Millions of people aspire to be international travelers, but when they get to a new country, they aren’t exactly sure what to do—or how to make the most of their trip. You may only have a few days in this country, and you want to walk away feeling like you got to see somewhere new, and feeling like you experienced it as a local.
You could run an online search and generate a list of sights to see in any new country, then check them off your list as you visit them. But this straightforward methodology can only get you so far. If you want to truly engage with a new culture, and come back home with unforgettable stories, there are some important ways to adjust your approach.
Find Out What This Country Is Known For
First, and perhaps most obviously, see if there’s anything this country is known for. You might be able to figure this out intuitively, or based on conversations you’ve had in the past. For example, the small country of Monaco is known for hosting one of the most prestigious races in the world, the Monaco Grand Prix. If you plan on visiting the country, you might as well get a Monaco Grand Prix travel package so your trip aligns with the race. You may also find that a country is well-known for a museum, a monument, or a specific food product. Be sure to indulge in those however you can.
Spend Time in the City
Just about every country in the world should have at least one major city that defines them, oftentimes a capital, and sometimes many different cities throughout the area. Spend some time wandering these cities, preferably without a specific agenda. How do people walk on the street and interact with one another? What are the roads and buildings like? Is there a public transportation system, and if so, how easy is it to use? What are the street signs like, and is it easy to navigate? What are your general feelings when you walk through the city? This is a subjective experience that can’t easily be replicated, as every city has its own unique “feel.”
But Also Spend Time in Nature
Cities are great for urban explorers, and they can really capture the personality of a population, but it’s also important to spend some time exploring the natural scenery that makes this country unique. For example, are there sprawling woods and rivers outside the city that are brimming with wildlife? Or is there a vast, open desert, with beautifully colored rocks and expansive landscapes? Is there a mountainside to explore, or an open ocean with a popular public beach? Every place has something different, and it’s in your best interest to explore as many of these as possible.
Taste the Food (and Drinks)
You might be tempted to find a local McDonald’s when you’re in a new country, especially if you’re looking for a quick, inexpensive bite, or when you’re at a local restaurant, you may order a traditional steak or something you know you like. But it’s usually better to order something that this country is known for, or at least something unusual while you’re traveling. What’s the specialty of this chef? What do the people here typically eat? Even if you don’t personally like this culture’s food, you’ll likely find something you can appreciate about the taste, texture, or presentation. Ultimately, that has the power to make you a better-rounded person.
Learn the Language (and Talk)
Even if you’re traveling to an area that supports and generally understands your native language, it’s a good idea to learn at least the fundamentals of the dominant language in the area. The nuances of a language can tell you a lot about a group of people, and of course, you can use your language skills to better engage with the people around you.
This last point is important, because one of the best ways to experience a new culture is to start by talking to the people around you. Locals often have the scoop on which restaurants are best to try, which sights are best to see, and perhaps most importantly, which tourist traps should be avoided. The more you learn from them, the better you can plan the rest of your trip—and you might just make some friends in the process.
Visiting new countries is both enjoyable and character-defining, so it’s an experience recommended for everyone. While there isn’t really a “right” or “wrong” way to enjoy a new country, these approaches can lead you to a better intrinsic understanding of what a new country is truly like, and more unique experiences along the way.