One of the real reasons I travel is not only to go and admire how beautiful the world is but to learn how people live on this magical planet.
I have been fortunate to work in an industry that gives me opportunities to move to different countries, cities, to live and travel at the same time. It has not only changed my perspective about travel but also the people and culture.
Having traveled and lived in many places over the years, I’ve made friends from around the world. I can go to many countries and stay with friends (locals) who are happy to show me around, friends who will take me for a traditional local meal to their house, an impromptu town BBQ event, or a festive celebration. It’s easy for me to get a taste of local life because I have many people willing to show it to me. It’s the same for anyone who has traveled you’re going to meet people from all around the world that you can visit.
Whether you are just visiting a foreign land for vacation or work, cultural differences can have a huge influence on your time there. It could be little things, like what time dinner is served or what is eaten for breakfast, what is sold in typical local shops, what’s the mode of travel commonly used by the locals, what do locals eat when they go out for a meal.
But, when you’re in a new destination and don’t know anyone, how do you do that?
Whether you’re in town for a week or a year; if you want to meet people when traveling, you just need to be very open and talkative, but here are some of the things I do and tips that can help you. After all, it’s the people that make each place special
Visit local Cafés and Restaurants
Being a hotelier and having worked with some of the best Chefs in my team I always have accessibility to any cuisine I want to eat however eating the dish in its home country made with an authentic recipe by a local gives it a complete different flavor and there is no experience more original than that. So on my travels I seek out the hidden Restaurants and cafés that locals love. Not only the ones recommended on travel guides, where the prices are two or three times higher than normal as they usually don’t attract many locals. You can ditch these places for some meals (in other words don’t always dine on main squares and main streets). Take the time to venture beyond areas overcrowded with tourists. I go with the recommendation of my local host. You cannot find more authentic places to try local food or have great conversations with people in such places.
Participate in Weekend Festivals
There may be holidays or special events or festivals going on while you are in a new country, so be sure you find out about these and plan to attend them. If you have not taken the time to do this, you can always ask any locals you met. You want to see and understand how people in your host country celebrate, what they wear, eat, and what the events and festivals mean to their cultural history. While having a meal in the restaurant in Bratislava my waiting host informed me about a festival that he is attending on the weekend and how they celebrate the last month of summer on the streets before fall sets in. Without missing this opportunity I asked him for more details and there we were attending the street festival in Bratislava. I tasted the localy brewed beer on the street and ate some amazing local street food like Langos, Pagace, Granadir, Trdelnik etc. There were many shops of artifacts straight from the artists that helped me understand the local craft. I came across people wearing traditional Slovakian attires and bumped into the traditional wedding procession.
Book Home Stays
Homestays are the best way to dive headfirst into a country’s culture. You get to see how people live up close. I’ve been treated like family by Airbnb hosts in the past and I wouldn’t trade those experiences for a hotel stay even if you paid me! Though I admit that i combine my stays with hotels and homestays/AirBnB. My host in Athens offered to drive me to the airport at 0500 in the morning when the taxi did not show up and his 80 years old grandma squeezed fresh juice for us so that we don’t leave the house hungry. I had booked a loft apartment in Prague and did not find my Welsh host on arrival as he got stuck with a sick friend. To make up for this he offered to take me out for dinner and we ended up walking around the city listening to his very interesting stories of his past 10 years in Prague.
Learn a few local slangs
It’s usually possible to get by with just English and some imaginative sign language while traveling, but learning basic phrases in the local lingo will go a long way. Nothing helps you to stand out from other travelers more than learning a bit of the local language and knowing something about the local culture. At the very least, you are less-likely to get ripped off by cab drivers and more likely to get local rates at restaurants. These efforts show locals that you respect their way of life. And while not every person with whom you try this will tell you how impressed they are, I’ve found that more often then not they compliment you, especially in countries where English is a widely-spoken second language. And you never know where that type of conversation will take you. And a little more than the basics will enable you to connect with people outside the familiar circle giving you a whole new perspective on the destination you’re visiting. I downloaded Hostelworld app on my phone it helps me meet locals while traveling and generally make life a little easier. All you need to do is download this free app.
Go for guided tours
Many cities offer free walking tours. I always sign up for one of these short excursions and not only do I meet other travelers, but the local guide also becomes a great source of information. While on the tour, ask all of the questions you want about local life and what it’s like to grow up in that region without being annoying. By letting the guide know you’re friendly and extremely interested in the culture, you just might be invited to meet up after the tour. When I was hitching in Sikkim, the guy brought us to his Uncle’s local restaurant and had drinks with us. The next day he showed us around and even gave us a ride to our next destination!
