Heading abroad? Whether you’re traveling to a European city or a rural village in Bali, you can take some simple steps to maximize your experience. None of them cost a lot of money, and you’ll learn so much more about the people, places, and customs along the way.
1. Go for as long as you can. Try to arrange to visit a country for at least two weeks, so you can experience the place more fully. And if you get the opportunity, live abroad for three or more months. Living in a different part of the world can enormously broaden your perspectives and knowledge.
2. Live with a family. This takes a little more up-front coordination, but a homestay program is the best way to learn the ins and outs of a society. Even if you live with the family for just two days, it’s amazing what you can learn.
3. Get off the guidebook route. Books are great, but they sometimes miss the best spots. Ask locals where they eat, see live music, or dance. Find something off the beaten path.
4. Keep your heart and mind open. Even if there’s a language barrier, learning simple words like “hello” or “thank you” can do wonders for connecting with the local people. The smallest interactions—chatting with a taxi driver or buying flowers from a street vendor—can create meaningful experiences.
5. Venture off on your own. If you’re nervous, go easy. Visit a museum or do a self-guided walking tour.
6. Try something new. Take a cooking class, do a language exchange, get a soccer game together with strangers. Find something relevant within the community and learn. If you don’t speak the language, do research before the trip to see what the area has to offer. Or if you don’t have time to do research, find people who speak English once you’re there. Talk to hotel owners, taxi drivers, bartenders, backpackers. Or just go for it. Pick up a soccer ball and start playing. People will start playing alongside you. Actions speak louder than words.
7. Volunteer! It’s a sure way to be more involved in the local community and ease your transition to a new place. We’ve found these sources—Idealist, HelpX,and WWOOF—helpful for volunteer opportunities.
8. Expect homesickness. Understand that if you’re putting yourself in a new and unfamiliar environment, you may feel emotional and a little scared. These emotions are normal, but don’t allow them to dictate your experience.