5 Lessons I Learned from Traveling to Indigenous Communities

Travel has a way of changing and opening you up to new ways of living and seeing the world. It connects you to this beautiful world that we live in and can drastically transform you as a person if you travel with an open mind and heart.

However, believe it or not, travel can be a dull, unfulfilling experience, leaving you with the sensation that “once you’ve seen one cathedral, you’ve seen them all.”

I have to admit, traveling from one tourist trap to the next can be an unpleasant travel experience. In my case, I travel desperately seeking out cultural experiences, where I am completely surrounded by different people, doing something completely outside of my comfort zone.

However, what you typically find in most big cities is superficial, unauthentic experiences, loaded with tourists, hotel chains and fast food restaurants on every corner. When I started traveling, this was the only way that I wanted to travel, but after a couple of years of the same thing over and over, I started feeling an empty sensation and a disconnect from what I felt like travel should really be about.

Outside the major cities, to the more rural areas where most tourists do not tend to travel, is where it’s easy to find real, authentic experiences.  Traveling to these more rural areas, stopping to have a traditional meal, taking a class with a local or buying a hand made craft may seem insignificant, but those are some of the best ways travelers can explore and make a sustainable impact and support the true local culture and economy.

When I traveled to South America,  I had the chance to really connect on a personal level with different indigenous groups for the first time and learn about their traditions, customs, gastronomy, art, music and ways of living.

 “There are around 370,000 indigenous people living in over 70 countries around the world.” (European Commission).

Supporting and connecting with them is simple and can truly add value to your travels and give you an unforgettable story.

After my experience traveling and connecting across indigenous communities throughout the whole world, I have made a list of the top lessons that I have learned in my experience :

1. The Joy of Simplicity

The great thing about different indigenous communities is that, while most of the world is progressing in technology and changing their lifestyles, they remain simple and stand strong on how their ancestors lived and taught them.

Just because the world around them started buying computers, cell phones and adopting new ways of living, does not mean that they are influenced by this advancement. Their way of living comes to show you that it is possible to live in a progressive world and to be happy with little.

When I arrived In Paraguay I had the chance to see their simple way of living. They enjoyed the little things and found pleasure in something as simple as gathering together, with no technology and connecting as a community.

The kids happily played with rocks and sticks in the road and were not complaining about not watching TV or playing video games. In fact, the children had never even seen a TV screen before. They live in very basic houses and don’t feel the need to have all of the materialistic possessions that many feel the need to have in order to survive.

2. Respect and Love for Nature

For many indigenous groups, nature and their surrounding land is the most important element for them. Given that they’re living independently from the rest of society, they depend greatly on the resources that come from nature in order to live. With this being the case, they tend to respect and appreciate nature in a way that many modern people do not.

In many cultures, land and spirituality are directly connected and it’s the source that connects them with God, as well as their ancestors.

In today’s world, it’s easy to take for granted nature and not see the value that it really has.  However, a few days in an indigenous community will help you to regain that respect, value and appreciate again.

3. The True Meaning of an Authentic Cultural Experience

In a very rapidly changing world, it’s difficult to find true authentic cultural experiences while traveling. Many of the authentic experiences that you pay for today are highly commercialized, and as a result, the experience feels forced and unauthentic. However, escaping many of the touristic traps, you can find new experiences, meet people and connect with cultures in a way that will leave you wanting to go back for more.

Over the years, I have seen different cultural ceremonies where I was able to see culture through a different lens. I have been able to watch unique styles of dancing in traditional outfits, as well as listen to their music, instruments and chants.

4. Amazing Power of Natural Remedies from Nature

One of the most interesting experiences that I have had with indigenous communities is seeing their powerful connecting with natural medicine. They strictly depend on nature in order to find the cure for all their daily discomforts and problems, instead of going to the pharmacy.

In Belize, I was given a class in the woods on natural medicine from an indigenous man that was able to name every tree and the health benefit one could get from each one.  There were treatments for everything, from just a small headache, to a case of chicken pox for a toddler.

Indigenous people are experts at living in nature, given the fact that they have done it their whole life, as well as their ancestors, without external help.

5. Power of Non Verbal Communication

Traveling to more rural areas can be a rich experience, but often times travelers fear the unpaved paths due to communication barriers. My first time visiting an indigenous community was in Paraguay in South America and I went there will full confidence in my ability to communicate, given my fluency in Spanish.

However, what I quickly discovered is, while the average person in the big cities generally speak Spanish, most indigenous groups do not speak a word. What I thought would be a day of asking questions and getting a deeper understanding of their culture from their perspective, turned into a day of gestures, singing and laughing in order to communicate.

Although we were not able to communicate the way that I thought we would be able to, I still learned a great amount from them by just non verbal communication. A smile, laugh and light touch can sure go a long way in connecting and sending a message of love and care.

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