On my media trip to Poland, I and the other travel writers would giggle whenever we would get a new tour guide or driver because we knew one of us, Judy, would send a barrage of questions his or her way. The funniest question she’d ask was, “Are you single?”

While that might not have been a question I was dying to know, I admired how she got perfect strangers to open up. Simply by asking one question after the other, Judy would find out bits and pieces of what it was like to live in Warsaw.

When you travel, you often feel like an outsider. You want that authentic experience, to understand a place fully, but you’re often locked out. Judy taught me that asking questions opens that door.

By asking questions we found out:

  • What it was like to be in a family affected by World War II (and everyone was)
  • How young people feel about religion (they don’t care much)
  • That being gay isn’t really accepted
  • Much more

Having these answers really enhanced our trip. So on your next trip, I encourage you to talk to people. I can be shy, so I know it’s tough. But once you engage in conversation, ask questions. They can be small ones that you build on. But keep people talking. It’s the key to understanding a local culture.