Are you looking for ways to experience local culture when traveling?
Immersing yourself in the culture around you attracts many people to travel.
Learning about people through each destination’s history, art, music, and food is one of the best ways to travel.
But how do you do that?
There are multiple opportunities to engage with the people who live in your travel destination.
Some may take you out of your comfort zone.
While others are so easy, you’ll wonder why you haven’t considered it.
Here are some of the best ways to experience local culture when traveling.
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One terrific way to experience local culture and get to know the people is by volunteering your time and services.
Many organizations depend on volunteers to make their vision happen.
Work side by side with other volunteers from the community.
Group projects are often run by local leaders and workers who guide the programs.
These programs can be a window into how the region’s economy and social structure are designed.
You will gain first hand experience of the needs of the community and what makes it tick.
Usually, the projects themselves take place in more local neighborhoods.
Often the time spent after working hours is a chance to discover the surrounding community.
Experiencing the Local Culture of Costa Rica
When my daughter was in High School we spent a couple of weeks volunteering in a childcare setting in Costa Rica.
We did this through an organization called International Volunteer HQ.
Part of the experience was staying with a local host family. We were able to make new friends and be a part of their life.
Our assignment was at a local daycare center.
While we engaged the children, the childcare center’s workers had the chance to cook and manage the rest of the everyday details.
We had to commute on a local bus from our homestay to the center and back.
We had a lot of fun and learned a lot about local life.
Our Spanish was minimal so it was often challenging, and somewhat confusing, but oh-so rewarding.
My daughter still talks about it and refers to it as a life-changing trip for her.
Here’s your chance to experience local culture in Costa Rica with this amazing hands-on tour that takes you into an indigenous village to learn about chocolate making.
Volunteering Makes a Difference
There are multiple ways you can share your skills and knowledge with others and connect to local culture while doing so.
Organizations look for artists, builders, teachers, animal care, and technology help.
If you are interested in this type of cultural experience, they can match you up with your talent and interests.
When volunteering, keep in mind that you will usually have to pay to cover your room and board.
Many of these projects are grassroots.
Because they need your volunteer help, they most likely don’t have the resources to feed and house you either.
Barter Work for Board
This is similar to volunteering, with the exception that you are trading your skills in exchange for room and board and sometimes nominal pay.
You will experience the local culture by working in someone’s home or business in exchange for a chance to live there.
These bartering opportunities offer a great chance for you to immerse yourself in the daily life of the community.
A trustworthy site to find out about this is workaway.com.
The opportunities vary greatly depending on skill and occupation.
Everything is agreed upon in advance. The employers looking for help are vetted, reviewed, and rated.
Friends that have participated in the program tell me it has created some of their favorite travel memories to date.
Get Out of the Tourist Area
Must-see tourist attractions should always be on the list. They are must-sees for a reason after all.
But if that is all you do, you will only see the tourist culture and you will be missing out on the chance to connect to local culture for sure.
Sometimes straying one or two streets from the main hub of activity is all it takes.
Tourist areas may be filled with restaurants and shops but that’s most likely not where all the local hospitality workers eat and shop.
Follow them (not in a creepy way!) and eat where they eat.
Places crowded with locals usually have the best local cuisine at the best prices.
Not only that, you can absorb that neighborhood atmosphere as well.
Take Local Transportation
Taking the local bus, tram, or Metro is a great way to immerse yourself in the local community.
You’ll be right there with commuters and families going about their everyday business.
One of my favorite travel stories takes place when our family was visiting Amsterdam.
We jumped on a tram to take us to our Airbnb.
What could go wrong?
Surely we couldn’t get separated or lost; there were tracks in the pavement, after all.
I’ll never forget looking at my husband’s face as we exited the trolley and the doors closed with him still inside.
As it turned out, the next stop was miles away after going through a few traffic circles.
We eventually found each other, but it took a couple of hours and a lot more effort than we thought.
Taxis are also okay if language is an issue and if you are not sure how to navigate the public transportation system.
Some taxi drivers can be super friendly and engaging and love to talk about their city.
Wander Neighborhoods to Experience Local Culture
Walk wherever you can. Just wander around and get lost.
In Barcelona, we walked from one attraction to the other even though it sometimes took hours.
We saw the laundry out hanging, matrons out shopping, and young families strolling by.
