Exploring a different country can be a little strange when you factor in the language limitation, the unknown cuisine, local fashion, and the overall cultural differences. However, don’t be scared to be a local. A little investigation into what people wear, eat, and the way people act before your trip can go a long way. Give it a shot! You won’t regret it.
First of all, learn a few important phrases in the language of the country that you are exploring. Phrases such as “How much is this/that”, “Where is… “, and of course the simple hellos, goodbyes, pleases and thank yous.
Most people will, of course, know from your accent, even if you are asking something in their language, that you are not a local or a native speaker of their language. However, they will welcome the kind gesture by the fact that you have taken the time and energy to try and interact in their mother tongue. It could prove to be a positive ice breaker when trying to shop, order food/drink, and meeting people. But by any means, don’t be scared to try and definitely don’t just address them and start dancing and signaling like you’re dancing to the YMCA.
Secondly, dress accordingly. In Italy, for example, they usually don’t wear shorts, even though it can get rather hot. If you clothe like a tourist, most likely, but not in all cases, you will be handled like one. People in different countries can spot a tourist from a mile away, so at least make it a little challenging for them. Lose the fanny packs, cargo shorts, and Crocs nz/flip-flops/running shoes for a pair of khakis, a pair of handy walking shoes, and a messenger bag to use as a day bag.
Moreover, trying cuisine in several countries can be a little bit of a lifestyle shock as every country has a few treats that you may not be too familiar with or have never even known was edible or even existed for that matter. It’s a good idea to ask the waiter/waitress what they recommend but don’t shy away from the weird stuff, because it just may be what they actually do recommend. Be bold, not a typical tourist.
For example, France has Escargot, and, yes, it can sound a little unappetizing being that they are snails, but they are really delicious snails! Most people have probably heard of Escargot and shy away from it because of what it is. The same goes for Italy which has its stuffed squid, anchovies (several different ways), and Spaghetti al Nero di Seppia (pasta with squid ink).
One suggestion: Step away from Burger King and just go for it! You’d be amazed at the astonishing flavors that can come from such things. Although, fried bugs of different kinds in Cambodia might put most out of their comfort zone. However, watch a few episodes of Andrew Zimmern’s “Bizarre Foods” and it could make eating snails, squid, and bugs seem like a handful of Jellybeans.
Of course, when going to a different country/city, it is mandatory to visit all of the standard historical sights and museums but explore the places where locals visit too. Whether it be a pub off the beaten path, a restaurant where English menus do not exist, or engaging in local activities, such as renting a small boat to navigate the canals in Amsterdam with some local cheese and beer, picking up some cured meats, cheeses, and a nice white wine and picnicking in a nearby park for lunch in Paris, drinking a beer with your breakfast in Germany, or fighting for space to get a pastry and espresso for breakfast at a local cafe in Italy.
Fear will get you nowhere near the social experience we all crave when traveling. So furnish yourself with a little understanding beforehand and go all out to maximize your adventure abroad, wherever it may be. Good luck and of course, don’t be scared to be a local!