When you travel to an unfamiliar place, you will likely face barriers to an authentic experience unless you choose a tour operator well-versed in cultural immersion.
You’re unfamiliar with the basics, like how to get around, how to speak the language, which restaurants serve the real deal, and which serve a touristy rendition of local food. So you hop on a bus or walking tour, and hope that the person in charge will give you an authentic interpretation of things. But when you’re an outsider, it can be very difficult to understand the bigger picture.
What are the people of this unfamiliar place passionate about? What are their lives really like?
Cultural immersion is the act of surrounding yourself with the culture of a place. It might mean living with family and helping out on their farm, or simply sharing a meal with a local.
Cultural immersion is a unique experience that can open doors to a deeper understanding of an unfamiliar place. You’re never going to know a place as intimately as the people who live there, but through cultural immersion experiences, you can begin to understand it all a little better.
Travelers are increasingly seeking these authentic, immersive experiences in new places. It might seem like calling an experience “immersive” or “authentic” is just another way to sell tourists on an activity. But there are benefits to cultural immersion that go far beyond the tourism dollars.
Trips through Discover Corps provide culturally immersive experiences because we see the benefits for both travelers and the locals they interact with.
People are inspired to travel because they’re curious and fascinated by the world around them. Which is great! The world is a beautiful, exciting place. But travel can have negative impacts on that world we love so much. Which is why responsible travel matters.
Responsible travel has become a buzz word lately, but it’s so much more than a marketing trend. Whether you call it responsible, sustainable, or eco-friendly, it all basically means traveling in a way that minimizes impact and gives back to the places we visit. Promoting this type of tourism is critical if we want to continue enjoying the natural beauty, the culture, and the interactions that make travel so special.
Responsible travel can have a significantly positive impact on both traveler and local. Here are seven reasons why this increasingly popular travel style is becoming increasingly necessary.
Are you traveling to a developing country for the first time? If so, you may be worried about getting sick. Though it’s always a possibility, there are certain steps you can take to ensure you stay healthy while traveling.
It’s important to remember that illness and injury can happen wherever we are. We must always take care of ourselves, whether we’re at home or on the road. But there are certain risks that increase in developing countries, where many of the best volunteer vacations tend to happen.
Oftentimes the water supply isn’t safe to drink, and certain foods might not be kind to our foreign bellies. Lately, travelers are increasingly seeing the Zika virus in the headlines. You might be nervous to travel to countries where cases of this mosquito-borne illness are increasing.
Lucky for you, we at Discover Corps have learned some tricks over the years. We think it’s important to be careful, but also not to allow unnecessary fear to dictate our travel plans. (And the media does have a tendency of escalating our fears.)
Here are 12 tips you can use to stay healthy while traveling, allowing you to enjoy the experience of visiting developing countries.
The indigenous peoples of the world offer a glimpse into ancient histories that live on today. By learning more about indigenous cultures and experiencing their lifestyles, we can better understand the places they call home.
From the ancient civilizations of Central America’s Mayan people to the nomadic families of East Africa’s Masaai, exploring indigenous cultures offers another level to travel that can further enrich our experience of foreign lands.
Discover Corps has a variety of trips that include cultural immersion. But there are so many more to explore. Let’s learn more about some indigenous cultures around the world!
Family is so important. We’d all like to see our families grow closer and stronger. But finding the time and the activities to bring our family members together can be a challenge.
Different ages, interests, schedules, and personalities can make it difficult to get everyone on the same page. But despite our many differences, we’re still family.
Volunteering as a family is an excellent way to close the gap between ages, interests, and more. It’s an activity that everyone can enjoy, while learning the value of doing good things for the causes and the people we care about.
With April being National Volunteer Month, we took time to consider the many ways that volunteering could help make your family closer and stronger.
You don’t have to be a twenty or thirty-something to pack your bag and hit the road. Travel can make us feel young again at any age.
In the classic Pixar movie Up, Carl Fredricksen is a 78-year-old widower who has always dreamed of traveling to Paradise Falls in South America. After Carl’s wife dies unexpectedly and he faces the possibility of moving into a nursing home, he ties thousands of balloons to his house and floats off to explore the destination of his dreams.
Up might be a fictional cartoon, but its core message is very real. It’s important to embrace life while you still can and do those things you’ve always wanted to do. With the right attitude and a bit of gumption, age can’t hold us back.
Luckily for you, a thousand balloons aren’t necessary. There are plenty of convenient ways to fulfill your bucket list adventures, see the world, and feel younger while doing it.
