For the shy traveller who wants to fully immerse him or herself in a country’s culture but is afraid to share their life story over a falafel with a local, I would suggest stepping through the doors of a museum, otherwise known as culture on display.
Most tour groups give you plenty of free time, either prior to the journey or throughout it, to enjoy experiencing a culture on your own. This usually means that you head towards the nearest street market and bargain on a pretty bracelet or a wooden object which will neither fit into your backpack nor have any chance of getting through Australia’s border security or wander the streets people-watching.
Whilst people watching is always fun over a latte, I think we all realise sooner or later that everyone is the same, only wearing different coloured shorts which makes it very difficult to truly understand where you are and the significance of the place that you are in.
Museums to the rescue
This is where museums come to the rescue – essentially multiple Wikipedia pages rolled into one, museums allow you to explore what life was, is and how it has become the way it is, in the country that you are visiting. Generally best seen solo anyway, museums invite you to immerse yourself in the culture without having to break any language barriers before getting to the gold.
Once you get a general understanding of the place that you are in, you may even feel more confident in engaging with locals or at least understand why certain objects are a common occurrence in the market which you decided to go to because you just couldn’t miss out on seeing it.
Going to a local museum will not only enrich your overall journey, but will also put it into context by helping you understand what you are doing and why; a trek is no longer a trek, but a rite of passage and a boat ride is no longer a boat ride, but an experience through a countries bloodline.
Tips for museum visits:
- In preparation for your journey, note down some museums in the area that you are visiting and try to map out their location in correspondence with your accommodation.
- If the museum has a website, take a look at it! This is important because you don’t want to miss out on seeing some important artefacts because you didn’t know they were on display.
- Also, some museums are very BIG. If there is a floor plan have a quick glance at it: I had the pleasure of walking past the same horse on three different occasions at the British Museum, yet somehow never made it to the Rosetta Stone or the other Egyptian displays even though I thought I took a different route each time.
- Speaking of BIG, how big is the museum you are visiting? Sometimes a museum can be too big to visit if you are only there for a short time, for example I went to a museum in Berlin that I was interested in for about an hour, it then took me another two hours to find the exit – I wish I would have known that the place was an inescapable maze as I would have saved it for another time.
- Try not to miss out on something purely because of the cost. There are a few museums that I didn’t go to simply because they had an entry fee: big mistake! This is probably your one and only opportunity to visit this place without having to fork out another two grand for a plane ticket so what’s another $20 in exchange for seeing something that you will only ever see again on Google images when you return home?
The most important thing to remember when travelling is that you are stepping into someone’s home so, as a sign on respect, don’t just go trampling over mountains but give the culture a little time and try to understand a little bit of the history of the place that you have invited yourself over to, and hey you never know who you will meet on your educational escapades!