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The world we live in today is one of many varying cultures and traditions. Every community has its own rituals that make it truly unique, but the Danes perhaps stand out from the rest. Danish citizens are some of the happiest people in the world and much of that happiness can be attributed to the way that they live. Their traditions and rituals are showcased prominently in almost every social task and gathering. And for a country home to fewer people than Sierra Leone, they’ve done a pretty good job of putting themselves on the map.
In fact, Denmark may be one of the most underrated travel destinations in the world. It’s a life-changing getaway for those who lust over adventure and wander with abandon. The summers are short, and more recently, the winters have proven to be longer and colder than usual, but it’s the topography in any season that provides visitors with a truly overwhelming experience — sights from the free state Christiania to world-class pastures like you’ve never witnessed before.
Perhaps most important when considering a trip to Denmark is following the "Law of Jante," which a Danish novelist formulated in the early 20th century and which is ingrained into their culture in a variety of ways. Critical of individual achievement and praise, deeming it “unworthy” and “inappropriate” by, for example, many U.S. standards. These are its main precepts:
- You’re not to think you are anything special.
- You’re not to think you are as good as we are.
- You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.
- You’re not to imagine yourself better than we are.
- You’re not to think you know more than we do.
- You’re not to think you are more important than we are.
- You’re not to think you are good at anything.
- You’re not to laugh at us.
- You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
- You’re not to think you can teach us anything.
These laws may seem harsh and intense, but understanding their origin can help to better appreciate the culture that you might immerse yourself in as a vagabond. Because these concepts are in place, every Dane, from the moment they were born, expect to be excluded from the rat race. That is to say that they’re not always buying new clothes and cars or trying to keep up with the Joneses, which gives them more time to pursue their interests. As a result, Denmark is a country with incredible architects and is home to one of the best restaurants in the world, Copenhagen's Noma.
In this unique aspect of Danish culture emboldened by Jante Law, the Danes’ notable degree of happiness comes from the notion that the optimal application of talent can help one attain joy in their lives and eliminate the everyday stressors we’re so familiar with in our own culture. As travelers, we often see those stressors pop up when we travel to a new destination, unfamiliar from our own reality. But, traveling should be about the experience in something anew. When visiting Denmark one will almost certainly feel a sense of coziness and zen as the Danes embody this lifestyle through their word hygge. The word cannot be directly translated into English, but can most certainly be felt when traveling to Denmark.
We used to travel to see the sights, but today, it’s all about that experience… that ability to travel to a new land and experience an unfamiliar culture, like that of the Danes, and feel the power of their proximity. However, that proximity goes beyond one’s ability to read a map… Today’s most tech savvy travelers depend on locals who has a story to tell, or a particular passion for their city, neighborhood, or street.
We talked to Alex Winkler, founder and CEO of Kolu — a new mobile app that is redefining how we travel. Kolu uses mutual interests to match travelers and local guides — who agrees that today’s travel is all about authentic experiences with “like-minded locals”. In fact, Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital, is one of Winkler’s favorite destinations among the 25+ countries that he has traveled to. “In Denmark, people live more freely because they’re not constrained by the political woes of everyday life,” Winkler said. “And in a way, I believe that’s exactly how travel should be: Beyond an experience, it should be free from the stressors of everyday life.” The connection between traveling with a Danish local, instead of a Hop On Hop Off Bus, can make the difference between a trip and a genuine experience.
“We’re living in a time where technology has enabled us to have these incredible hyper-local experiences, but at the same time, we’re crippled by that technology,” Winkler said. “It’s time to bring real human interaction back to the tech world in the way that companies like Uber and Airbnb started to, but for us, that really begins by redefining the way that people travel and have these hyper-local experiences.”
For Winkler and the Kolu team, that means creating a service that allows people to immerse themselves in a new culture with ease, “turning trips into experiences” as the company boasts. The mobile app will be available in the App Store and Google Play Store at the beginning of 2018, but the company is currently accepting applications for what they call “local guides” in New York City, who operate much in the way that Uber drivers and Airbnb hosts do.
As for your next trip (err— experience), perhaps taking heed from the happiness that Danish culture has embodied for so many centuries will help you better appreciate the cultural differences wherever you may travel.