Understand the people of a ocuntry by reading its literature, both fiction and nonfiction. Visit your library and check out some books about the country you're interested in or do a search online for the authors that are famous from a region you're visiting.
Of course, some books are actually tourist magnets for places and events that they cover. "In The Garden Of Good & Evil" set in Savannah, Georgia, for instance, a major tour through the city was spawned by the fictional account. There are literally hundreds of famous authors, like Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway, that have their hometowns or houses featured as attractions.
But more importantly, an areas literature adds a depth of discovery for the Traveling Pauper. You get a sense of the landscape, because it is often used as a backdrop to a story. Or the people and their unique historical contribution help you see them in a richer light.
We often spend leisurely hours reading during our trips. Why not choose a book that originated from the actual locale itself? Reading Homer's Illiad while traveling through Greece or visiting Troy makes imminent sense to me!
A biogrpahy of Lincoln while in Washington DC or a trip through Illinois also makes sense. The options are endless. You can almost always find out about famous books and authors that a particular destination is proud of by visting the official website of that city or country. Why not? They know that these literary exports have made them great!
With that in mind, I hope you'll take advantage of CD-ROMS such as The Traveler offered by Magellan Interactive Media. It offers presentations on more than 100 destinations and 25 activities. The disc is free (a Paupers' dream price) but there is a $4.50 shipping fee. Call 800-561-3114 if this interestes you.