours of videos about Peruvian cooking.

7. Get cooking.

All that food research will probably make you hungry, so the obvious next step would be to try your hand at cooking some yourself. Depending on the cuisine it may be hard to source the right ingredients, but you can probably order what you need online. Whether you fail spectacularly or knock it out of the park, you will have passed the time being productive, tried something new, and learned a bit about the destination you plan to visit. If you’re looking for some inspiration, check out our team’s favorite comfort foods from around the world.

8. Stay up on current events.

Wherever you plan to travel, there is almost certainly a local newspaper that is available online. Even smallish countries where English is not spoken tend to have an English-language newspaper for the expat community. Reading the local paper from a destination keeps you up to date with the local news and gives you a sense of how people there live. It is particularly interesting to see right now how the coronavirus situation is being handled in different places compared to where you are. Searching Google News for that destination can also be useful and will include local story results mixed with articles from international news organizations.

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