Here are five ways that travel can make us feel young again…
When you travel to a foreign country to volunteer, your primary motivation should ideally be about having a positive impact on the place you’re visiting. The essence of volunteering is to embrace a cause outside of ourselves, and to focus on issues that our bigger than our own.
But that doesn’t mean that that the benefits of volunteering don’t directly affect travelers in powerful ways. It absolutely does!
While we work to help other people, we’re also working to help ourselves. Volunteering has a variety of positive effects on both the people who are receiving assistance and those who are assisting. The cultural exchange alone provides powerful and lasting benefits to volunteers and locals alike.
If you’re considering taking a volunteer vacation, consider the positive impact you can have on the people and the cause you’re going to support first. But then, consider the ways that volunteering can help you, too.
Does it ever feel like winter will never end? Don’t worry, summer will sneak up on us sooner than we expect, and with it comes summer vacation!
For families, summer vacation can mean the rare opportunity to escape the demands of our work and school schedules to relax and have fun.
Summer vacation planning, on the other hand, might seem like the opposite of relaxing. But with the proper amount of time and consideration for the details of your trip, the planning process can be almost as much fun as the vacation itself.
We’ve laid out some great travel tips for summer vacation planning to make them simple and stress-free. Get the family involved in the planning process, and you’ll be enjoying the excitement of summer vacation together in no time.
The Western Highlands of Guatemala offer a stunning backdrop to a fascinating, indigenous culture.
The southern border is rimmed by a chain of volcanoes, and the Cuchumatanes mountain range sprawls across the northern border. A lush landscape of lakes, streams, and valleys fills the space between them.
Unfortunately, the Maya communities that call this place home have struggled to maintain their identity while securing their place in Guatemalan society.
Valentine’s Day is typically a time to celebrate the people we love. But what about our favorite places?
Travelers know that places have the power to steal our hearts. When you find yourself in a new country, surrounded by stunning sites, rich smells, exotic sounds, and the beautiful people who call that country home, you might just fall in love.
We spoke to ten travel bloggers who have made their way around the globe, but found their hearts were stolen by one place in particular. Perhaps by next Valentine’s Day, you’ll have traveled to one of these places and discovered a new love in your life!
I spent two weeks in Belize and fell in love with the country because it provided both peaceful relaxation and memorable adventures. I split my time between recharging on the picturesque beaches of Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye and exploring the interior’s caves and jungles.
I felt like Indiana Jones while exploring the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave, which features sacrifice remains and pottery. – David Lee of Travel Blog Success
Costa Rica is a near perfect combination of exotica, adventure, and hospitality, especially if you are on your first international adventure or traveling as a family with young travelers.
Our family loves adventure, so we took ourselves well off the beaten path, which isn’t that hard in Costa Rica, and inevitably got lost, repeatedly. This led to great encounters with people waving us to a stop on back roads and dirt tracks, to explain that a bridge was out ahead, or that we had taken one (or more) wrong turns.
In one small village a group of young girls laughingly stopped us from a wrong turn to nowhere and happily redirected us back to the right road.
Everyone expects Costa Rica to be beautiful, which it is. But what you quickly come to realize is that what makes Costa Rica special is its people. – Malone Hodges of Our Traveling Life
Few travel experiences have touched my heart more than my people-to-people tour of Cuba with Discover Corps. Through their remarkable connections, I was able to see first-hand how Cubans are transforming their lives by tapping into the arts.
José Fuster converted an impoverished fishing village into an international art destination with his ceramic mosaics. Another grassroots project, Muraleando, trained kids to paint murals on their fences and homes, turning a once-blighted neighborhood on the outskirts of Havana into a community filled with pride.
In the small colonial town of Cienfuegos, artist Santiago Hermes Martínez turned his home into a collective where starving artists could stay for free. The art they created eventually spilled out onto the street, becoming the basis for monthly street festivals that forged community solidarity. It was a heartwarming experience that renewed my faith in the indomitable human spirit. –Barbara Weibel of Hole In The Donut
I went to the Dominican Republic looking for sun, sand and R&R. But I ended up having one of the best experiences of my travel life. One day a group of us rented a car and drove around the countryside. Away from the coast, the touristy glitz and glamour gave way to local life, and we spent hours exploring the landscapes.
We watched an amazing sunset from the top of a hill, but then we couldn’t find our way back in the darkness. So we stopped in a nondescript village in the middle of nowhere and asked a random passer-by. His name was Tomas Cruz, and he was more than happy to direct us back to the resort… but not before we joined him at his house for a drink and a couple of cigars.
