Whether you’re driving to the next state over with your troop or hopping on a plane to an international destination, you’ll learn the most (And have the most fun!) if you immerse yourself in the place you’re going. Keep reading for our best tips on how to live like a local!
Before You Go
Research, research, research. Don’t spend your valuable on-trip time Googling the best local food or sights off the beaten track; check out your options before you go. Doing some homework ahead of time enables you and your troop to take in more of your new surroundings and gives you a deeper understanding of the place you’re in—plus, it’s a good way to get excited about your trip! Some items to look into before you go:
What is the place known for? Is its history museum world-renowned? Are the giant slices of pizza something you just have to try? Or is there a natural wonder that draws people from all over the world? Make a list of “must-sees” with your girls, then find out if you need tickets in advance and what days or hours you can visit. By planning ahead, you can avoid the disappointment of showing up to a museum on the one day it’s closed. It’s also totally okay to opt for skipping some of the big tourist destinations in favor of exploring on your own.
What is typical dress for the area? Find out how you can blend in with local fashion (Get creative with what you already own, no need to buy a whole new wardrobe!). Note that many warm climate cultures may have different standards of dress than you’re used to—locals might wear long sleeves and pants, even when it’s 80 degrees outside.
Don’t just focus on the forecast for the upcoming week. Is there a dry or a rainy season? Does it cool down significantly at night? Adjust your packing list accordingly (Hello, sunscreen and a jacket).
What is the official language in the place that you’re visiting? Does the “official” language differ from the language locals speak most of the time? If you or your girls don’t know the local language(s), learn some common phrases such as, “Hello,” “Goodbye,” “Thank you,” and “Where’s the bathroom?” Even if you speak the language, there’s bound to be slang and colloquialisms to explore—for example, if you travel to Des Moines, you might hear the word “squinney” to describe what non-Iowans would call a chipmunk.
History and Culture
How old are the cities you’ll be visiting? Who lived there before the place was officially the city, state, or country it is now? How do the past and current political systems function? What cultural norms or traditions are in place? What is considered rude? What is considered respectful? Ideas of politeness can vary greatly from culture to culture, so study up!
Observe Where You Live
A fish doesn’t know it’s in water until you take it out, and you’re about to leave your “water.” In the weeks leading up to your trip, try taking an outsider perspective to your home. Lead an activity with your girls and write down the things that might seem obvious to them, but might be surprising to a visitor. As you research your destination ask, “How is this different or similar to the place where we live?” You might even find yourself learning more about your own home.
When You (Finally!) Get There
Allow for Some Flexibility
An over-scheduled trip won’t allow you the freedom to wander into that small café or spend a few minutes chatting with a local you meet. These “go with the flow” opportunities often provide the most authentic and adventurous parts of travel.
Do you find yourself wondering what that monument across the street is? Or why every restaurant has taro root on the menu? Those are great questions to ask a tour guide, server at a restaurant, or museum staff. If you come with respectful curiosity, many people will be happy to answer your questions.
Eat Like a Local
As tempting as it might be to seek out the familiar French fries or your go-to coffee chain, encourage your troop to opt for the local favorites or something you’ve never tried before. If you’re not sure what to order, ask the server, “What’s your favorite?”—then order that!
Travel Like a Local
Do most people walk from place to place? Is public transportation common? Avoid tourist buses and taxis where you can, and hop on the public bus. You’ll save money and your girls can hone their navigation skills when they decipher an unfamiliar train map or find their way to a museum on foot.
Be Respectful of Cultural Norms and Traditions
If something is new to you, it might seem strange or silly. Think back to your observations about your home culture—what might seem odd to an outsider? Ask questions, observe, and engage, but don’t attempt to imitate or joke about something that is culturally important. One way to show respect is to use the give and take model for cultural exchange. When you ask questions, allow space for others to ask something about you and your culture, so you avoid one-sided interactions.
Living like a local might take you a bit out of your comfort zone, but ultimately, you’ll make the most of your travel experience, gain new skills, and maybe even make new friends—that’s traveling the Girl Scout way!
McKayla Murphy – McKayla is a program resources specialist at Girl Scouts River Valleys. She graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies and a minor in dance. McKayla is passionate about racial equity, critical media studies, and art education. She enjoys dancing, trying new food, and seeking adventure (including winter camping and travel). Staples in McKayla’s life include dark chocolate, her hammock, and plenty of reading material.