Cultural immersive traveling is integrating yourself into the community of your travel destination. You interact with locals, learn the language, eat local delicacies and basically do things that the local community would do.
This type of traveling allows you to see your travel destination through the eyes of a local. A form of experiential learning, it assists in developing a sense of understanding and respect to the local way of living, values & belief system.
Over the years, my traveling style has naturally evolved from a typical tourist into cultural immersive traveler. Every time I travel, I find myself intrigued at the different ways people live around the globe, fueling my desire to learn more about their cultures.
For those who are keen on learning how to do cultural immersive traveling, here are some beginner tips that you can try in your next trip.
1. Stay with a local family
The most effective way to culturally immerse yourself is through living with a local family. You get immediate insight on how they live, the general political/cultural/economic outlook, festivities traditions, what they eat, the list is endless!
I was really lucky to have lived in International House at university, so I have friends scattered all over the world. Building lifelong friendships with international friends really does pay off, especially if you're a traveler (thanks guys :D)
If you don't have international friends, fret not! AirBnB is a great alternative to live with a local. Just make sure to choose the option to live with a host family, instead of renting the entire apartment to yourself. That way you'll have more direct interaction with the house owner.
For travelers with a tighter budget, Couchsurfing allows you to stay on a local's couch for free. I usually bring a nice gift or cook a home-cooked meal to repay their generosity.
2. Take local guides instead of mass-organized tour companies
Planning to see the destination's tourist attraction? Try approaching a local/villager (in smaller towns) and ask if they can take you around in exchange for a small fee. Usually it will be a lot cheaper than tour companies, and if you're lucky they'll even take you back home for a home-cooked meal.
Airbnb has also recently added the 'Experiences' section, where you can find options to go on hikes with a local, attend a street photography session with local photographers, anything your heart desires.
3. Ditch the touristy areas and take a walk in a local suburb instead
When you've had enough of tourist destinations, try exploring a residential suburb. Just wander around and get lost. Getting lost isn't necessarily a bad thing, in fact my best encounters with locals are usually during these random meanderings. They're usually curious why a tourist has wandered off the beaten path, and that makes for a great conversation starter.
4. Start a conversation with locals
Don't be shy! Go to local parks and complement how cute their dogs are, flash a smile to that lone stranger across the table, strike up a conversation with a bookstore keeper (this is my personal favourite - bookstore keepers are usually keen for a conversation and most of the time are very insightful).
5. Pick up a book on the local spirituality / politics / soci0-economics
For the more theoretical learners, supplement your experiential learning with books related to the country. Books on a topic of your choosing can help deepen your understanding by providing context to the environment.
For myself, I prefer to read books related to the local spirituality or religion, particularly when I am in a country heavily influenced by their religion such as Asia and Middle East. Religion often governs people's behavior and actions, leading to formation of tradition and culture.
Hopefully these five basic tips can help get you started on your own cultural immersive travels. Give cultural immersion a try - fingers crossed you will slowly realize the revolutionary impact it has on your life!