Updated: Feb 24
Many people travel to create fun experiences. At 2XCAPE we believe fun experiences encompass learning more about different cultures. However, many travelers do not know how or where to gain this exposure. In this blog, I’ll discuss ways to increase cultural awareness during your trip. Specifically, how guided tours, culinary experiences, and interacting with locals can facilitate meaningful experiences that allow you to truly immerse yourself in the culture.
Guided tours are a great way to learn about the culture or history of a place. They are relatively inexpensive and because you’ll save money on lodging you can invest those savings in creating more memorable experiences. Guided tours also take most of the hard work out of organizing an excursion because the tour company will plan all of the details from when and where to meet to what landmarks to visit in the area.
Guided tours are informative because tour guides generally have a lot of knowledge about the culture and history of a place. There are many types of guided tours. For instance, you can take a guided tour of the city stopping at various locations along the way. Many museums, monuments, and national parks also provide for guided tours. You can even take a guided food tour which I’ll discuss later.
You can generally arrange a guided tour of a museum, monument, or national park with guest services for the location you are visiting. There are many tour companies that provide group tours or touring trips as well. Some tours are limited to a few hours while others may require an entire day or week. A guided tour of Machu Picchu, for example, may take an entire day.
It’s a good idea to arrange a guided tour in advance of your trip as group tours generally have limited space and fill up quickly. Organized tours also often have a time limit. You should also be sure to arrive at the group meeting point on time to ensure you aren’t left behind.
In some destinations, safety is an issue. Guided tours in a group provide an element of safety and also add a social aspect. You’ll have an opportunity to meet other like-minded people. In some cases, where you travel to may necessitate a guided tour. For example, if you’re traveling to Africa and want to go on a safari, then a guided tour may be your best and only alternative.
Some guided tours even incorporate physical activity. I once took a guided tour of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park on a motorized vehicle called a Segway. Not only was it informative but the Segway added an element of thrill and excitement. I’m a Bay Area native and had visited Golden Gate Park many times before this experience but was completely ignorant to the park’s rich history such as how the park was developed, the diverse collection of plants, the statues of historical figures located throughout the park, and the many lakes nestled within the park. All I knew was that it was a place where hippies congregated in the 60’s and 70’s. My experience highlights the advantages of guided tours and how truly immersive they can be.
While exploring an area on your own is always an option, consider arranging a guided tour on your next trip!
Sharing Culture Through Food
You can learn a lot about a particular culture by exploring their food. Traditional foods are an expression of cultural identity. Depending on where you travel to, there may be many different cuisines based on the ethnic diversity of the area.
Street food has seen a major rise in popularity in recent years due to TV shows like The Great Food Truck Race and Food Truck Nation, for example. Street food is relatively inexpensive with smaller portions, thus allowing you to try many different food items.
The street food scene is most prevalent in the inner city. Although the character of many inner-city neighborhoods is changing due to gentrification, many of these neighborhoods are inhabited predominately by racial and ethnic minorities due to immigration to the area, redlining, and discriminatory covenants. As a result, there is more food diversity in these areas. You can sample a variety of food while exploring the neighborhood and speaking with the locals, thus allowing you to immerse yourself more deeply in the culture.
The development of food deserts in minority neighborhoods have been attributed to redlining in many instances. This helps explain the prevalence of street food in inner-city areas. Inner-city neighborhoods typically border each other, so you don’t have to travel far to experience a different cuisine. Miami Florida is an excellent example of this. In Miami you have Little Havana, the epicenter of Cuban culture and Little Haiti, the epicenter of Haitian/Caribbean culture, each within a 7.2-mile radius of the other.
It is important to be open minded about trying new foods. Be open to trying everything unless you have dietary restrictions. Different foods and smells can be off-putting but try not to let fear get in your way of trying something new, as it will teach you about the ingredients and spices that are more popular in other cultures.
Food tourism connects people with the local culture and environment, as well as the cuisine. The World Food Travel Association defines "Food Tourism" as the act of traveling for a taste of place in order to get a sense of place. According to The World Food Travel Association, 53% of leisure travelers are food travelers. Food tours generally encompass a guided tour of the area, while sampling a variety of food along the way. Consider booking a food tour on your next travel excursion!
Conversing With Locals
Conversing with locals is another great way to learn about a culture and location. There are many places you can go to facilitate this cultural exchange. The local farmer’s market for example is a great place to go to connect with the local community as well as to learn about the various foods and ingredients that are popular in the region. You can sample some of the local fruits and vegetables while meeting and talking to farmers and food artisans. Best of all, you’ll be supporting family farmers!
A close relative of the farmers market is the flea market. Flea markets are also a great place to meet and talk to locals. You can shop products and items made by local artisans and there is often a street food presence. Flea markets promote cultural awareness as well as sustainability because they typically sell secondhand products.
Town squares or plazas provide another opportunity to get exposure to locals. They are typically located in the city center and many people gather and pass through them making them an ideal place to meet locals. They are often surrounded by shops, cafes, and restaurants. Some town squares or plazas are considered historic landmarks dating back centuries.
You can learn a lot about a place by talking with locals. Remember, as much as you would like to learn about a place, others may also want to know what it is like where you are from. So, try and share the customs of your own culture and enjoy meeting new people!