15 ways to enrich your travel experience

“Create a life you can’t wait to wake up to…”

There are tons of lists out there telling you what to see before you die but so often we become wrapped up with ticking places off an ever growing bucket list that we forget to stop and just take in the surroundings of the place we’re in. Learning to immerse yourself in a place can change your whole outlook on a country and it’s often the small things that change our experience from  being just a tourist to an authentic traveller. I thought I’d share some of the littlest secrets I picked up on my travels to make your adventure just a little more enriched. Here’s 15 of them.

Canal ways and buildings

Learn some of the language

While the phrases at the back of your travel guide are a great start, one of the best ways to have a truly immersive experience is learning and practising the language. Try using common every day phrases that you hear locals using. Don’t be shy or worry too much if you pronounce them wrong – more often than not the locals love hearing foreigners speak their dialect and it’s a great way to break the ice.

Bargain at a market

Once you’ve picked up on some of the essential phrases, why not practice your language skills by bartering at local markets. You’ll get a true vibe for what it means to interact with the locals and what are some of the everyday trinkets in use. You might pick up some great souvenirs and it’s a great way to meet locals and strike up a conversation about the goods they are selling. This will also allow you to quickly learn more about the place you’re visiting!

Shopping at a night market in Hong Kong

Ride public transport

Public transport is a great way to see a place and what better way to get around than just like the local’s do? Buses, subways, trams and bicycles are some of the best ways to really see and learn about a new city or town. It’s also another great way to interact with locals and initiate a conversation. It’s also a lot cheaper too.

Find an isolated beach

Island getaways are the best for exploring and if you look hard enough, there’s always a quiet, isolated beach somewhere. These are some of the best ways to clear your mind and take some me-time on a trip. You never know what you might find when exploring isolated beaches… maybe strange cross currents, whiter than white sand or crystal clear waters. Grab a map and look furthest away from the tourist hotspots. Do a little research on the area and just get in your car rental (or bus… or taxi) and go.

Close up of shells on a beach in the Virgin Islands

Pick up some local habits

You know you’ve had a truly authentic experience when traveling if you come back home and all of a sudden you realise that you’ve picked up some of the local habits. Try eating at an authentic restaurant and learn what the dining etiquette is. Do you need to always leave your shoes outside? Maybe you’ll even pick up some natural homemade remedies. It’s a great way to bring home your experience.

Visit a temple (or any local religious house)

You’ve got to really keep an open mind when travelling and if you truly want to learn about the cultural beliefs, why not visit one of the local religious houses. Maybe go to temple or a church and spend some time wandering around, or just sit in silence. Look around… what do you see? I mean, what do you really see? If you can, partake in some of the rituals and learn the meaning behind them.

Utrecht church behind autumn leaves

Wake up before dawn

Waking up early for a sunrise is a beautiful thing. You see the world in a completely different light and… you get more hours in your day to really explore. Try going for an early morning hike or grab the early train to far out city that wouldn’t normally be on your bucket list. You’ll really wander off the beaten path. It will make for a great story.

Just get lost

Getting lost in a new city can really make for some interesting adventures. Don’t be afraid to wander a bit of the beaten path because you never know where you may end up or what you might find. An unusual restaurant or a hidden street with Charles Dickens quotes perhaps? Maybe you’ll find a local market or a little bookstore or better yet… a hidden waterfall!

Sunset streets of Cinque Terre

Try some local street food

For a truly authentic travel experience try some of the local street food – you’ll learn so much about a city and its people this way. Do they prefer spicy food or perhaps there’s a particular dessert that is eaten every day? Maybe you’ll find a dish that you absolutely love and will need to learn how to make before you leave. On the other hand, even if you don’t like the flavours, at least you tried something new, right?

Go hiking

It’s the best start to any morning and an even better way to see the natural beauty of the place. Maybe you’ll find a hidden waterfall… or maybe you’ll find an unexpected temple. If the place you’re visiting is known for having great hiking trails then what better way to get lost that on a hike? You’ve got to be smart about it though, equip yourself with maps, compasses and emergency contact numbers so you can always find your way back to your hotel.

Steps of a Japanese Cemetery

Learn to cook like a local

Take a local cooking class and learn to make a truly authentic dish specific to the region you’re visiting. It’s the perfect way to learn a new skill and really enjoy the flavours of the city. What’s more, you’ll have a great new recipe to add to your international cookbook!

Go down under… somewhere.

I mean really down under… go scuba diving at a hidden wreck and enjoy the undersea life. Maybe go hiking through a cave and see what’s hidden there… try jumping of a boat and swimming to quiet island or better yet, explore an underground railway track. Be sure that these are safe activities and that you have a local guide with you.

Boat alongside the dock in the Virgin Islands

Spend a day or night somewhere unusual

Pick up a map of the place. Look at it carefully. Now look again… mark off the common touristy places. Now look at the uncommon places – pick one of those, get on a train, bus or taxi and just go. Spend the day exploring and maybe stay the night. If you’re exploring the natural wonders of the place, why not try camping out and experiencing the wonders of the night.

Experience a local festival

Local festivals are great ways to learn about the culture of the place and an even better way to meet the local people. You’ll really learn what the people believe in, and why they do certain things. More than that, sometimes it will make you look back at your life back home and reflect on why you do certain things that you do.

Statues on Lantau Island Hong Kong

Take a literary journey

One of the best ways to really connect with a place is by seeing it through the eyes of an author… and I’m not talking travel guides. Find a book that tells a story set in the place you’re visiting and search for those places that have changed the characters outlook on life – experience what Liz did as she went on a life changing journey to Italy, India and Bali in Eat, Pray, Love… sit at the same café Louisa did when she read Will’s last words to her in Still Me or find the magic from a Charles Dicken’s or Jane Austen novel. Taking a literary journey through the eyes of a character as you see places through their eyes can be a wonderful way to really emotionally connect with a destination.

Do you have any tips for enriching your travel experience? What are they?

Leave me a comment down below.

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I'm Shalinee - a Geminian scientist who loves to travel, write, draw and eat chocolate. I've visited over twenty countries, published a Environmental Science encyclopaedia and somewhere along the way started a science communication company to help students and corporates translate that hard-to-read data generated in a lab. Other than that, I'm just searching for the magic still hidden in the world.

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