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To kick of this week’s theme of “Exploration”, here’s a list of things to do when traveling that will ensure you have the true local experience. We have found that the best way to learn as much as we can as we travel is to immerse ourselves into each new culture we travel to. As Andrew Zimmerman says, “Please be a traveler, not a tourist. Try new things, meet new people and look beyond what’s in front of you. Those are the keys to understanding this amazing world we live in.” Here, we share 10 of our favorite ways to make sure you do just that.
1. Live with the locals
We definitely recommend living with a local family. You don’t have to live there forever, but try it out for a while. Not only will you learn the small intricacies of a new culture, but you will also make deep relationships with people who will give you the inside scoop of the new town you live in (i.e. best places to eat, to shop, places to avoid, new friends to meet, people to avoid, etc.). We have lived with numerous families and have gained years of knowledge because of it.
2. Start a business.
Through starting a business, one can understand the true culture of the country. Starting a business will also set you a part from any tourist in town because you see the town with different vision. Opportunities are everywhere, even in places where others don’t see them. We started our business, Life Out of the Box, in Central America not only to feel a part of the local communities we do business in, but also to gain the knowledge of what it is like to do business overseas.
3. Ride public transportation.
The locals do it and so should you. At least that’s our thought, so we use it all of the time to understand how the locals get around. It will make you smarter and will also make you appreciate having your own mode of transportation if you ever get it. In Nicaragua, Guatemala and Morocco, the average bus trip costs less than $1 and with gas being pretty expensive these days, it doesn’t get much better than that. You may be sitting next to a few chickens, but hey you only live once. Take it in and enjoy.
4. Learn to cook the local foods.
When we lived in Nicaragua and Guatemala, we of course had to learn from the locals how to make the Nicaraguan Gallo Pinto (beans and rice), Tostones (fried plantains) and Guatemalan shrimp ceviche. Whilst living in Morocco we learned how to make Lamb Tajine and it is a delicious treat. They seem like easy dishes, but if you learn how the locals really do it, you’ll find that each country has their own special ingredients or techniques. Bonus: if you’re in a third world country and learn to make the local food, the food is cheap and filling! Learning new cuisines has expanded our palettes and cooking repertoire. We’ve even put our own twist on them by combining our own favorite dishes like spicy Indian chicken curry with Gallo Pinto.
5. Learn a new language through local friends.
Learning a new language by being immersed in it is the best way to learn the language. Period. By talking in Spanish to our local friends in Central America, they have also taught us some of the lingo that’s unique to each country along with a few funny/bad words too. We also try to pick up as much Arabic as we can while living in Morocco. It is really tough but it means a lot to the Moroccans we meet when we try.
6. Help others achieve their dreams.
Tourists tend to just come and go. By helping others achieve their goals, one can leave their mark on a person, which could then develop into something much greater down the road. Even if it’s something as simple as telling a child that he/she can accomplish their dreams–you never know how far that statement can go. The potential is limitless.
This one comes from the bottom of our hearts and hits home with us both. We started our business to give back school supplies to children, so we’ve had the wonderful opportunity to work with locals kids, teachers and many inspiring people running NGOs that are doing amazing work in Central America and Northern Africa. If you’re living in a foreign country, volunteering and getting involved in the community to help make the town around you a better place, not only will the people around you reap the benefits but you will as well. In giving you receive more than you could ever give: a new perspective and gratitude from the people you assist. You’ll no longer be seen as a foreigner, but rather a true part of the community when you give a little back to it.
8. Go where tourists don’t go, learn the culture.
Our first goal when we moved abroad from California was to jump right in and learn the culture. By taking the hike less traveled, eating at the local Comedors and visiting local homes with dirt floors rather than the fancy resorts around us, we made foreign countries feel like home to us because we accepted it the way it really was with open arms. We moved abroad to learn new things, get new perspectives and by immersing ourselves in the actual culture, we did. We are humbled and changed forever by what we have experienced in Central America and Morocco in the past year couple of years.
9. Grab a drink with the locals.
Don’t go to the party bar filled with people who look just like you. Sure, you might feel a bit more comfortable as you’re feeling right back at home in your comfort zone–but did you travel here to feel like you’re at home? Most likely not. You’ll be paying the tourist prices, often times meeting tourists from your same country, speaking English and not learning very much about this new culture you just joined. So get out there to that local spot filled with locals and order the local drink, in their language! Strike up a conversation with a local and see what you can learn. We’ve had some of the best nights of our lives by doing just this. If you’re in Nicaragua, drink a Toña (the local beer) or Flor de Caña (the local rum). If you’re in Guatemala, try Bravah, Gallo or Ice (local beers). If you make it out to Morocco you have to try the local mint tea. They are all refreshing and delicious.
10. Eat the street food.
We love trying out the different and sometimes weird foods everywhere we travel. We’ve had the best food we’ve ever had right off of the streets, but then again we’ve also had the worst food that made us sick for days. Be cautious of the food but be a risk taker. There are different flavors on the streets wherever you go in the world, which makes it fun to try it all. Street food is cheap and when it’s good, it’s the best deal in town. It’s also the most authentic way to experience how the locals eat.