We experienced a glimpse of the everyday life that we would have missed if we had taken a taxi instead.
Learn Some of the Language
If you are skilled at learning languages then you have a great opportunity to connect to someone’s culture.
Unfortunately, I don’t have that skill, but I make a point of always learning how to greet someone, and say please and thank you, at the very least.
People will appreciate that you made the effort and it is a great start to a positive cultural exchange.
Eat the Food!
My favorite way to experience the local culture is to feast on all the food. So much of life revolves around food.
Be sure to look for iconic restaurants, local street food, and markets for the overall cultural vibe.
Look for those unique dining experiences.
Take a cooking class about regional cuisine or take a food tour.
It is so much fun to browse the local grocery stores’ tasty treats and snacks that you can’t get at home.
Asking the grocer, or another customer, for recommendations is another great way to learn about the local cuisine.
Want to try a local food tour? Check out the amazing culinary and history tours offered here.
Don’t forget to take food and snacks home with you as edible souvenirs. It’s a great way to share your travel stories and knowledge of a new culture with family and friends.
Hire a Local Guide
I know, some people think hiring a guide is cheating by taking the adventure out of travel. Nothing could be farther from the truth. A guide is in the perfect position to point you in the right direction to where the adventure is!
Honestly, hiring a guide when you first arrive at a destination is a great way to get some quick, first-hand information about the local culture.
Hiring a guide is an especially great option when you don’t have a lot of time in one location.
If you can afford a private guide it could potentially be like having a personal friend to introduce you to your destination, and that is priceless.
A more affordable way to go is to look for a free walking tour which you can find in many cities.
The tour is free and you tip at the end on what you think the value was.
Stay in an Apartment
AirBnbs and apartment rentals are great ways to stay in a local environment and live as they do.
Many hosts leave a guest book in the accommodation or online recommending all the local favorites.
You may be able to meet in person to gain some advice about the local happenings.
Don’t count on that entirely though as many are set up to be self-check-in and hosts are available only if issues arrive.
Try a Hostel
Hostels and guesthouses are a great choice.
You will meet other travelers with who you will share stories about cultural experiences you have had.
Sometimes jumping in alone to an unfamiliar culture feels scary.
It’s easy to find a like-minded travel buddy while socializing at the hostel.
Also, the people that run the hostels are often locals and can give you a wealth of information about what’s going on in the community.
Looking to book a HOSTEL OR GUESTHOUSE ?
Go to the Library
Find the nearest library.
Libraries are community centers and welcome everyone.
Librarians LOVE to help people and share information. It’s their specialty.
They also are a wealth of information about the community and all it has to offer.
They would be happy to suggest ways you can experience the local culture.
Libraries regularly offer classes and workshops that can be taken for free.
I always try to find the library in any city or town I visit.
What you find inside often gives you insight into the values of the people who live there.
I once discovered this funny little sign hanging on the shelf at the Pondok Pekak Library in Ubud, Indonesia.
A place where you can sign up for art and music classes as well.
Create beautiful Batik fabric paintings in this art class and bring home some Balinese culture with you. Taught in a lovely studio just outside Ubud.
Run a Race
Runners love to talk about running.
Races take place all over the globe.
Run a 5k or a walk in a Fun Run.
It is a great way to mingle with people and the race usually supports a local cause.
If you are lucky, not only will you make a new running friend, but you might even get a t-shirt as a cool souvenir.
The best way to experience local culture is to stay as long as you can.
Don’t rush if you don’t have to.
Increasingly, more people are partaking in what is referred to as slow travel.
It is difficult for people to emotionally invest in others when they come and go so quickly.
The longer you spend time in one place the greater your chance of connecting to the local culture.
Strike Up a Conversation
The best way to experience local culture is by being friendly and kind.
Remember, you are a representative of your own culture as well.
Most people take pride in their culture and way of life and are more than happy to share it with you.
Ask questions and show interest and appreciation for the things around you.
Sometimes, experiencing the local culture can take you out of your comfort zone.
But the rewards you will gain are worth it.
“International Volunteer HQ | IVHQ | Most Trusted & Affordable.” International Volunteer HQ, https://www.volunteerhq.org/. Accessed 15 Nov. 2022.
Workaway in over 180 Countries – Give Meaning to Your Travels. https://www.workaway.info. Accessed 15 Nov. 2022.