I officially caught the travel bug when I was abroad last spring on the Students Exchange Program. My home base was Copenhagen, Denmark, but no one would have known that if I didn’t tell them. I was gone every weekend seeing every major sight Europe had to offer and spending my whole bank account. I am so fortunate to have had this experience through Fisher, but now my outlook on travel has changed. I have changed form a “sight seer” to a “culture seeker”.
When I arrived in Europe I was in awe. I have never been to Europe before and my only abroad experience was my family trips growing up to the Caribbean or Mexico. I was lucky enough to arrive two weeks prior to my program and my family and I decided to use that time to travel. We went on one of those excursions with a travel company that took us through the European highlights. We traveled from London to Paris, through Switzerland, and down Italy stopping at every major tourist spot along the way. From someone who has only dreamed about seeing the Eifel Tower or Big Ben this was amazing to see everything in person. From nights of little sleep to days spent on our feet walking from sight to sight and driving from place to place we never really took a second to stop and embrace the culture.
Over the duration of my six months in Europe I traveled to 19 different countries and over 30 cities. There’s not many things I didn’t check off my to do list, but at the end of the day all I can say is that I saw the sights. I never actually truly experienced the culture. Did I regret traveling how I did? Absolutely not! My goal was to see Europe and I definitely did, but from now on I am officially no longer “sight seeing” but instead “culture seeking”.
There were moments in time when I experienced this in Europe. When I arrived in Malta my Airbnb host picked us up from the airport and took us around the island showing us its history and telling us about his life. He told us all about the history of the island and how they were just recently free from British rule so that’s why there’s so much British influence still. Additionally, he told us about growing up where his children were going to school and how he was a teacher at a local elementary school. When I was in Spain I chose the local restaurants where we dined with locals. These experiences were so much different than dining at tourist heavy restaurants as menus were all in Spanish and dishes were more traditional in nature. When I was in Denmark I tried to meet as many of the locals as I could and learn about their culture. I learned a lot of things about how the Danish culture is more reserved in nature and the high value they place on close relationships. All of these things led to my new outlook on traveling.
I am in the midst of planning my next trip to Asia. I am motivated to head there next because I feel as if I have seen most of the things I want to see in Europe. Also, I am really interesting in experience a culture that is dramatically different from the culture we have here in the United States as sometimes in Europe I noticed a lot of similarities. My goal while traveling Asia is to experience as much of the culture as I can and try not to fall into the “sight seeing trap”. I have gotten so many suggestions and am still trying to narrow down my list but I have decided that I will not be staying in any five star hotels. I am not going to be doing everything trip advisor rates as a “must see in Thailand.” Instead I am leveraging my network here at home to see what my friends who have traveled to this region suggest. I am also going to reach out to my network to see if anyone knows anyone who will be in the region at the time to get a more unique and original experience (I am in the midst of writing a blog most on leveraging your global network as well so stay tuned!). I am also going to plan for down time to get out in the cities I am in and live amongst the locals and embrace everything their culture has to offer. Right now the following countries are on my radar but I still have a lot of planning and research to do: Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Japan.
My tips for anyone who wants to join me in culture seeking are as follows:
- Avoid mainstream resorts, embrace hostel dwelling! Hostels are a great opportunity to meet other young travelers but also to experience the culture of the country you are visiting. A lot of hostels are family owned and they sponsor events that introduce you to their culture.
- See a few main sights and snap a few pictures, but at the end of the day get lost (safely)! Wander, explore, and go to the restaurant that isn’t the five-star trip advisor suggested option. Ask your waiter for suggestions. People want to share!
- Go to the places you wouldn’t expect to enjoy. Some of my favorite trips were to places I wasn’t even planning on going to! I went to Finland, Estonia, Malta, and Norway and honestly I didn’t even know Estonia and Malta were countries! Get out and see the world every part is unique in its own way and has its own hidden gems.
- Ask questions. Ask questions. Ask questions. People want to share their culture and they want to learn about yours so take advantage of this.
My six months in Europe were life changing and I saw amazing things and met amazing people, but I am looking forward to culture seeking from here on out. So let’s get out and embrace travel, see the sights, but experience the culture and grow interpersonally. And if anyone has Asia suggestions comment below!