By Karen Espig

Ah, travel: one of my favourite topics and activities! It reaps so many rewards, both short and long-term. And no matter your age, destination, or budget, travel allows you to grow as a person

I think the most profound effect is that it changes your understanding, and not just of your world, but the whole world. You experience new cultures and, as an after-effect, view your own in a new way. Let’s take a more in-depth look.

Cultural Appreciation Vs Appropriation

The line between these concepts is very thin indeed. I’m sure most of us (travellers and non-travellers alike) have unknowingly stepped onto the wrong side of it on occasion. Even trying to define it, I struggled to really pin it down. 

The primary point seems to be intent and context. Cultural appreciation is taking the time to learn, understand, and experience a different culture. In contrast, appropriation is adopting fashion, esthetics, or behaviours out of context. For example, wearing a traditional costume at a related cultural event can be appreciation, while wearing the same outfit for Halloween, a social media post, or for attention, in general, is appropriation

Travel And Cultural Appreciation

Often when we travel, we are simultaneously disconnecting from our day-to-day jobs or lifestyles in our home country. This can put us in explorer mode as we go on our vacation or adventure with an open mind and heart.

Cultural appreciation means understanding and respecting the norms and values of that culture. This doesn’t mean you throw yours out the window but being mindful of your host country’s traditions and values is essential. A prime example is wearing modest clothing (and possibly a headscarf) in places of religious significance. If there are “no photos” signs posted, respect them.

Travel that includes a new culture is an excellent opportunity to see other possibilities and to realise that there is no “right way” to live or learn. You will also find that, for all of our differences, fundamentally, people are people, no matter where you go. So culture, then, becomes a big part of what makes us unique. 

How Do I Immerse Myself?

Travel like a local. Instead of taxiing to an event, market, or city centre, use local transit or walk (if possible). I prefer walking as it inevitably means the accidental discovery of interesting hidden corners of a place. Also, the mere act of walking allows us to be contemplative and present in the moment. You can really feel and hear the sounds of daily life buzzing around you. Walking is relaxing, allowing you to thoroughly enjoy your time away from the daily stresses of home.

If you can enjoy an extended stay, book an apartment a little outside the city centre instead of a hotel or Old-Town accommodation. This puts you in the neighbourhoods where the locals shop, eat, and live. You will become familiar with the tastes and rhythms of the community. You will learn a little about daily habits: Does the day start early? How do people interact? How/where do children play? 

Before you go, make sure to do some research to see if any local events are happening that interest you. You might find yourself in the middle of a food or music festival or locale-specific celebration. This is an excellent chance to find out about local traditions and customs. Don’t be shy to ask questions!

Intentional Learning

For extended stays, take some language training. At the very least, learn some basic phrases; showing an effort makes for an easier connection which enriches your cultural experience.

In many larger cities, you may find cooking classes or handicraft workshops. You may find out just how difficult making that beautiful piece of traditional jewellery or pottery is! Personally, I like to attend drawing classes or workshops in cities I visit. 

Tourist Vs Traveller

There is a distinction between travel and tourism that plays a role in terms of the experience you have when you leave home for foreign lands. There is a quote by American author Paul Theroux that sums it up for me: “Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travellers don’t know where they’re going.” 

It’s your time off, so you get to choose: which would you rather be? 

Travel allows you to evaluate priorities and, very significantly, to reduce or eliminate existing biases and stereotypes. When you travel, you must rely on others, often strangers, who may not speak your language or share your beliefs. You begin to learn that the world is very unlike the attention-grabbing headlines you are exposed to on social media and the news. Of course, exercise caution in choosing destinations, but remember that people and places are not merely the sum of the bad news reports you hear.

The profound effect of experiencing a different culture is that you better understand your own. Happy travels!