It seems like every other week, Lonely Planet are putting out a new list of the must see places for that year/month/week/day. It’s always ‘the best’ from the best in travel. A list of internationally acclaimed places that are a must see for tourists, as if to say “if you can’t cross these places off of your list, you haven’t really seen anything extraordinary.” It seems that travel has turned from exploring and learning about a country through real experiences, to hurriedly ticking off icons with an Instagram post.
Although I am a sucker for a good ‘gram, I try to travel local. I always try to immerse myself into a country’s culture and learn how an everyday life would be lived.
The most travelling I’ve done is in Vietnam. In 2012, I spent four months living, teaching and travelling around the country. I made friends there, I had a home, I ate at local restaurants and had a favourite coffee shop. I learnt some of the bus timetable, I learnt how to read Vietnamese signs and I learnt that, even though some of them may steal your handbag, most Vietnamese just want you to enjoy and like their country. All of this I was able to revisit and relearn when I went back a second time at the end of 2015.
I would not have been able to acquire this knowledge and experiences if I had spent all my time moving from hostel to hostel and city to city. I had to venture to the small towns, where the main attraction is the immersion into a different life. If you truly want to understand a country, as much as you possibly can without originating from there, I would highly recommend just …living. Shifting your life and putting it in a different country. And having a permanent place of residence, ideally out of the main tourist cities and centres. Even if just for a few months. When you live day by day alongside those in another country, not on a tour where you return home to your comfy bed by night, you truly realise how different life is for other people.
Of course seeing great natural and man made wonders is apart of the trip, and can be humbling and awe-inspiring, but don’t take a trip just to see a building, or to tick another country of your list. Take a trip to learn about a culture. The day to day interactions between people and how and why it’s different to your own life. You may see this, but you could never understand it by hoping on and off a bus for three weeks. Don’t just see, learn. Do.
Tick that off your bucket list.