Every day you hear more stories about another millennial ditching the nine-five to venture off for a year in a country they’ve never visited, let alone met anyone from. Be it the lack of job opportunities available after shelling out hundreds of thousands on a generic Business Management Degree, or the shift in the perception of corporate slavery, more and more people are eager to experience life NOW. Or are they?

Even faster than the next “Top Travel Destinations” publication is the expansion of technology. Twenty years ago, people who traveled abroad didn’t have the luxury of simply connecting to WiFi to check in with their family and friends, make money online while traveling or upload a photo of their every “exotic” meal. I, too, am guilty of some (all) of these, but here’s a guide to get the most from your experience abroad.

Adios #costarica ?? Thank you for your warmth and hospitality this past four weeks! With its breathtaking landscape and rich biosphere, Costa Rica is a peaceful country of unparalleled natural beauty that will make you go "¡Qué lindo!" It earns its beauty only because its people are equally beautiful; having one of the warmest, most sincere and upbeat #ticos and #ticas I've met, you will never feel out of place here. Costa Ricans have vast appreciation for nature and the simplicity of life, embodied in the ubiquitous national expression #puravida, which literally translates as "Pure Life". I'll also miss all the amazing volunteers with big hearts that I met through #maximocostarica, and the Maximo team! Highly recommend volunteering/backpacking in Costa Rica to meet the locals and truly appreciate their #tico culture (and #ticotime). I'll be back real soon!

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Learn the Language

Probably the most important aspect of culture–language. Culture is created by the people. How will you ever understand the culture if you can’t communicate with the people? Even the most basic speaker should learn how to greet and thank the people they are visiting in their native tongue. But the real benefits happen when you can successfully negotiate prices at the markets (because yes, you’re definitely overpaying for that beautifully weaved textile), and get the ins on the best places to eat straight from the locals. If you have at least two weeks, I recommend taking a language course. It’s a great way to not only meet locals and learn the language, but having a routine can help to schedule your day if you’re a bit unorganized like I am.

Live With a Local

Hotel rooms are overpriced and more people are finding accommodations which grant a cheaper option and a more authentic travel experience. Maximo Nivel provides the option of living with a host family. Get the cultural experience you’re seeking, and secure your stay with a local family. Not only does your family provide 2 meals per day, but living with a host family allows you the insight on the everyday lives of the people. They’re the best at providing info on where to visit, what to eat, and things to do. You learn so much about the country as you practice the language, listen to the music, interact with different members of the community, and indulge in the food. Score!

Observe Your Surroundings

Sometimes we get so caught up in our own worlds that immediately after snapping a photo of the iconic Teatro Nacional in San Jose, Costa Rica, we keep our heads in our phones as we wait for it to successfully upload to our social media account. We don’t even realize everything we’re missing. Instead of taking pictures right away, just observe for a while. Watch how the members of the community interact with one another; how they greet each other, help one another, do business. This will give you so much more perspective on how you should be interacting in this country, also. Take time to study the people, and how they move among the city. That theater isn’t going anywhere. Just make sure to get a shot before you leave.

Use Public Transportation

Everything is cheaper when you go about it like a local. Public transportation is not only incredibly cheaper than taking a taxi or hiring private transportation, but it allows you an authentic cultural experience. Locals are using public transportation to get to and from work, visiting family and friends, and traveling, just like you. Worried you might get on the wrong bus or train? Pro tip: Ask! The locals riding the bus or train know the route they’re on. If it isn’t going your way, they’ll let you know. Trust me; I’ve been able to travel all over Costa Rica with roundtrip tickets on the public bus costing no more than $15. A private shuttle to the same destinations cost $54 one way. No thanks.

Give Back to Community

One of the best things you can do while traveling abroad is volunteering. Volunteering allows you to connect with the local people and culture in a way you otherwise wouldn’t. Whether you decide to teach English to the local kids, develop the community through construction work, or provide your assistance to a local clinic, volunteering will be a gratifying experience. Most travelers visit new countries to explore what the country has to offer, never realizing how much they can offer to the country. Travel with a purpose and make a positive impact on the local community that’s welcoming you. It’s the best way to do travel right.

-Julia P.