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Flavor of the Place

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” — Marcel Proust

I recently traveled to New York City for business. I capped off the trip with some sightseeing with my cousin who flew in from North Carolina to meet me there. Every time I enter the city that never sleeps, I get all giddy! The people, the energy, the pace. I feel on top of the world! "Empire State of Mind" by Alicia Keys is always playing in my mind as I walk the streets and watch people on the Subway platform.

Times Square, NYC

I've traveled to NYC over a dozen times for work, for play and just because. I'll never forget planning for my first visit back in 2003. Me and some friends mapped out all we wanted to do during our short visit to celebrate my birthday. As I shared with others about our plans to visit, I received more tips on how to be cautious navigating through the city than I did suggestions on what to take in while there. I remember purchasing a special purse to strap around my torso, at the suggestion of a friend. She demonstrated how to position it in such a way as to horde off potential thieves who may try to pick my pocket. I still have the bag to this day. Never actually used it.

I was advised of the ruthless traffic. The only driving I did was into the city when I arrived and out of the city when I departed. I was warned to secure my car at all costs or else it would might get broken in to. My car was parked by the hotel in a stackable garage. Whoever dared to steal anything would have to climb up a four-story cage without being caught. That wasn't happening.

I believe that everyone had good intentions on giving their advice prior to our adventure. They cared and wanted to make sure we were aware of our surroundings. And I do see the value of being prepared for the worse and being on guard of what might happen, especially when you're in unfamiliar territory. However, many times we have preconceived notions about a place based off of what we have heard from others or seen on TV. This can sometimes skew our image of a destination and negatively impact our experience before we step foot in the city.

Me and my tour guide through Soweto in Johannesburg

I am not saying that we shouldn't be wise about our safety and aware of cultural courtesies, especially when traveling to a different country. But we have to steer away from making false judgments about a place based on other people's experience. Not only does that lead to travel anxiety, but it can also keep us from opening up to the locals and getting to know them. We miss out on so much.

To have an enriched travel experience, it is wise to interact with the locals. Here are some ways to forgo our preconceived notions about a place and see what's truly behind the surface:

Visit a local church or set up time with a disciple

Each church takes on the flavor of their city. The worship experience is going to be unique and having fellowship with the brothers and sisters there will give you greater insight into discipleship in other places. Most churches in our fellowship have a website or a Facebook page. Disciples Today has an extensive directory.

Interact with the cab or ride-share driver

Find out about their lives, their families, and why they chose to live in the city. I learn so much about the area and the people just by engaging during these short rides.

Ask your restaurant server what they like most about the city

You might even discover something to add to your list of things to see while you're there.

Go to the local park, ride the local bus or train and people watch

This is one of my favorite things to do. Watching people's interaction with those around them gives me great insight into a place. Washington Square Park in NYC is one of my favs to sit back and watch. Never a dull moment!

Visit local markets and talk with the business owners and artisans

This is a great way to learn about the local economy and support it too. It's especially heartwarming when it's an area that is still recovering from a natural disaster.

Compliment the cashier on something unique about them

It will probably catch them off guard and they may ask you where you are from, striking up a short conversation while they move you through the line.

Learn the basics of the local language if you are traveling internationally

Being able to greet the locals in their language will automatically generate a connection even if you don't know much more than a few words. The simple fact that I referred to my Japanese pocket dictionary (thanks Darla!) during my visit to Tokyo helped break down barriers.

Stay with a local This is for sure a great way to experience the true flavor of a witness firsthand how the locals live, take in their culture and savor the food. The highlight of my visits to Japan, South Africa and Maine this year was my experience staying in the home of locals, hands down. Come & Stay will be a resource to make this even more possible in 2018.

Whether you're just passing through for a short business trip or taking a vacation, enter your next journey with no preconceived notions, no expectations, no guard up. Take in the city through the sights and sounds, but remember the true flavor comes through your interactions with the people.

Have you ever had preconceived notions about a place that evaporated upon your arrival? Tell us in the comments below.


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