Don’t be afraid to be a local
Visiting a different country can be a bit overwhelming considering the language barrier, unfamiliar cuisine, local fashion, and general cultural differences. However, don’t be afraid to be a local. A little research on what people wear, eat, and how people act before your trip can go a long way. Give it a shot! You will not regret.
First, learn some useful phrases in the language of the country you are visiting. Phrases like “How much is this / that worth”, “Where is …”, and of course the obvious greetings, farewells, wishes and thanks. Most people, of course, will know from your accent, even if you are asking something in their language, that you are not a local or native speaker of their language. However, they will appreciate the kind gesture for the fact that you have taken the time and energy to try to communicate in your mother tongue. It could be a positive icebreaker when trying to shop, order food / drink, and meet people. But either way, don’t be afraid to give it a try and definitely don’t go up to them and start waving and gesturing like you’re dancing to the YMCA beat.
Second, dress accordingly. In Italy, for example, they don’t usually wear shorts, although it can get quite hot. If you dress like a tourist, you will most likely be treated as such, but not in all cases. People in different countries can spot a tourist from a mile away, so at least make it a bit challenging for them. Ditch the fanny packs, cargo shorts, and Crocs / flip-flops / running shoes for a pair of khaki pants, a versatile pair of walking shoes, and a messenger bag to use as a day bag.
Also, tasting cuisine in different countries can be a culture shock, as each country has some delicacies that you may not be very familiar with or may not have even known were edible or existed. It’s a good idea to ask the waiter / waitress what they recommend, but don’t avoid the weird stuff, because it may be what they really recommend. Be bold, not a typical tourist.
For example, France has Escargot and, yes, it might sound a bit disgusting being that they are snails, but they are really tasty snails! Most people have probably heard of Escargot and avoid it for what it is. The same goes for Italy, which has its stuffed squid, anchovies (in different shapes) and Spaghetti al Nero di Seppia (pasta with squid ink). The Netherlands has Bitterballen which is a goo made from flour and beef broth that is fried and of course their pickled herring, while the Czech Republic loves their Pork Knuckle or Pork Knee. One suggestion: stay away from the Burger King and do it! You will be amazed at the incredible flavors that can come from such things. However, the fried insects of different types in Cambodia could take most of your comfort zone. However, watch a few episodes of Andrew Zimmern’s “Bizarre Foods” and it might make eating snails, squid, and insects look like a handful of Jellybeans.
Of course, when traveling to a different country / city, you need to visit all the typical historical sights and museums, but visit the places where the locals frequent as well. Whether it’s an offbeat pub, a restaurant where there are no English menus, or taking part in local activities, such as renting a small boat to cruise the canals in Amsterdam with some local cheese and beer, buying some cold cuts, cheeses and a good white wine and have a picnic in a nearby park for lunch in Paris, have a beer with breakfast in Germany or fight for position to get a cake and an espresso for breakfast in a local cafe in Italy.
Fear won’t get you anywhere near the local experience we all crave when we travel. So equip yourself with a little knowledge beforehand and do your best to maximize your experience abroad, wherever you are. Good luck and of course, don’t be afraid to be local!