Beyond the Tourist Experience

Complete Immersion in a New Culture

Sponsored by Viking Cruises

The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.” – G.K. Chesterton

For those who really want to get a feel for what it’s like to live in different parts of the world, there are some things travelers can do before and during their trips for true destination immersion in a local culture.

Visiting a new and unfamiliar place is about much more than making stops in capital cities and taking “selfies” in front of famous landmarks. For most, the joy of travel comes from exploring new cultures and becoming immersed in different ways of life, which is a key focus of Viking Cruises.

Learn the Language

One of the best things a traveler can do before visiting a foreign destination is to learn the language of the culture. After all, many languages reflect a culture’s values and beliefs in big ways.

For example, the Japanese language doesn’t have a single word for “love,” as the English language does. Instead, there are many different terms to describe various levels of love, such as love in a friendship or romantic love. This reflects just how seriously the Japanese culture takes their idea of what it means to “love” another person or thing.

Those interested in learning a new language have plenty of options. For those who don’t necessarily have time to become fluent in a new language, there’s always the option of picking up a translation guide or handbook.

However, those with time to learn a language more deeply should make the effort to do so by enrolling in a class at a local college or purchasing a language-learning software.

Learn Local Customs

Even for those traveling to a country that speaks the same language as them, it’s a good idea to brush up on local customs, values, and etiquette. This allows travelers to better fit in during their travels and truly feel like they’re part of the culture without running the risk of offending somebody or making fools of themselves.

For example, while giving the “thumbs up” in America may be a positive sign, the same hand gesture in another country may be seen as a vulgarity.

Learning about local customs is as easy as obtaining a culture etiquette guide, which can be found online–on websites such as the popular eDiplomat. If you have a travel agent, you may also ask him or her for some help when it comes to learning cultural etiquette.

Visit Outskirt Cities and Villages

Those who want to become immersed in a place’s culture will need to plan their vacations so that they’re not just visiting tourist traps and landmarks the entire time. Sure, the average traveler wouldn’t want to visit China without making a stop at The Great Wall, but it’s important to realize that there’s so much more to culture than what’s found in a destination’s capital cities and tourist towns.

Instead, do a little research before the trip and find out the locations of native villages and other cultural hubs nearby. Spending a few days in these areas, sampling their cuisine, and speaking with their people will give the average traveler a much more genuine taste of the local culture than any guided tour would be able to accomplish.

Talk to locals and ask for recommendations; you might be surprised at the hidden gems you’ll find this way.

Work with a Knowledgeable Travel Agent

Finally, working with an experienced and knowledgeable travel agent is a must for those who want to get a true feel for a specific culture.

After all, there’s only so much that a person can learn by reading about a culture online or researching places to visit during their vacations. Only a travel agent with specific experience when it comes to booking trips in that particular area will be able to provide the insider advice and guidance that’s needed to make the most out of any trip.

Ideally, travelers will be able to find and work with a travel agent who has actually visited the destination him or herself and knows his or her way around the area. This travel agent will be able to make recommendations regarding the best places to stay outside of the “tourist traps,” the best places to find authentic local cuisine, and other recommendations that wouldn’t otherwise be found in the average travel guide.

There’s no better way to explore a new city or country than to truly immerse oneself in its culture. Fortunately, with a little bit of research, dedication, and help from an experienced travel guide, cultural immersion is not only possible–it’s easy, enjoyable, and potentially life-changing.