The tour guide will not tell you anything that you cannot know on your own. So if you are adventurous and independent, leave your tour guide and explore the foreign land by yourself. Five places are all you have to visit for the cultural immersion that you cannot buy off a tour package.
Museums. This is unmistakably the best way to learn about their history and art. You cannot go wrong with a museum. They will have the oldest paintings and the most expensive sculptures their society has even produced in their history. This should be your first stop because this will provide you the basics of the place you’re visiting.
Local Restaurants. This may be uninviting if you are in an “exotic” place. If you are from the West visiting Asia, you will probably look for some burgers and ketchup to avoid the abundant spices you are not used to. But if you are travelling, I plead that you fight that urge to go to the nearest McDonald’s. Go to restaurants that specialize in local cuisine. Eat what the locals eat the way they eat it. It is also best to talk and ask locals about their food. They will give you the best tips on how to satisfy your palette. More importantly, they can lead you away from typical tourist restaurants that rip-off every unsuspecting traveler. As much as possible, eat what you cannot find at home. The more exotic the food is, the better.
Churches. People are crazy about their religion. Most of the time, if not always, people in the past have put all their energy and money for religion, giving churches and other houses of worship so much grandeur and beauty. This is why most of the tourist spots in Europe are Cathedrals. There are actually very few Europeans who hear Mass nowadays, but they don’t tear down the churches because of its historical, cultural and even aesthetic significance. You will know a lot about a place’s history just by studying the architecture of cathedrals and mosques.
Bars. One of the things that makes traveling so unforgettable and meaningful is the cultural immersion in a totally different society. And what better social lubricant there is than alcohol. Different countries serve different beers and wines, and just like food, you must have a taste of these. The Absinth, for example, is illegal in the United States but famous in France. Of course you also have to choose the bars you have to go to. It’s better to find a bar with a musician performing live so you can also get a taste of local music.
Public Market. Finally, your cultural immersion will not be complete without visiting the public market. Public markets differ from place to place. Some countries have a lot of fish, others spices and others meat, all depending on the culture you are trying to explore. But you can learn a lot not only from what they sell, but more importantly from how they sell their goods. Learn to haggle and communicate with the locals in the market. It will be a guaranteed experience.
Don’t forget to explore these places using public transportation. Avoid the taxis otherwise you might as well be burning your money. Ride the buses and trains, just don’t be naïve and watch your belongings. Even the richest and most seemingly safe places have thieves. Have a map and learn to navigate!
You do not have to join an expensive guided tour. You will be surprised at how much you can learn from these suggested spots. Society shows so much of their identity though architecture, food and arts – all of which can be delved into through the five spots.
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