‘Stepping out of your comfort zone can be liberating and a bit of culture shock is always a great way to gain insight and understanding…’
I’ve long been an advocate of visiting new places and experiencing new things. I am NOT someone who spends two weeks a year, sitting in a bar in Spain, eating British food and complaining that I can’t buy Tetley teabags in the local market. I hate that with a passion and see no point in visiting a foreign country just to do the things I do at home. Why would I? Why would anyone? This is where culture shock comes in to play…
Everyone has the right to do what they please on holiday and that’s up to them. However, getting away from things that are familiar to you and taking the time to explore new destinations can help you understand other cultures and their people. And let’s face it, a little bit of understanding can go a long way towards tolerance and acceptance. And, what’s not to love about picking up a new favourite recipe, drink or destination??
Wherever you end up, try the local cuisine. Part of the joy of travelling is getting to uncover more unusual ingredients and dishes and enjoying them in new surroundings. Eating paella and tortilla in Spain or pizza and pasta in Italy is a completely different experience from back home and you might even pick up a new take on old favourites. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t eat those chicken feet in Jamaica or deep fried cockroach in Bangkok, but I always try something different. There’s nothing on earth that will ever convince me to eat a beastie. Travel Bug would NEVER forgive me…
Drink Like A Local
This doesn’t need to be alcoholic, but I’d be lying if I say my choices weren’t. In saying that, I have tried Horchata in Valencia, mint tea in Marrakesh, and proper Italian espresso. There’s something thrilling about indulging in local traditions that help you connect with your surroundings. Sitting in a pavement cafe in Paris, drinking cafe au lait is one of the best ways to get to know the people of the city and their customs.
For beer, wine and spirits, there’s generally a ton to choose from. I always road test local beer and wine and, if I like it, see if I can buy it at home. I don’t drink many spirits, although have encountered a few amazing ones and Riga Black Balsams being one of these. I hadn’t heard of it before visiting Latvia, and wouldn’t drink it neat, as is customary, but it’s so good in a glass of fizz.
Live Like A Local
It’s very rare that I stay in a hotel unless it’s on a road trip and for a single night. I tend to use Airbnb or Waytostay exclusively while I travel. Renting a studio, or penthouse apartment gives you the chance to really see how locals live. You’ll get to explore your neighbourhood, work out the local transport and discover how the area functions. The size and style of your accommodation gives you a complete insight into the day to day living in your town or city.
From a personal point of view, I adore waking up in a town house in Savannah and having to work out how to use the coffee machine. I love gong to the local markets in Barcelona and then trying to prepare massive prawns and pasta in a tiny kitchen; it’s part of the fun!
Public Transport or Cars
Calling Uber or hopping a taxi every time you leave the house sets you apart from the locals. Public transport can be crowded and difficult to comprehend, but it’s also the best experience. Probably don’t do use it late at night on your own or anything, but try it out. It can be an interesting, if not memorable, experience.
I can vividly recall taking a dodgy minibus, a train, a further two buses, and an internal flight from Istanbul in order to visit Cappadocia. It wasn’t a great deal of fun at the time (Longest. Day. EVER), but, oh, how we laugh about it now. It’s actually something we reminisce about often and makes us both giggle when we recall the trauma. However, as a result, we saw one of the most incredible natural wonders in the world.
Driving can be stressful as hell, but it affords you scenery and experiences you really can’t get from any other mode of transport. This is mainly due to the control you have of the vehicle and the destination, but also where you make your pit stops along the route.
There are also tons of places that public transport just doesn’t go or the times don’t match your schedule. If it wasn’t for my love of driving, I would never have gotten to see the world’s largest pistachio nut in Alamogordo, New Mexico. And that, ladies and gents, was me truly living my Best Life. Seriously. It’s a gigantic nut in the middle of the desert and it’s epic. In your face, Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Get some background before you go. This will not only help you narrow down what to see and do, but also make you aware of anything to be mindful of. For example, are you visiting a mosque on your journey and do you need to be covered? Are there any events on when you’re there that you’d like to check out? Are there events on which might make it difficult for you to navigate the area? In addition, get some history on the location and it’s people.
This can really help you get a sense of what to do (and what NOT to do). There are fewer things more awkward than showing the soles of your feet when it’s frowned upon. Or being a scantily clad female when expectations are that you’ll be anything but.
So, wherever you go and whatever you do, be prepared and immerse yourself in your surroundings.
What’s been your most memorable culture shock on your travels? I visited a Mandir in Sugarland, Texas and tried to enter the temple at the male entrance. I had no idea women had to use a separate door… Live and learn, people; live and learn.
Do you enjoy a bit of culture shock or do you like to stick to your comfort zone?