Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Six Benefits of Immersion Travel

Immersion Travel - immersing yourself in the environment, learning, adapting and experiencing new and different opportunities. Spending travel time with friends and families from  the country you are visiting. Pushing yourself to the edge of your comfort zone by trying new foods, participating in ceremonies, learning new languages, visiting off the beaten path places.
Hanging with my friend in Tel Aviv, Isreal
As you may know, I am currently living for one year in Kenya, I have traveled extensively through South America, India, Nepal, the Middle East and a little through Central America and Europe. I have practiced immersion traveling through most countries I have visited. 

Having a home away from home is one of the many benefits of immersion traveling. I began traveling the world four years ago.  My experience of immersion traveling began as a way to save money. As a recent graduate from university I was interested in seeing the world but also saving every penny I could. I learned that friends in other countries not only saved you money but gave you an experience like no other. 

Renting bikes with my friend in Montreal, Canada
I have traveled as a tourist in hostels, roaming the cities with a map in my hand, surrounded by other tourists looking just as confused and utterly lost as me. I have loved every moment of discovery with my gap year friends but when I began to make local friends abroad I was given a very different taste of the countries I visited. Here are some of the benefits of cultural immersion:

1. Learning 

One of the most important benefits of cultural immersion is learning. Guides can teach you about the history of the Taj Mahal and Machu Picchu, but staying with a local family can teach you what its like to live everyday in that world. Most love to talk about their countries, politics, food, rituals, holidays. In India I was able to attend a traditional Hindu wedding ceremony with my friends family. I learned so much about Hindu wedding traditions, food and garb at that week long celebration. 

Immersed in the wedding in India
2. Popular Local Watering Holes
Visiting the local favorites is another benefit for immersion traveling. Have you ever studied Lonely Planet or equivalent travel guide trying to pick out a local restaurant or night club? These tourist joints can often disappoint you. When you are with local friends they will take you to the most popular places among locals. This means that dingy hole in the wall that serves the best shawarmas and falafels and the night clubs free of tourists where you can dance to local beats.

Eating with the family on the beach in Chile

3. Free Cooking Lessons

Immersive traveling come with free cooking lessons. I have learned to cook ugali with local families in Kenya, beef with my friends in Argentina and ceviche with my hosts in Peru. When I return home I am able to re-create these recipes bringing a taste of the countries I have visited to my friends and families at home. 

Making Ugali in Kenya
4. Language
Immersing yourself into the cultural also helps you pick-up a few words. Often I stayed with friends who spoke broken English. What better way to learn than being immersed in the language and being forced to pick up words. Not to mention it helps to have a native speaker when asking directions or haggling in the markets.

Futbol in Peru
5. Saving Money
Staying with friends and families abroad helps you save money. The cost for hotels and hostels can add up the longer you travel. Families are so excited to host you in their homes, they often feed you, drive you around and in many cultures offer gifts. Immersion traveling is especially handy for students and those traveling on a small budget. 

Enjoying home cooked food with my friend in Buenos Aires, Argentina
6. Safety 
The last benefit of immersive travel is having a family away from home. Hosts care about you sometimes as much as your friends and family at home. They want you to be safe and healthy. Getting sick abroad can be scary and sometimes deadly if you don't know how to seek appropriate care. Friends abroad have saved my life on countless occasions. Having someone bring you food in bed or taking you to the clinic when you need medications can make you feel better and recover faster. 

Adopted family in Kenya 
As you can see cultural immersion has its many benefits. Its often a good idea to bring small souvenirs to offer to these families from your home country. I have learned so much about the world through immersion traveling and I hope that you can also experience similar benefits when you reach out and travel with the locals. Safe travels. 

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