American author Mark Twain famously wrote, ďTravel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.Ē While his note about the importance of travel could certainly include the wonderful sights and landscapes you might see, the lessons we can learn from other people are at the heart of this piece of wisdom.
There are many benefits to traveling and experiencing new cultures, including the chance to broaden your perspective, enhance your creativity, and gain new skills. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your travels and interactions with other cultures.
Learn to Empathize
Just because something is different than what youíre used to, doesnít mean itís bad. Conflicts surrounding racism, religious affiliation, and language barriers are often founded on generalized fear or anger toward people who are different. Without thinking, itís easy to form unfounded biases if you havenít had a chance to spend time and engage with people of other cultures.
Staying angry or afraid of other people isnít a great way to spend your mental energy, and it closes you off to opportunities for growth. However, exposing yourself to different cultures can help you to see from someone elseís point of view. If youíre willing to open your mind, youíll begin to see the similarities between yourself and other cultures on a human level.
You can learn a lot of facts about another culture from the comfort of your own home, through books, documentaries, and other resources. Yet that kind of knowledge canít provide the same immediate value as actually talking with someone, asking questions, and sharing ideas and experiences with each other.
There is a particular vulnerability involved with face-to-face interactions with someone you might not understand right away. As you navigate a physical and social landscape different from your own, pay attention to othersí reactions as well as your own. These differences from your idea of normal may be drastic in foreign lands, but if you can practice this awareness and acceptance while traveling, youíll also build skills that will help you understand people within your own communities.
Boost Your Creativity
Coming to understand other cultures changes the way you think, which can help expand your creativity. Most obviously, this can happen when you experience another cultureís music, food, architecture, paintings, and other art forms. Even if you donít make your own art, you might take inspiration in how you decorate your home or what flavors you introduce into your cooking.
Beyond art itself, simply by stepping out of your normal day-to-day situations can open your mind to new possibilities. When you travel to an unfamiliar destination, youíll likely be surrounded by new sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and interactions with others. This can give you a well-needed mental break and help to reset your mind, and you may find new clarity when facing challenges back home.
Gain New Skills
Traveling to new places will often put you in unpredictable situations. This can be exciting, fun, and sometimes a bit scary. However, this is a chance to gain skills related to awareness, problem-solving, and adaptability that will serve you well on future adventures as well as your daily life back home.
If you have a chance to spend more than a few days in a foreign country, learning a new language and speaking with locals can teach you a lot about tone, meaning, body language, and other ways of communicating. You donít need an exhaustive knowledge of the language. Making the effort to learn a few basic phrases can help you better navigate a foreign landscape as well as meet new people.
Different cultures may even offer opportunities to take classes that cover skills and information unique to that location. For example, you might take a cooking class to learn how to prepare some authentic cuisine. Or you might learn the rules to a game or sport that is popular in the area and play alongside locals. This gives you another chance to engage with people of other cultures, and you might choose to teach your friends back home how to play the game.
Consider Your Safety
While traveling and immersing yourself in different cultures has many benefits, you should also be realistic about the risks involved. Doing some research on local hazards can help keep you from making careless mistakes that could lead to serious harm. These could be environmental dangers related to temperatures or natural disasters, or there might be factors related to social expectations, legal restrictions, or criminal activities that could get you into trouble.
For example, you probably should be aware of any common scams or pickpocketing techniques that are often targeted at tourists. Walking alone on city streets at night could make you vulnerable to muggings and assault, or someone might follow you to your hotel room where they could steal your belongings or hurt you. While none of these things might occur, itís best to be attentive and prepared.
In some cases, things like sanitary drinking water and food safety could cause serious problems. Wildlife can also pose a threat, from large beasts like lions or bears, to mosquitos and parasites that might carry diseases. If any of these will be present in the area youíre visiting, look into safety practices, any vaccinations available, and other protective measures you can take.
To protect your health in general, you may want to consider enrolling in some form of medical travel insurance. Your regular medical insurance policy probably doesnít include coverage when youíre in foreign countries. If you end up needing medical attention, even simple procedures could end up costing a lot more than youíd expect.
If you get into a car accident and need emergency care, you could risk going into serious debt to cover the costs of major treatment. Finding medical insurance while traveling is particularly important for those who travel often, have a chronic medical conditions, or are planning on doing adventurous activities like hiking, skiing, rock climbing, or swimming.
Make It Affordable
Not everyone has the resources to travel often or for long periods of time. You may have to save up for your trip in order to maintain some comforts and safety while traveling. In some cases, this could take years, but that time will also give you the chance to thoroughly research the destinations you want to visit and the cultures surrounding them.
However, you can also do a few things to offset the financial challenges of traveling. If youíre planning to travel for a longer period of time, you might rent out your place temporarily. This can help you avoid having to pay rent on a place where you arenít actually staying, and it might help you make a profit to offset other travel costs. Be sure to check the terms of your lease before renting out your home.
You should also look into opportunities to volunteer at hostels in the areas youíre visiting. Some hostels may offer discounted or free housing in exchange for doing small chores like making beds or working the reception desk. You could also look into couchsurfing networks rather than hotels in order to save money. However, you should always check reviews and other reputable resources to ensure youíre staying with a trustworthy host. Having a backup plan is also a good idea, in case your arrangement doesnít work out.
If youíre going to spend a sizeable amount of money on plane tickets and other travel costs like housing, meals, local transportation, and travel insurance, it may be a good idea to find an appropriate travel credit card to make these purchases. Depending on your spending habits, the travel rewards programs or loyalty programs associated with some cards can help you more easily afford hotels, meals, and other costs while traveling. Youíll also earn flight miles that will allow you to take future trips more easily and continue your adventures into new cultures.
Apply Your Experiences Back Home
By traveling and interacting with others, youíll gain a new perspective and skills that can be applied well beyond your trip. Because youíve learned new ways of communicating, you may notice new signals when youíre talking with friends, family, coworkers, and strangers.
The empathy youíve developed while interacting with people in other cultures will not only help you to better understand those around you, but you could help others to see new perspectives as well. It isnít always easy to convince someone to change their mind, but sometimes pointing out alternative ways of thinking can help others begin to expand their emotional intelligence and cultural awareness.
After experiencing other cultures, youíll also probably be more considerate when you interact with people who have spent much of their time within other cultures. This could include tourists who may be visiting your hometown, city, or state. You might also come into contact with refugees and immigrants who have recently moved to your area. And itís likely there are people who have spent their entire lives in the same town as you who have different ways of doing things based on traditions passed down through their culture or family.
You donít have to travel the world to have meaningful conversations and interactions with people from other cultures. Consider that itís just as important to share your home, culture, and ideas with them so we can live in a more understanding and united world. If you can share these experiences without one way having to be ďthe right way,Ē we stand a better chance of achieving greater connectivity with people from all cultures.