Letter From the Editor: May 2015
Last month, one of our weekly Twitter chats was all about life lessons learned through travel. What impressed me most—and made me love our Twitter chat family even more—was, when asked what lesson they wished more travelers would learn while abroad, many responded by stressing the importance of adapting to your surroundings and interacting with the people you’ll meet when traveling the world.
“Just because someone’s culture is different than your own does not make it worse or lacking,” said @driveontheleft. “Respect and learn from other cultures and remember you’re a guest there,” @VoyagerVicki advised. Added @monicagoesshow, “You represent where you’re from so do it well!”
It’s sound advice, but while many seasoned travelers and those of us who write about travel for a living have seen the value of assimilating into a destination, there may be just as many others who don’t keep this in mind. It’s selfie sticks and familiar chain restaurants, instead of asking a passerby to take a photo and then getting a recommendation for their favorite, family-owned café. True, seeing a place’s iconic sights and stunning natural landscapes in person is an excellent reason to hop on a plane, but it’s the people you meet while there that has the power to make for a truly unforgettable trip.
I was reminded of this again when reading our Insider Barbara’s latest post about her visit to the Cook Islands. Though she had been to this part of the South Pacific before, on this trip Barbara visited the island of Atiu and partook in an event called the Tumunu, a bush beer party where men and women gather to drink home brew out of coconut shells. You’ll have to read the article to find out how it went, though it sounds like experiencing this important cultural tradition was, for Barbara, a memorable one.
If you’re unsure about where to start, I think one of the easiest ways to connect with locals is through food. The next time you’re traveling, ask your server at lunch where they recommend you go for dinner. Chances are they’ll help you find the perfect spot for a meal you won’t forget. A few of our Insiders have recently written about dining experiences that helped them get to know a country’s culture, such as when Heather learned to make caipirinhas with a local couple in Rio de Janiero and when Rebecca experienced a puerta cerrada, a dinner operated out of a local’s home, in Buenos Aires. Insider Athena traversed Norway, meeting some of the country’s top chefs and sampling New Norwegian cuisine.
Travel experiences can be made so much richer when you take the time to interact with the people around you. Your lives might be very different—or they might be more alike than you think. You’ll never find out unless you take that first step. I’m challenging myself to make a greater effort to make new friends around the world and learn about their cultures, and I’m passing that challenge on to you, too.