As you get off the plane or out off the boat, and you look around, you will start to to have a rush of emotions. Some people love this feeling and become “new culture junkies”. Others hate it and never travel further than the international food mart down the street. As for me, the rush of 50% excitement and 50% out of control is what keeps me going back. In the end, it always turns into 100% love for humans.
Here are 8 things I've learn about how to fit in and have a great time.
8) Ask Questions
A few years ago, my wife and I went to Kenya, Africa. As we met new people, we used questions as our roadmap to friendship. In all cultures, this is a great way to learn, make friends, and show the local people that you are not traveling to their country as a "know it all." I have found that even the poorest people in the world are proud of who they are. Sometimes local people will talk bad about their country. Most of the time they are only saying negative things to fit in with you. Don't take the bate. Your traveling will be much better if you stick to asking positive questions. Questions like, “Do you have a family,” “What’s your favorite part of your job?” or “I really love this trip. What should I see before I leave?” are all great examples. Be mindful in the post travel conversations not to think you have enough information to form strong opinions from a 2 week trip. You don’t want to be a “know it all” in your home country either.
This may be hard, but in those times you feel out of control, take deep breaths and relax. No one wants to go the extra mile for someone that is acting angry.
6) Don't Act So Rich
I had a friend come visit me while I lived in a very poor area in Asia. He wanted to eat with some of our local friends. I was excited to take him, but my excitement was gone when it came time to pay. My local friends said they must pay the bill. For all 10 of us, the bill was around 6 USD. I thought this was a lot to ask of our friends so I made a mental note to return the favor soon. My American friend said, “No I will pay,” and he opened his wallet showing everyone all the local currency he had. The lasting impact was that we just put more distance between us, the Americans, and them, the locals, by flaunting our money. What we should have done was be honored that we were being treated as real friends.
5) Be Yourself
A common mistake is trying too hard. I'm not africa. I'm not Asia. I'm not from Latin American. I grew up in mid west America. If I am myself, local people are more likely to be themselves. Be proud of who you are and let others be proud of who they are. We are used to a melting pot but in many countries they are not. Trying to "melt" into a host culture is something that takes years not days. So, be yourself and have fun!
4) Check Your Body Language
We have all heard of different ways to point, ways to call a taxi, and other famous differences between people groups. However, I believe that body language is still universal. If you look uninterested, angry, or sad, most people from most cultures can tell. So sit up, smile, unfold your arms, and watch the doors open.
3) Take Your Time
Everything takes longer in a different culture, and that’s part of the fun. You take a few more loops around the city then you really needed to, or you spend 1 hour ordering what takes you 2 mins to eat. It’s all part of traveling. So leave lots of time and enjoy it all.
2) Take Calculated Risks
This is my disclaimer. Yeah, there are some dangerous places in the world. You may not always want to go with whoever invites you. With that said, as you meet people and they invite you to places, 99 times out of 100 it’s with pure intentions. So have a plan. If someone offers you food, will you eat it? If someone wants to take you on the public bus, will you go? Everyone has their own comfort level. I am a 6'6 guy. So maybe I can get away with more. My thinking is, if it’s public, and I can see others doing it, then I'm game (I.e. eating a strange food, a public event, etc). It is a risk, but if you are smart and keep your head up, then you can have a ton of new fun.
1) Love the People of the New Culture
If you really learn to love the people you are interacting with, from the street sweepers to the taxi drivers, then they will feel your love. Most of the time they will make your trip much more enjoy able.