Your time traveling abroad might be short and sweet, but that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice in-depth learning and personal growth. In fact, with the right mindset and a couple of these ideas in your back pocket, you’ll set yourself up to not only learn about the country around you, but about yourself, too.
Whether you’re on a formal program for studying abroad or a gap year OR you’re traveling for business, leisure, for the hell of it, et al. — pack these tips alongside your water bottle and sweat-wicking shirts. They’ll help you maximize your learning experience and opportunities for cultural immersion, affording you some of the best future stories in your trip’s memory bank.
Here are fifty tiny but powerful ways to learn more as you’re traveling abroad:
Put the phone away. We mean it. Walk and observe and listen and soak up your surroundings instead.
Ask a stranger for a recommended walking route, trail, or lunch stop.
Watch the local-favorite TV channel/dramas (bonus points if you do this with a friend).
Do a little pre-trip prep → read books or articles about your destination.
Be humble and curious.
Say “Yes” to new experiences.
Ask a local shopkeeper what the “must-try” food and drinks of the region are. Take note then get after it!
Always read the plaque.
Memorize and utilize greetings properly.
Decide that the frustrations around you are fascinating.
Sit down next to a perfect stranger and ask them how their day is going.
Stay in a locally-owned hostel, hotel, AirBnB, etc.
Smell the flowers.
Ask questions to your Uber/Lyft/taxi drivers about their lives.
Smile at and engage with the children.
Make small talk with the folks you barter with at the market.
Dare to order wildly at the restaurant.
Ask each person you encounter to teach you a new word/phrase in the local language.
Visit a McDonald’s. No, seriously. The locals generally are ba-dop-bop-bop-ba-lovin’ it, and your presence could make a good segue for initiating conversation. Plus, the menus can be wonky and entertaining sometimes.
Be prepared to make mistakes, but don’t beat yourself up over them.
Befriend the concierge/front desk person.
Sit at community tables and don’t be nervous to strike up conversations.
Read the English version of the national newspaper time and again.
Don’t rush past the buskers, street musicians, performers, etc.
Ask a local about the regional differences within the country.
Make sure to see at least one historical site, one museum, one cultural event, and one walking tour.
Use the local language whenever possible.
Rely on cash exchanges instead of credit card. Google the famous faces on their bills.
Take public transport — trains, buses, pedicabs, chicken buses, helium airships, submarines, et al.
Hang out in a park. Actively observe what’s happening around you.
Ask the locals to teach you one of their favorite games.
Brave the street food.
Check out the wacky flavors for potato chips and ice cream and attempt to sample them all (yes, even “prawn”).
Read the travel book.
Listen to the radio. Even if you can’t understand the music, you’ll be toe-tappin’ in no time.
Brainstorm 10 questions you have about the country, and commit to getting all 10 answered before you leave.
Spend some time in a grocery store or supermarket.
Search “quirky+<name of city/country>” on Google then go check out the suggested destinations.
Find unfamiliar fruits/veggies and taste-test them all.
Hang out at a cafe, but only order the drink the barista recommends to you.
Go to a place with no purpose other than to be there.
Ask your online and in-person networks if they have any connections in your destination. Meet up with them there.
Go to the movie theater. What’s that? Sweet popcorn instead of salty!?
Scour TAP-content to complement your journey.
Fully recognize and realize that everything you’re doing there is an opportunity to learn and grow.
More than anything — more than one-off conversations and taking the long way home, more than eating a meal identical to the local sitting beside you, more than mustering up the courage to use your Mandarin or Spanish or French — it comes down to your attitude and mindset. Keep in mind that your time in this country is a gift, and your moments there are fleeting, but sacred. Don’t waste a second.
Adopt these 50 tiny but powerful ways to learn more as your travel and enjoy the fruits (sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively) of this commitment (feijoa and jack fruit, anyone?).