Do you travel in a bubble?
If you’re not quite sure what I mean, take a few seconds to answer the following questions…
- Do you always stay with major hotel chains?
- During meals, do you only order foods you eat at home or recognize?
- Do you prefer to explore destinations with an organized tour group or a private guide?
- Do you plan your itineraries by stringing together one major tourist attraction after another?
- When you’re out and about is your attention focused only on those you’re traveling with?
- Does it irritate you when you go to foreign countries and the locals don’t speak your language?
- When you get home do you have more pictures of yourself in your destination than the destination?
If you answered “Yes” to three or more of the questions, you’re likely traveling in a bubble that’s preventing you from getting the most out of your adventures, destinations, and the people you meet.
Now, before I go on if your bubble is a conscious choice and what you genuinely prefer, all power to you. Travel is a personal experience and if it makes you happy then feel free to move on to some other posts on this blog. (Psst – I highly recommend my adventures in Namibia and Cuba)
BUT, if you said yes to the questions above and you’d like to try another way, why not pop your bubble and embrace the world in a whole new way?
Here are 10 tips to get you started.
1. Try something you’ve never done before
What do you have to lose? You’re on vacation. One of my favorite new experiences was repelling 300 feet into a sinkhole in Belize in an excursion called the Black Hole Drop. It was one of the most exhilarating adventures of my life and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I’m not suggesting bubble breaking requires activities as extreme as dangling hundreds of feet in the air, but I’m going to assume you get my point.
2. Reach out to other travelers
If you’re in an organized group situation, say a local sightseeing tour, make a conscious effort to introduce yourself to everyone. Chat them up, find out where they’re from and what they’ve enjoyed so far. I’ve learned so much from other travelers such as places to avoid, over-hyped attractions, great restaurants, unexpected gems, and in a few instances, made friends I still talk to today.
3. Try one new food a day
If you’re not particularly adventurous in your culinary choices, ease into it. Try one new indigenous dish a day. Who knows, you may find yourself a new favorite.
4. Be a chatty Cathy
Talk to people: your taxi driver, doorman, concierge, waiter, and tour guide and ask them questions. Did you grow up here? What was it like? What’s changed the most since you were little? What’s your favorite thing to do in the city? In your opinion is the most quintessential [country/city] dish?
I’ve had the most wonderful, interesting and entertaining conversations—not to mention memorable interactions—by doing this and it has enriched my travels ten fold and given me a better understanding of different cultures.
Don’t speak the language? Ok, that does make it a little more difficult, but typically people who cater to travelers or workaround tourist spots will be able to converse on some level. In Cuba, I found I learned a lot between my terrible Spanish, their broken English, and a fair amount of pantomime.
5. Explore on your own
Give yourself an hour or two each day in your itinerary to wander. Forget the guide, don’t make a plan, grab a map and just sight-see on your own. Explore.
6. Switch up your accommodations
Hotel chains are great because you can count on their consistency and quality, but many are homogeneous vessels that lack the style or sensibility of the country or city they’re in. Every now and then try a cute boutique hotel, Airbnb or hostel that has a little more local flare.
7. Make time for the local produce or flea market
Besides being wonderfully photogenic (for all those photography lovers like me out there), produce and flea markets are ideal for getting to know a place. Food markets are filled with lots of people, plus regional staples and delicacies. Flea markets are a wonderful place to find unique souvenirs in addition to getting a visual history lesson at the same time.
8. Book and Eatwith Dinner
Eatwith is a marketplace that connects chefs with people who want a foodie experience with a twist. Chefs prepare communal meals in their homes at a fixed price. Each chef is vetted by Eatwith, but you can also peruse sample menus and guest reviews. It’s a relatively new company and the service isn’t available everywhere, or in some cities, there’s only one participating chef, but it’s growing rapidly and worth a look if the idea piques your interest. I tried it in New York City with a couple of friends and had a great time. The Chef was from the Netherlands and lived on the lower east side of Manhattan with his wife. They had a modest apartment but he served a lovely four-course French menu for eight. The other guests included New Yorkers and a wonderful couple from Brazil who was in town on vacation. Everyone was very cool and up for a new experience, and the evening led to delightful conversations. I plan on trying it again when I travel to cities where it’s available. It’s a gotta be a great way to meet locals as well as other travelers. For a list of cities Eatwith is available, click here.
9. Try hands-on activities
Another great way to immerse yourself in a destination is to sign up for classes with a cultural spin you can take part in. I’ve done cooking classes, wine tastings, jewelry making, anything where I can learn about a place hands on. I’m heading to Vienna in a few weeks and while I’m there I’m going to learn how to dance the Viennese Waltz. Fun right?
10. Lay off the selfies
Ok, I get wanting pictures of yourself enjoying your holiday, but manic selfie-taking (and you know who you are) needs to stop–at least turn it down a notch. If you’re so focused on yourself how can you possibly see the world around you? And that’s what traveling is all about – right?
If you have any recommendations on ways to pop a travel bubble or a personal story you’d like to share on the subject, please do so below in the comments section. I’d love to read your ideas.