How to culturally enhance your travel

Wednesday, August 20

Kevin and I don't travel just to travel. We travel to become learners and friends with the world. 

It is very easy to travel to a new place, check the "sites" off your list, and move on, without ever truly digging deeper into the culture. But Kevin and I have found that the real magic and charm of entering a new world, is to become both a learner and a friend of the place and the phenomenal people that live there. With some intentionality, it is actually quite easy to do, and as a result, you will have a pocket full of stories and treasure of new friends!

Below are some ways you can culturally enhance your next trip:

Meet and connect with Local People!
The best way to gain traction in a new city is to sit with the locals that live there! They are the experts:) Here are some of our favorite ways we've met new people:

1. Through your vocation: My dad is a rice farmer, and well connected in the industry. Growing up, whenever we would travel the world as a family, he would always search for the contacts of rice farmers in that country. And you know what? The local contacts were ALWAYS delighted to host us! We stayed in a rice farming towns all over the world, it was wild! If you find yourself in a niche industry, use your contacts to see if you might be able to connect with someone in that field. You will have a storehouse of cultural knowledge at your doorstep!

2. Through your church or faith community: Whenever we travel, Kevin and I always network with friends to see if they know anyone doing ministry or non-profit work in that country! Before taking our most recent trip to Turkey last month, we were given some Turkish contacts that we promptly emailed. This led to meeting up with one friend in Istanbul, and the other in Izmir. I have to say, these were two of my most favorite days of the trip. As people of faith, Kevin and I were so encouraged and moved to tears by the way we saw God working in Turkey through these wonderful people! In another instance, when I was a sophomore in college {almost 10 years ago, yikes!} my best friend and I traveled to Croatia to visit some missionaries there. I couldn't believe how much we learned about Croatia in those four days because of our excellent {and fluent!} tour guides! Whatever faith community you belong to, there will probably be a network of people you can contact to meet up with!

3. Social Media: In the age of rapid globalization and instant connection via instagram and specifically blogging, it may be that you have contacts in other countries that you didn't even know! I once instagramed that I was visiting a particular city, and one of my blog readers emailed back and asked if I could meet up with her! Obviously you need to use your common sense on this one {and screen people and meet in a public place!}, but most of the time your readers will be genuine wonderful people willing to show you around town! A few weeks ago I instragrammed that I was thinking of visiting South America, and I had numerous followers in different countries welcome me to their city and offer to show us around! Amazing!

4. Exchange Programs: If you plan to live somewhere for a longer amount of time, consider an exchange program. In college, I studied abroad in Siena, Italy, and chose to live with a family (instead of getting my own apartment with other Americans). This was an amazing experience where I was welcomed in to the home of an Italian family, and I learned all about growing my own vegetables to make the freshest pasta sauce and pesto! Not to mention, my language skills rapidly developed!

5. Couch Surfing and AirBnB: Both these sites allow you to be the guests in someone's home {couchsurfing is free, and AirBnB you pay a fee}. Kevin and I have used AirBnB quite frequently, and have met some really wonderful people. In Turkey, we stayed with a French man, and one night we sat out on the balcony with him, drinking French wine, and hearing him talk about his time living in Turkey. It was so fascinating seeing the city through his eyes! He was helpful in giving us tips on where to visit  and what to do! Our stay here was so much more personal (and cheap!) than a hotel!!

6. Family: Obviously it is a huge bonus to have family around the world. I feel extremely blessed to have many family members that live in Europe, and they are by far the most fun and spirited people to stay with. However, many of you probably do have family members abroad, you just don't know them. Considering doing some genealogy tracing to find your relatives! This could be a fun project to do as a family, that could really lead to some incredible connections!

7. Volunteer/Serve: As you already know, the world we live in is not fair or particularly kind to everyone. There is widespread poverty, human trafficking, disease, lack of food and water, etc. that plagues our globe. Challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone and SERVE somewhere. Teach English! Join a team building water wells in Africa! Build houses in Mexico! The list is endless. And in the process of serving, you will meet the most incredible people and have your eyes opened to the realities and daily life for millions around the world. You will be changed, and leave with new friendships and perspectives! Our time living in Nepal changed our life!

8. Immersion Classes: Sign up for a language program or a cooking class! When I was living in Thailand, my cousin came to visit and we took a cooking class. It was so much fun, and we really received a deeper glimpse of the culture through their techniques, fresh ingredients, and spices! We laughed and had a grand ol' time eating the fruits of our labor with our new friends!

Educate yourself! 

There are resources at your fingertips to learn about the countries and cities where you are traveling! Take advantage of this opportunity, and you will deepen yourself in a special way.

1. Read Books: Almost all of us can get a library card where you have access to FREE books, friends! And if you want to buy books, we have incredible deals on or other great websites! Google books that give you a taste of the world you are traveling to. Before we moved to Nepal, I read a book called "The Little Princes" by Connor Grennan. It was a fantastic read {that I would recommend to anyone!} and gave me a deeper understanding of the issues facing Nepal. I was able to think more critically and deeply because I did my research before we moved abroad.

2. Watch Movies: Not all movies are super educational, but they will at least allow you a foray into a country you know nothing about. When we were in Vietnam, Kevin bought the movie "Good Morning Vietnam" {with Robin Williams}, and while it was a comedy, it also gave me the smallest glimpse into certain issues during the Vietnam war. I think I appreciated the Vietnamese people all the more after I watched this. Before visiting the Normandy beaches, in northern France, Kevin and I watched the entire HBO series of Band of Brothers (about the D-Day invasion on the Normandy beaches). It was incredibly sobering to watch this before entering such a sacred place, where lives were lost for the sake of freedom. Utilize Netflix {and google} to find films that take place in the country where you are traveling.

3. You-Tube: You know you are a travel-nerd when you and your husband watch "Rick Steves" videos on a Friday night for fun! Rick Steve's has the best European travel books around, and he airs specials on different European countries. You can find almost all of them on youtube, and they are humorous, fun, and a great resources if planning a trip!

4. Talk to Friends: The best way to learn about a country is to chat with people who used to live there, or friends who have visited! Find out where your friends stayed, if a city was "worth" the visit or not, and what type of transportation they would suggest. Those who have been before you, know the best way:)

I hope when planning your next trip, you will intentionally look for ways to culturally enhance your journey! Years down the line you probably won't remember too many of the "things" you bought or even the names of the towns you stayed, but you WILL remember the people you met and the culture you immersed yourself in:)

Happy Travels!

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