This past winter break I spent a couple of weeks in Thailand, Cambodia and Hong Kong with my family.
From destination to destination we stayed in five-star hotels, ate at popular restaurants and went to either Starbucks or McDonalds every morning.
It may be tempting to stick to Westernized locations when travelling to a country that has a completely different culture from your own to maintain comfort. However, immersion in local culture is better than a Westernized approach because it provides a more memorable experience and teaches you about global mindsets.
To me, an immersive travel experience means eating where the locals do, doing your own research and travel plans for day trips to sites spending time at markets or popular local cafés and getting to know the environment. You don’t need to stay at a hostel to attain “immersion” — it can be an Airbnb or economical hotel. Ultimately, taking an immersive route will leave you with a lot more when it's time to return home.
Take my upcoming trip to Japan for example. If I were to travel there and stay in nice hotels, I’d be missing out on the Japanese value and ideology of minimalism. The hotel I would hypothetically end up staying in would more than likely be an attempt to appeal to people from the Western world, but doing so sacrifices exposure to a different style of beauty.
Staying at an Airbnb or a traditional/Asian-oriented hotel, on the other hand, would probably open me up to interacting with locals more and keep me from spending too much time at the hotel simply because I paid a lot for it.
Through interacting with locals, be it at their businesses, restaurants or just a random chat on the train, you open yourself up to new ideas and mindsets that you might not experience back home. You hear stories and get a new perspectives on topics that you’re interested in — based in a culture and upbringing that is (potentially) vastly different from your own.
Several years ago I went with my family to Costa Rica and we rented a villa. We shopped locally, rented a car and spoke with locals to navigate our way around. At one point we stopped our car to take pictures of coatis (a raccoon-like animal found in Central America) along with other fascinated locals.
Not only does this give you more stories to tell people when you return back home, but they also let you adopt those ideologies (like Japanese minimalism or appreciation of nature) as you reflect on your travel experience. It becomes more memorable because you take home more than physical objects.
On your next trip away I implore you to consider departing from Western comforts, whether it be where you stay or what you do while you're there. The immersive experience will leave you with a lot more than pictures.