If you’re looking to travel the world, then I think that the first step is education. Learning about the history and culture of the place that you’re going is a key element of enjoying your trip to its full extent. But how does one successfully navigate the ranks of books and information out there in order to find relevant and concise information? The library is a great place to start, and asking your local librarian is also a great idea as they may have leads on other sources of information that you might not think of right away. Remember: librarians actually have to go to school to be a librarian.
The thing is, learning about a new culture can be a bit of a challenge. I would propose to most people that they start out with some National Geographic videos. I think that watching can inspire a bit more curiosity. One can then move on to books and magazines. I just think that watching a moving image (when filmed and edited properly) can inspire more wonder about a certain locale than just reading text. So check out your library’s collection of visual materials. Or, browse online to find some videos – check out Vimeo first for more high quality content, and then YouTube. I tend to think of YouTube as kind of a garbage heap, but it does have its uses.
Learning a bit of the local language can also be helpful. I suggest to most people that they at least try to learn the formalities and some common phrases. As long as you’re trying and not just falling into the assumption that everyone and their fourth grandma speaks English you will command a lot more respect from the natives.
If you’re looking to learn a new language at home, there are definitely some high quality programs that can help you do just that. I always stress to people that they should look for a program that emphasizes immersion – real or simulated. It can be hard to really simulate the true immersion experience of being in another country where the language is spoken fluently, but there are programs that come close. The other thing that you should definitely try to do is to set aside time each day to study the language, this will help reinforce new vocabulary and help you build upon things you’ve already learned. Sometimes language learning can be cumulative, so it’s nice to stay on top of things.