One of the most fascinating parts of travel is experiencing a new culture. Similarly, one of the scariest things about traveling for some people is experiencing a new culture. Having lived in Japan in college, stayed with a Qatari family in their home for a week, formed deep friendships with a church in Switzerland, and visited nearly 50 countries, I’ve experienced my fair share of cultural differences. And I love them!
So, here’s a little guide for how to navigate it all, especially if you’ve never traveled before. Hopefully these five little things will help you feel more prepared and confident in your travels!
Know What to Expect
How do you know if you’ve never been? Google it! Start by searching for “German culture,” “Japanese culture,” “Moroccan culture,” and go from there. I have written “What to Know Before You Visit” blog posts about almost every destination where I’ve traveled, so feel free to use the “Search” feature on my homepage to start your research! Knowing what to expect about a culture before you plunge into a new one will prevent potential embarrassing moments, make you look smarter, and help you enjoy the experience more because you’re not trying to figure it all out from square one!
Helpful info here: How to Plan a Trip
Learn a Thing or Two
So now you have an idea of some cultural differences, find out why! Why is their culture that way? What’s the historical reason? There’s always a reason why, so find it. Whether it’s why the Japanese take their shoes off before entering someone’s home or why they don’t tip in Iceland, it’s worth finding out why.
More here: Travel Mistakes (You May Be Making)
Respect the Culture and the People
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you this, but just in case jet lag makes you nuts, don’t forget to be respectful. Don’t make fun, even if people around you are. Don’t get frustrated, just try to be calm and put yourself in their shoes. There are plenty of nuances in American culture that others don’t understand or agree with. And that’s okay. We don’t have to agree, we just have to be nice to each other.
Also good to know: How to Respectfully Visit a Mosque
Understand that You Don’t Have to Understand
The most important thing about understanding a new culture is that you don’t have to understand. You can want to understand. You can certainly try to understand. But when it comes down to it, you don’t have to understand. You can let it go, you can remind yourself it’s not your culture, and you can listen. You can’t change a culture, so don’t waste your energy thinking they’re wrong.
Keep reading: What I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Traveling
Ask Questions with a Smile and an Open Mind
Knowing you don’t have to understand, you should still feel free to ask questions! Keep an open mind and show your interest. People love to talk about themselves, and by extension, their homeland! So ask questions with genuine, kind curiosity and let your new friends in a new country do the talking!
Need a real life example? Read: Staying with a Qatari Family
Want more helpful tips for traveling the world? Check out my Travel Tips Page!
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