During Your Travels
4 Ways To Enjoy Diversity
Written by Diana Vicheva
Mark Twain, one of the most well-traveled writers, famously observed, ‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.’ This quote remains relevant to this day. Meeting new people, seeing what brings us together, respecting our differences, and finding joy in diversity are among the key reasons why travel is good for the mind and soul.
Here are 4 proven ways to enjoy the diversity that comes with traveling to other countries, connecting with their cultures, and befriending their people.
Look Beyond The National Stereotypes
Stereotypes are rooted in people’s minds and it would be naive to think that they could simply vanish from the world if only more of us were traveling with an open mind. We all know more than a few national stereotypes and have laughed at the clichés associated with our own country. Australians ride kangaroos to work, all Brits are obsessed with tea and love to talk about the weather, and Germans are always serious… ridiculous, right?
Not all stereotypes are harmful, but even the positive ones can give you the wrong idea, leading to disappointment and unpleasant situations. You can easily get off on the wrong foot with the locals if you let stereotypical expectations shape your behavior towards them. Avoid all this by learning to recognise oversimplified generalizations, so you can then reject them. Research your destination before traveling there. Focus on the history, local traditions, and customs. Choose reliable sources of information and cross-check the facts you find. This approach will prevent you from accidentally offending local people, and from falling into the trap of culturally inauthentic experiences.
Learn Helpful Words & Phrases
English is the most widely spoken language nowadays. Over 50 countries have made it their official language, and plenty of young people around the world study it as a second language. So wherever your travels take you, you’ll be able to find enough non-native English speakers to communicate effectively. However, it’s a good idea to start learning their native language prior to your visit. Language-learning apps like Duolingo, Babbel, Memrise, and Mondly can be of great help. You could also find a platform to practice speaking with natives. Once you arrive in their country, you’ll be able to have simple conversations with locals who don’t speak English. The latter could be especially useful if, for example, you like to venture off the beaten path and decide to try a small restaurant in a residential area or if you need your shoes repaired.
If you’re too busy or the challenge of learning a new language seems overwhelming, you can at least cover the basics. Learn a few words and core phrases that will be appreciated by the locals – ‘hello’, ‘excuse me’, ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘goodbye’, ‘have a nice day’… You don’t need to become a proficient speaker. Even if your pronunciation and grammar are far from perfect, people respond well to someone who makes the effort to use their language.
Don’t Limit Your Stay
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a luxurious all-inclusive experience at a hotel under the umbrella of a large international brand. Sometimes all we need is to relax, and the all-inclusive holiday ticks all the boxes with its comforting predictability, pampering amenities, and familiar feeling of a home away from home. But if you’re looking for diversity and perhaps even a bit of adventure, this is not the right option for you. The reason is simple - leaving the hotel to explore the surroundings means that you’ll miss the meals, drinks, and entertainment included in your package. So most people don’t leave the hotel at all – not until their vacation is over.
Consider dividing your time between different establishments and places of interest. The local B&Bs, family-owned hotels and guest houses, restaurants, cafés, bakeries, street food vendors, souvenir shops, independent contemporary art galleries, stand-up comedy clubs, bars with live music (and many other small businesses related to the hospitality sector) offer the excitement of discovering the authentic atmosphere, tastes, and sounds. Plus, such local businesses rely on the support of people like you. Give them a chance. Imagine a week or more spent at a hotel – however glamorous – versus the same amount of time filled with all kinds of activities, new sensations, and unforgettable encounters with local people. Which one would you choose?
Mixing travel and volunteer work isn’t something new, but its popularity has been growing in recent years. Sometimes volunteers benefit from free travel and accommodation in exchange for their efforts, skills, and enthusiasm. Non-material motivation may involve doing what you’re passionate about, leaving your comfort zone, or gaining valuable experience in your chosen career field. Whatever the case, before applying to a volunteer program, do your research to make sure it’s the right fit. Find useful feedback from previous participants and don’t be hesitant to ask the organisers to provide detailed information. Inquire about the destination, the nature of the work, the living conditions, and any additional issues that you find important.
Volunteering is a way for you to understand specific problems of the country you’re visiting, and to gain a different perspective while becoming part of the solution. Such activities will also give you the chance to get to know the local community better and start long-lasting friendships. After all, being united by a good cause is quite different than meeting people as a tourist.