What you will learn in this section
- How planning & preparation can enhance your trip.
- Why some preparation is best done before the trip
- How knowing more can alter your plans, for the better.
Planning and preparation for the cultural aspect of your trip may seem like an unnecessary chore, but unless you are only going to be lying on a beach, a little work will go a long way to making your trip incredibly memorable.
Even for those of us with outstanding people skills, understanding and connecting with someone from a different culture still takes some effort and getting the right information to provide context goes a long way.
Advance preparation can also help you make small adjustments to your trip that will make a big difference and provide new opportunities to get the most out of your trip.
A little prep work means more fun for your trip
Learning is often hard at first – think of a new language, organic chemistry or calculus. Once you start to get it and you go from memorizing conjugation tables to having full on conversations, it becomes a lot more fun. After slowly loading information into your brain, it’s processed and digested. Connections are made, and at some points, there is a spark: you get it. That’s when the magic happens.
It’s the same with understanding cultures. A new culture may be interesting at first, even if you don’t get it. You see a person acting in an unusual manner but you don’t know why – you remain on the surface. Even if you speak the same language, until you can understand where someone is coming from or how they see the world, it can be hard to connect. It’s difficult to gather all the pieces you need to get a good, well-rounded understanding of a culture if you are always running from one attraction to another and you don’t know anyone. It also takes time to process the information you gathered and make sense of it.
Why not do the preparation work that you can do at home – read, research, ask your friends – and save the fun part, when you have a certain level of fluency in the new culture, for your actual trip. Then, you can maximize the limited time you have and take full advantage of the immersion opportunity while putting your cultural savvy to the test.
Some preparation is best done at home
Some prefer to learn by reading, others by listening – you may need a good internet connection too. After some initial research, new questions may come up. You may discover that there is a particular aspect of a culture that interests you more than another and you want to dig deeper and plan your trip accordingly. The focal point of your interest may be spirituality in India, folk dance in Hungary or women’s role in South-Asian society.
Getting to know ourselves is also crucial. Our world-view and biases can affect our perception and experience in ways that we do not realize. We all have some biases, and the first step is to become aware of them so that we can deconstruct them.
We acquire some biases while growing up when they are accepted as being fact without challenge, often because they come from trusted sources like family members. Other biases come from experiences as an adult when we get to evaluate them with a critical mind before accepting or rejecting them. In later posts, we’ll teach you how to identify and deconstruct your biases to see people and situations the way they are.
Your biases will betray you – people can sense if you come with an open heart, assuming the best of everyone, or if you have already judged someone to be a thief or stupid. Your eyes and body language can tell a lot about your mindset.
You may return from your trip upset that you were treated rudely not realizing that it was merely a reaction to your condescending or arrogant attitude. It’s not them; it’s you. Meanwhile, another friend may go to the same place and rave about the new friends he made. Your attitude can make all the difference.
Knowing more can alter how you plan
Doing some preparation work ahead of time may alter the way you plan your trip. Part of experiencing a culture is participating in it – this means doing what the locals do. You may find that there is an exciting festival that starts a week later than your initial travel plan and you decide to adjust your travel dates. There may be shows, concerts and other events that may be taking place during your visit but if you don’t plan ahead, they are sold out by the time you arrive.
Tracking down long-lost friends or getting an introduction to new contacts can take time and you’ll want to get a chance to discuss your travel plans with them ahead of time – their insight may help you plan better. They may be getting married or trekking back to their home village, and you might get invited to tag along – these are opportunities that cannot be bought. Your local contacts may simply be living a busy life, and a little advance notice lets them make time for you and take you around.
Given how limited culture related chapters are in most guidebooks, it’s helpful to have a good conversation with someone who is familiar with the culture of the country you are planning to visit. The best person for this is someone who knows you as well as the destination so they can provide advice based on your likes and personality.
Preparation and planning for a trip can be almost as exciting as the journey itself and will go a long way to making your trip an amazing experience. Regardless of how long your trip is you will benefit from the work you put in.
If you are worried about running out of things to learn or that preparation will take away from the fun of discovery, worry not. Cultures have infinite depth and nuances, and there will be even more for you to discover as you will not be limited to skimming the surface – just like how better language skills lets you have deeper conversations.
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