When I travel, one of the main things I always want to ensure is that I'm getting a real feel of the culture of the place I'm visiting. Especially being from a country that is known first and foremost for its offering of culture through food, music, dance and art, I think it's so important that I'm intentional with how I experience new places.
For my final spring break in college, I'm going to the best place I could think of: home. Two of my friends from college are coming with me, and I'm really excited to pretend I'm a tourist in Jamaica, but in planning out an itinerary for the week for us, the one thought that's been on my mind is "don't forget the culture".
I think it's really easy to go to a Caribbean island like Jamaica, Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic and hit beaches and clubs everyday and live it up like a real tourist spring breaker, but for me, travelling - even on spring break - should leave you with an appreciation for the place that you visited much more than just doing generic things that you could do in any destination. By that, I mean if you're gonna go to the beach everyday and eat McDonalds for lunch and Domino's for dinner at that point, just go wherever the flight is cheapest to (like Miami or something) and leave the Caribbean alone. If you're choosing to go to the Caribbean for spring break, or even just in general, I strongly believe that you should do your research on the country, figure out what are must-do's in terms of culture and be intentional with how you experience the country. Or better yet, wait until you can go with a local.
Being in Jamaica at this time of the year is a treat for me because it's carnival season, and so I decided that I'd bring my friends to a local soca fete, so that they could get an idea of how we party in the Caribbean and experience culture. The music, the dancing and feting is all something that you don't get in Jamaica if you show up, stay at an all-inclusive and chill at the resort the whole week. And man, they loved it. Nothing made me happier than their full embrace of the culture at that fete. Of course they'd get good food and things like jerk chicken and rice and peas, but unless they're with a local, they would never know about that breakfast fete. They also wouldn't know that Aunt Merl's daughter Shakira from Hellshire comes to Emancipation Park on Friday evenings to make fried fish in Kingston so we don't have to drive out to get it. We ate good. We had a crazy first 24 hours in Jamaica to say the least.
During my time studying abroad, at first, I definitely felt myself falling into the tourist traps. I was eating easy-to-get fast food, and not really making much effort to experience the place I was living in, nor the places I visited. Huge mistake!
In Spain, where I lived for 4 months in 2022, the main thing that threw me off when I first arrived wasn't the 5 hour time difference, but the meal-time difference, coupled with the siestas. I would wake up and have a tostada for breakfast at 8am, then the next meal was lunch at around 3pm. After that, siesta was between 3:30/4pm to around 6:30/7pm and then we'd eat dinner at around 10pm. My stomach that was used to 8am breakfast, 12pm lunch and 6pm dinner went crazy. I was starving during those long stretches of time with no food, and so I ended up buying McDonald's an embarrassing number of times. To cut myself some slack though, most of the restaurants were closed for siesta at the times that I was hungry, or opened late so I couldn't get food until 12pm at a local spot, and McDonald's was the only place nearby that had more Western-like opening hours.
Towards the middle to end of my time in Spain, I had a change of heart. After visiting other cities in Spain, Ibiza, Milan and London, I realized that I was doing the travel thing all wrong. I was eating what I liked instead of what was local. I was going to each country and instead of trying new things, I'd be happy with just grabbing fast food and filling my stomach then continuing on to our next tourist attraction on the itinerary. What a waste!
After realizing that I'd been missing out on an important aspect of culture - the food - I changed my attitude towards Spain, and indulged regularly in tapas. Soon enough, tapas became my favourite part of living in Spain, and I loved going to new tapas places with friends to try new things. It became a whole new experience and I felt like I was finally taking part in the culture of Spain and appreciating where I was living. Of course, it took me some time, and honestly, living somewhere for 4 months can make you take things for granted, but I'm glad that I came around and began to appreciate the culture of food.
I think it's super important to be intentional with appreciating new cultures, and this week is the first time I get to be on the other side of bringing people to experience my own. I've done my best to be intentional in how my friends will experience the island, and I'm so excited that I've brought 2 foodies who are willing to embrace the culture and let me take the reins with planning our trip. After doing some travelling of my own, I really do think new places are so much better when you have someone showing you around, and to anyone reading this who's showing friends or family your hometown, do them a favour and introduce them to things that are specific to where you live and things that they can't do elsewhere. In travelling, it's so important to appreciate the things that make each place unique, and while it might sound obvious, it'd definitely so important to be intentional about doing that.
From my own experience, it's all too easy to get caught up in sightseeing and forget that food is something that comprises a huge part of the experience of a new place, and that there's so many characteristics of new places that make them unique, but it's up to you to seek them out and make sure you're taking away a true experience of where you've visited. It's fine to be the"beach and sun" tourist, but don't forget to appreciate the fact that islands like Jamaica aren't just beaches and sun, they're places where people live and different cultures have developed, and I promise you you'll find that being intentional about experiencing culture when experiencing new places will make you so much more of a global citizen with new perspectives on life to share.
I'll be in Jamaica between this blog post and the next, so next week I'll do a 1-week itinerary of the things we did for anyone who's visiting Jamaica/has a friend or relative visiting. Hopefully it'll help you to help your friends to experience Jamaica's culture in a way that they might not get if they came on their own!
Until next Sunday,