Chat with the Inhabitants
Ordering a cappuccino in the coffee house, asking for a refill on your water at a restaurant, or say ‘yes’ to another beer at the bar—these are all opportunities to meet interesting people when traveling. Baristas, bartenders, and waiters can all become friends, even if only for a short conversation or an evening. You never know when your chat about the best music venues in town might turn into an invite to a nearby concert or a jam session with their band. From experience, the staff at bars tend to be more open to chatting with the clientele, so grabbing a bite to eat at the bar is often a good technique if you’re interested in chatting.
Be Flexible to change your plans
Nothing makes it more difficult to meet locals than a tight schedule. If your trip is filled from morning to night with non-stop activities, you’ll have neither the time nor the opportunity to actually get to know the people whose hometown your visiting. Give yourself the flexibility to say ‘yes’ if someone invites you to afternoon tea or a late night concert. Allow for the possibility that while you might not see everything you’d originally intended to see, you’ll end up learning more from the moments you spend with people than the time you spend in museums. The most important thing you can do when traveling to meet locals—more helpful than any tip you apply or any service you buy—is to have the right attitude. A trip to Male island for work with a colleague got a new meaning when he offered me to have lunch at his home than grabbing a meal in a restaurant. I not only met his family but also got to relish some amazing local home made dishes that always tasted different in restaurants that I had tried before. While in Osaka, Japan, I took a wrong train that took me one hour in opposite direction; rather than getting hassled I decided to explore the vicinity and found a hundreds of years old temple with some unique traditions.
Despite the clear differences in custom and culture you see when traveling, people everywhere respond positively when they are treated well. Be friendly, curious, respectful, listen and you will end up with many friends around the world.
Do you have any unique ideas to connect with locals on your travels?
I also use some of the things you have mentioned. Great tips
Based on my experience, learning the local language and dialect is the best way to engaged with locals while travelling. This way also gives me a chance to better understand people, and learn more about each places, stories that sometimes you can’t find in travel websites and books . Then , the local foods is another way to engage with locals, that’s why I always skip restaurants unless it is a local business.
Those are some great tips indeed. There’s nothing better than getting to know the locals while traveling, to discover the unusual local spots, local events & more. Very true about Airbnbs, many a times they give so many insider tips about the place. Esp., since I travel with a kid, airbnb hosts are super helpful, in making me feel at home. I also find online forums as good ways to know locals across the globe who have helped me right from helping in bus schedule translation and suggesting local events!
It is such a great post with many valuable tips. For sure, we can know better visited places through contacts with local people, trying local flavors and dishes, or visiting local markets and bars. I also like to visit new places during a local holiday or festival to get to know the culture and customs. Significantly, you prefer Homestays!
We have always found that local hosts have some of the best ideas about things to see and do when we travel. And we are always glad we learned a few local phrases. People are always happy when you try. We do love when we do tours that take you to local spots, especially if there are market stops. A great way to understand more about local life and customs. (LD Holland)
You have highlighted a very beautiful aspect of travel. Meeting people and learning about local stories, life and culture is a great way to dive deep into authentic experiences. Food talks would be my first choice too. Local guides and tours open a whole new world. I like visiting local markets and even though, I might not interact there with someone, I love to know what sells in a a particular place. And last but not the least, local festivals, parades are like being part of history. Period!
These are great insights and your post made me realize that traveling becomes more meaningful if we are able to connect with the locals and get insights on their daily life and their culture. We tend to appreciate food and the local cuisine too. Thank you for sharing these tips. Will keep this in mind on our future trips.
Great tips! Staying at homes with locals is definitely the best one for me. Another one that has proved effective for me (if I’m familiar with the language) is to go and take a slow shopping trip to a local market, you get so many cool chances to talk to locals and to learn about their daily lives.
That is just the way that I love to spend my holidays too. Making friends comes easy to me and I find interacting with locals and learning about them, their culture, their likes and dislikes so very fascinating. I seem to be doing everything as you suggest except that my holidays are planned well in advance and therefore am not so flexible when it comes to changing dates or prolonging trips. Nice read.
I so so relate to this post. For me, talking to locals is what gives the place authenticity. It is amazing how many new things I have learnt when I speak to them. From the local guides to drivers, local eateries and even public transport staff – they have so many things to share. Local markets is also, a great place to gather the chatter. Am so glad you put it all out here. Cheers