Have you ever been on vacation abroad and become frustrated because you can’t find a Starbucks or a fast food joint? So have I. But through my travels with my family I have realized that sticking with what was familiar and comfortable was seriously limiting my travel experiences. A new place became so much more interesting and fun when I immersed myself in its culture. Whether I’m with my family or on a school trip, I now do everything I can to engage in conversations with the locals, and find out how life is lived everyday in the new places I visit. I found that by trying the area’s traditional dish, or visiting a town that is way off the tourist trail, the thing that really makes a trip unforgettable is diving in and experiencing the local culture.
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On one trip to Europe with my family, we visited the city of Dubrovnik in Croatia. Instead of staying in a fancy hotel, we chose to stay with a local family in their extra room. During this time, we had the opportunity to bond with them, and were surprised and honored when, on our last evening, they cooked us a dinner featuring the local specialty dishes. As if that wasn’t enough, the family set up a surprise birthday celebration for my sister, and even gave her a framed picture of the small ships in the harbor to remind her of the view we had from our window. But my favorite memory from that trip to Croatia was when I looked down from my window onto the small cobbled square that faced a tiny church, and saw a group of local boys playing soccer barefoot. Naturally, I hurried down there without any shoes and joined in the fun. I spent every moment of free time with those boys over the next few days, and even though I couldn’t understand a word they said, I felt as though I got a good taste of daily life for children in Croatia.
Another thing that is just as important as communicating with the local people, is coming out of your comfort zone and trying something that you have never done before. Whether it’s cliff jumping in Croatia, eating sardines in Italy, or going to hear traditional fado music while in Portugal, doing something you’ve never done before will help you to know the country you are visiting so much more intimately. Plus, the pictures are sure to impress your friends!
I’d like to encourage everyone not to be afraid to strike up conversations with people, because not only will you learn something from them, but they will probably be happy to have met you too… and you just might make a new lifelong friend. Exploring a different culture and taking an adventurous step outside your comfort zone will offer you a trip that’s more immersive, exciting, and memorable than you could have ever imagined.
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