We didn’t know whether to “go with the flow” and accept the invitation or just drive away, fearing a scam. In the end, we spent a wonderful evening with rum, bachata and many, many laughs. It was a defining moment of my travel life: I learned that there are many more nice people than bad people out there! –Margherita Ragg of The Crowded Planet
One word: avocados. A country full of avocados immediately wins a place in my heart.
But Guatemala stayed there once I conquered a 24,000 foot volcano to sleep at the top and watch an erupting volcano nearby. The challenges that Guatemala can impose make the journey that much more special. The people of the country have so much pride and they are using the pride to scratch and claw their way out of the violence that has stricken the country for some time. – Megan Stetzel of Forks and Footprints
For several years, my biggest travel dilemma has been how to visit all of the corners of India that I haven’t yet been to, without completely neglecting the rest of the world.
I fell in love with India as soon as I arrived and have been back 6 or 7 times. I studied Indian history and literature at university, so I knew a lot about the country before I made my first trip. This really helped me appreciate everything I saw, and while most of the usual cliches apply — I found it a little overwhelming, scary, crazy — I also felt that I understood it on some level.
I love India’s variety, how the mountains of the Himalayas in the north are completely different from the steamy backwaters of Kerala in the south, and how the arid desert forts and palaces of Rajasthan are a world away from the swampy Sundarbans of West Bengal. I love how helpful Indians are, and how you only need to turn up at a bus stop to be immediately sent in the right direction. I love the food, from the cloying density of traditional sweets, to the creamy curries of Punjab, to the crispy dosas of the south. India is my happy place. – Elen Turner of Wilderness Metropolis
I’ve always been fascinated by the ancient Inca ruins of Macchu Picchu and Sacsayhuaman, the mysteries surrounding these structures, and the people that built them. Some are built with technologies and methods that have modern engineers left scratching their heads. The Nazca lines, for example, appear to have been designed to view from the sky, as if meant to be a message from the gods.
Peru also has some of the most extreme variety of landscape in South America, which provides excellent photographic opportunities, from the driest desert of the northern Atacama to the wet and humid jungles of the Amazon.
Aside from the ancient ruins and amazing sights, there are Peruvian fruits and cuisine. The savory roasted chicken dipped in green Picante sauce and paired with fried Yucca root, satisfies the belly and the soul. The variety of tasty tropical fruits like Passion fruit, Chirimoya, and Pepino you can enjoy for pennies on the dollar. – Adonis Villanueva of Always Wanderlust
My visit to South Africa changed my life in so many different ways, it’s difficult to put it into words.
It was during a week-long safari in Kruger National Park that I learned about the connection between ecotourism, nature/wildlife conservation, and the preservation of local cultures. It was also the first time I understood that the way we choose to spend our money can actually have a profound impact on local communities, whether for better or worse.
Touring through the townships of Durban, I saw the economic disparity created by decades of racial segregation and subjugation. In KwaZulu Natal, I stayed in a tradition Zulu village and learned more about the rich history and culture of these proud people.
In the end, the people of South Africa affected me just as deeply as the remarkable wildlife encounters, creating a deep love affair with the continent that has left me yearning to return, over and over again. – Bret Love of Green Global Travel
Tanzania has a way of reeling you in. Between the wildlife, the beaches, the fascinating cultures, and the spectacular way the sun sets each evening over the African plains; the country was quick to steal my heart. And the emotional rollercoaster of pushing yourself beyond physical and emotional limits to reach the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro strengthened my soul.
Though it wasn’t just the country I fell in love with. I also met my husband there. Having climbed Kilimanjaro on separate tours, we had 12 hours together to bond over our love of the country before leaving to catch separate flights. What followed was a long distance love affair, a destination wedding, and a lifelong partner with whom I continue to travel the world.
So yes, my heart was stolen on my trip to Tanzania. Perhaps it was the wildlife, or perhaps the chance encounter with a handsome traveler who I ended up bringing home. Hows that for a souvenir! –Meg Jerrard of Mapping Megan
I stood on a busy corner of Bangkok, jet lagged, disheveled and sweating through the long sleeves I was wearing as proper attire for temple hopping. In the distance, across the river, I could see angry black clouds of smoke, churning. It was clear that this was not a peaceful, contained fire. It was an emergency.
Out of nowhere, barreling down the road, a red pick-up truck headed my way. A man in the passenger seat held a flashing light in his hand, propped to the roof of the truck, a gesture of official response. Several other men sat and knelt in the cab of the truck, a small army of first responders on their way to the scene. And I smiled. Here was the Thailand I had heard about – resourceful, scrappy, and eager to help. And I was in love.”– Julie Smith of Drive on the Left
Has a country ever stolen your heart? Tell us which one!