Travel is all the rage right now among our generation, and and rightfully so. Most people can't tell you the name of the capital of Thailand, but their Instagram feed has them dying to go to Phuket.
I'm all for this: Travel is an absolutely critical aspect of a well-rounded life.
It's just these days, I don't think our generation is getting everything out of it. It's become a personal exposé, more about “Hey, look at me” and #TBT content to reminisce about until our next getaway.
To me, one of the most important aspects of travel has become rather discounted in the current travel environment... that being actual cultural interaction. You know the kind: It's where you actually mingle with the people whose country you're a guest in, and immerse yourself in experiences only unique to that place.
It could prove rather laborious, what with language barriers and all. So many people choose to simply learn a culture on their own. They pay for a generic tour or experience, or they just simply enjoy their vacations, almost oblivious to the fact that they're in a foreign land.
Which is fine, I suppose.
However, there are many 21st-century devices that have continued to make our lives way simpler. But at the same time, they've also made us an indolent and increasingly socially awkward bunch of people.
BUT these same devices also make the travel experience more enjoyable, and some make cultural interaction even more attainable: Tinder, for example.
That's the direction I decided to take on a recent trip to Paris. I was in the city for just four days, and I barely spoke any French.
Naturally, I became lonely.
Starting conversations and meeting locals works just fine for me in English-speaking cities such as London and Amsterdam. However, in a country like France – where they work so hard to preserve the language – finding someone on the street to bond with in English (or even French, for that matter) proved rather strenuous.
While I was complaining about my poor luck finding people to connect with in the City of Love to a family member back home, I was kindly pointed in the direction of Tinder.
I'm not sure why I didn't think of that in the first place, but I immediately requested a password reset and logged into an app I've had for years, but never used... until now. I quickly discovered that for whatever reason, I was sort of in demand in France: Matches didn't prove hard to come by at all.
A few right swipes, matches and messages later, I was on my way to a soul food restaurant in the Bastille section of the city to meet up with a lovely young French woman. It was an evening we both acknowledged would probably be extremely awkward, but nonetheless interesting.
We both spoke very little of the other person's language. So, enter the voice recognition feature on the Google Translate app, which turned out to be a godsend.
This allowed us to establish a rather efficient (given the circumstances) form of communication. We were even able to share several laughs about how ridiculous we looked to other patrons at the restaurant.
Even the waiter found our interaction comical.
Once we found our way around the language barrier, it was pretty much just like any other first date in any other city. Once we moved past that, she found it to be a learning experience. Mutual interest was piqued, if not out of sheer curiosity or physical attraction.
We engaged with one another about our respective cultures in an authentic and intimate fashion. We managed to discuss both the parallels and glaring differences between life in each of our nations.
We were also able to bond around the parallels of life as minorities in our respective countries, before delving off into a more important debate about which side of the pond makes better music. (Future > Maître Gims, just for the record.)
Out of all my travel adventures, this was probably the single most meaningful activity.
An actual, intimate interaction with a local is the ultimate supplement for any country excursion one might partake in. What good is experiencing a different culture if you don't actually get to immerse yourself in it? You need to gain a more personal understanding for the culture that no museum, two-hour tour or travel vlog can give you.
The bottom line is, Tinder – even in all of its demerit – turned out to be a vital part of my most recent travel experience.
I'm not necessarily urging anyone to go swiping away on one's next excursion: Tinder may or may not be part of the equation for you.
But I AM suggesting you should always be sure to make a concerted effort to connect with a local or two in an intimate way when you travel.
It was certainly a mission getting it done, but I was thankful I met an open-minded lady who was equally as curious and down for the cause as I was. Do what works for you... but just be sure to connect.
Travel should be about more than just taking pictures and creating envy-inducing Snapchat stories. It's about actually taking advantage of the opportunity to personally connect and immerse yourself in another culture.