I know, you’ve read packing guide after packing guide—they all sound the same….toothbrush, toiletries, extra socks, a poncho (who really wears a poncho on vacation??)…..you’ve read about the “must sees” and the “not worth your times.” You are ready for your trip….right?

Maybe not….

If you are looking for a true cultural experience, whether it be inside the good ole US of A or in a foreign country, there are a few things you should really do.  Plan early and prepare yourself as well as you plan your packing list.

1. Learn to communicate. It sounds elementary, but in order to truly appreciate a different country or different culture, you must be able to interact with its inhabitants in some form or fashion. You don’t have to sign up for a full-fledged Rosetta Stone course, but a little time to learn a few words is helpful.

Learn your numbers – you will spend the majority of your time shelling out cash or credit—whether it be in restaurants, museums, gas stations, grocery stores or shoe shopping. A grasp on numbers is helpful. Learn the important pleasantries of good morning…..good evening….thank you and excuse me. People are more willing to assist a polite person than someone who doesn’t have the courtesy to address them.

Let’s not forget about the food–Eat—you must eat, therefore, you must learn a few food words—including how to order in a restaurant. Pointing and grunting are *so* not attractive. Lastly, learn a few questions: How much, where is and what is are a good beginning. These words are very helpful in shopping, touring and eating.  And it is always good to ask a local about good restaurants and, of course, their favorite gelato.

2. Become a foodie wannabe. Part of the fun of experiencing another culture is exploring their food, beer, and wine. Try the region’s specialties before you leave—even make them yourself. Your dining experiences will be even more enjoyable if you come prepared and know how the dish is made—or at least what is in it.

3. Do your research! Does the area you are visiting produce a special product? Are they known for certain cultural trademarks or dances?? What do the locals do on a Saturday night? Some of my fondest memories are traveling to the mountains and sitting in the public square listening to bluegrass music with the locals. If your region make a special cheese, try it! Shop the local specialties for gifts in lieu of cheesy souvenirs.  Remember–you can’t experience what you don’t know—so do your homework.

4. Shoes, shoes, shoes. Spend your time to find the right pair of shoes. Chances are, you will spend a lot of time on your feet. This is not the place to go cheap……your feet will thank you!

5. Lastly, invest in a good journal. Write down your key phrases in your journal. Purchase scrapbook adhesive to attach postcards, receipts, and other items inside. This will become a very important memento through your travels.

Have a great trip and I look forward to hearing about your adventures!