Being prepared for your trip is half the battle.
Although platforms like Trip Advisor and Yelp allow customers to leave authentic reviews, I value real-time reviews the most when considering a destination, excursion, hotel, or restaurant for my travels. Social media platforms, like TikTok, give me exactly what I am looking for. This is a shared sentiment amongst thousands of others. In a survey published last March by MGH Marketing, the group revealed that the popular app drives tourism discovery. The survey additionally shared that 35% of U.S. TikTok users have traveled to visit a new destination after seeing a TikTok video about it. That’s approximately 52.5 million people.
Travel content creators are sharing everything from hotel openings to state park adventures, thrill-seeking excursions to the culinary masterpieces by award-winning chefs. But as travelers regale their accounts, it’s common to see one particular phrase appear repeatedly in the comments section: “culture shock.”
So, what do people forget to research before booking a trip abroad?
The culture of the destination they’re traveling to. Before you pass that off as simply an absurd notion, remember that culture encompasses many things and can vary greatly, even among people who live there. Elements such as language, customs, traditions, and behaviorisms cultivate a destination’s culture.
It’s a Common Phenomenon
What does it mean to be culture-shocked? It’s a sense of confusion and uncertainty, sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to a new culture or environment without adequate preparation. And it’s more common than you may think. Most people hear “culture shock” and automatically think it equates to negative things. But truthfully, culture shock can present itself in several scenarios, good and bad, invoking several feelings. In a Reddit thread posted a few weeks ago, a user shared this example of what would be a positive culture shock.
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“I just came back from spending two weeks in Japan (9 days) and Korea (5 days), and I’m completely blown away by the politeness, courtesy, and kindness shown by Japanese and Koreans, especially in comparison with the U.S. and a few other countries.”
When people experience culture shock, it can invoke feelings like depression, anxiety, loneliness, or even homesickness. Public Health Scotland identifies the following as contributing factors to culture shock:
– Tiredness and jet lag
– Unfamiliar surroundings
– Unusual food and smells
– Not understanding the local language
– Separation from family and friends
– Missing familiar comforts and possessions
– Coping with health issues such as travelers’ diarrhea
– Witnessing poverty
– Crowded roads and dangerous public transport
– Limited previous experience with unfamiliar cultures
I have had my fair share of culture shock during my travels although I wasn’t aware of it in those moments.
New Orleans is a destination that I have visited more times than I can even try to count. For the lack of a better phrase, I love the culture there. The French Quarter perfectly represents the history of New Orleans through architecture, food, and entertainment. However, my first visit was a case of culture shock. Before my visit, I’d heard many things about Bourbon and Canal streets–mainly that they were prime areas for shopping, drinking, and unique eats. As we walked up and down Canal Street, I was mentally prepared for the large crowds, second lines, and party-like atmosphere. It was a rather glorious experience. But, as we continued to stroll, I was not prepared to be stepping over unhoused people or approached by panhandlers outside establishments like The Ritz Carlton. It was an overwhelming feeling. A part of me felt a bit of guilt. It felt surreal to be splurging while people nearby were in need. This experience wasn’t an isolated event that only occurred during my first visit to the Crescent City. In many of my trips since, similar things have occurred. But as I continued to visit the area, I became more aware of what to expect, which lessened feelings of guilt or culture shock.
How Can You Minimize Culture Shock When You Travel?
Culture shock is normal whether you are a veteran or a novice traveler. In other words, it can affect anyone, even in areas where you’ve previously traveled. The more time you spend in an area, the better you can adjust to your new surroundings. There are several ways to prepare for travels that can minimize culture shock. Here are some suggestions:
Research the Area: It seems obvious, but extend your research beyond the specific thing(s) you plan to do during your vacation. Spend time learning about the customs, laws, and traditions before you arrive. Are you going to a country where it’s common practice to eat with your hands over utensils? What kind of clothing is permissible for women? What is the guidance on drinking in public? How is religion observed there? Knowing the answers to these questions can help you be more prepared for your visit.
Learn Some of the Language(s): Language barriers are one of the stressors that can contribute to feelings of culture shock. It can be overwhelming and stressful not being able to communicate your needs in a new environment. No one expects you to be an expert in every language, but consider learning basic phrases of the destination you will be in. Some of the ones I try to learn are: Hello. How are you? Thank you. How much is it? Where is the bathroom? Can you help me? Is there someone available that speaks English? Aside from using services like Google Translate on my iPhone, I also bring a pocket translator device. My favorite is PocketTalk, which can translate a few hundred languages through audio or scanning words.
Maintain Contact With Familiar People: Isolation is another contributor to the feeling of culture shock. Another way to lessen this is to stay in touch with your family and friends during your travels. This is particularly helpful if you are a solo traveler.