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How to Immerse Yourself in the Local Culture on Your Next Vacation

How to Immerse Yourself in the Local Culture on Your Next Vacation

Travel journalist Jeannette Ceja offers her top five tips for authentically connecting with and learning from a local culture

Illustration by Arturo Magallanes
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The holidays are officially here—which means it’s time to disconnect, relax, and (for many) take a well-earned vacation. 

Whether you plan to travel domestically or internationally, you’ve probably already made a mental note to check out the most famous tourist attractions, the best museums, and the best restaurants. But there’s one more thing you should keep in mind when creating your travel itinerary—the local community.  

Connecting and giving back to local communities is one of the best ways to really immerse yourself in another culture, which (according to the 2022 Global Travel Trends Report by American Express Travel) is a top priority for more than 80 percent of travelers. 

But what does “immersing oneself in a local culture” actually look like? Here are a few of our top pieces of advice: 

1. Find Accommodations Offering Local Experiences 

Many hotels and hospitality companies offer excursions allowing you to meet and learn from members of local communities. 

For example, all Airbnb Experiences are hosted by locals. These include food, wildlife, and walking tours, as well as workshops and classes on silver smithing, perfume design, beekeeping, yoga, glassblowing, salsa dancing, and everything in between. 

2. Check Out Local Volunteer Opportunities 

This is especially important if you’re traveling to a region that recently experienced a natural disaster. This year alone, more than one hurricane touched ground, including Hurricanes Ian and Nicole. 

If you find yourself traveling to a region heavily affected by a natural disaster, find out how you can help. Check out well-known organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, which has a disaster response program. Also consider looking into tourism organizations like Discover Puerto Rico, which provides visitors with information and opportunities to support the environment or community.

3. Consider a Purpose-Driven Tour 

Booking a tour with a local guide is a great way to interact with and learn about another culture. But some travel companies and tour operators are taking the “local tour guide” concept a step further.

Intrepid Travel, for example, takes pride in offering community-based tourism (CBT) experiences. Through CBT, solo travelers as well as larger groups and families can make a real difference to local people simply by seeing the sights. 

Another travel company to keep on your radar is Offbeat Travel. Offbeat is dedicated to “being at the forefront of decolonizing travel by providing travel experiences through a local lens.” This travel company provides curated experiences for travelers, including students, who want to visit Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Costa Rica.

4. Support Small Businesses

No matter where you travel, there are always tons of unique local businesses just around the corner. I always make a point of asking the locals where they like to shop or eat—and sometimes the results are astonishing. 

Once, in Rome, I asked my Airbnb host where he liked to eat. He mentioned a restaurant named Il Vero Alfredo, which I had never heard of before. While there, I noticed a lot of photos on the walls of celebrities posing with one particular man, who I learned was the original owner, Alfredo Di Lelio. According to the restaurant’s website, he was the creator of fettuccine alfredo. 

On another trip in Guatemala, I traveled to a small town near Lake Atitlán called San Juan La Laguna. While exploring, I walked into a women-owned business named Casa Flor Ixcaco. The women artisans demonstrated the traditional methods they used for many of the store’s products, including hand-woven bags and handmade scarves. The dyes came from plants found locally, like cinnamon and mint. 

And even if you can’t travel, you can still support local businesses. Take a look at Local Purse: cofounded by two women, Lola Akinmade and Sara Mansouri, Local Purse provides an online space where you can virtually connect with local guides, artisans, and business owners. You can book virtual experiences (some for free!) and purchase items online. 

5. Donate Unused Miles to Local Charities         

Did you know? DeltaAmerican AirlinesHawaiian Airlines, and Alaska Airlines all allow you to donate unused miles to charities in the US, Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. 

If you can’t use your miles to travel anytime soon, or if you’re simply feeling the giving spirit, find a local charity and use your extra miles to make an impact for another community.

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