Meeting other travelers on the road is a lot of fun, and can lead to deep friendships that far outlive the backpacking trip. It is also a great experience to connect with locals when you travel. This can be daunting, especially if there is a language barrier, but you should not fear; most locals will be happy that you will make an effort with them, and doing so will undoubtedly make for a richer and more cultural experience.
Here are five suggestions to help you to connect with the locals when you travel:
- Learn A Little Of The Language
No one expects that you be fluent when you first arrive in a new country; new languages can be difficult to learn, especially if it is your first time doing so. What is expected is that you at least show some manners. Simply knowing how to say the basics, like “yes”, “no”, “please”, “thank you”, “nice to meet you” and so on, will get you a long way, and locals will feel more at ease when you show a little effort. It separates you from the tourist rabble that never bother.
Once you know the basics you can enjoy learning the language by being around local people, who will in some cases be more than happy to help. This in itself will strengthen bonds with locals. You will also find that once you know even a little of the language, it will be much easier to meet in the middle with locals who know a little of your language.
- Go Where Locals Go
It may seem obvious, but to connect with locals you need to be hanging around where locals hang around. This may mean getting out of your resort or hotel, or away from the main tourist beat every now and again. You could ask locals for advice on the best bars, restaurants, and cafes. Explain to them that you are not looking for a tourist trap, you are looking for an authentic vibe. You will know when you find the right place; a local vibe is quite different from a tourist one. When you find a local hang out, all that is left is for you to mingle and make an effort with the local people.
- Take An Interest In Customs And Traditions
Local people define, and are somewhat defined by, their customs and traditions. Everywhere in the world features unique festivals, fares, events, and sometimes unusual customs, and as a traveler you should be delighted to get involved. You should also have respect for manners and particular unwritten rules of behavior when you are in a foreign country; especially where religion and respect for elders and such are involved.
For example, if you are in a highly buddhist country, you should respect the quiet of a temple, and avoid taking pictures etc. On the other hand taking an interest in buddhism, and asking locals about the practice of it, will help you to connect with them, and with the country from a more local perspective.
- Volunteer Or Live With Locals
There are many ways to make your travel more highly based on experiences with locals. You could consider organizing a couchsurf with a local, or volunteer on a local project and get involved in the local community through some sort of scheme. For example, you could consider doing charity work in a developing country, or work with wildlife conservationists in a remote village somewhere. You could also volunteer using organizations like wwoof, workaway and so on, which give you the opportunity to live and work with locals, eat their food, and become one of the family for some time.
- Take Root Somewhere
It can be tempting when you are traveling, to hop from one place to the next, see the sites, explore the nightlife, and jet off to yet another destination. You may want to “get everything done,” and part of traveling is about moving around from place to place. This is all good for sight seeing, but is useless for connecting with locals.
If you really want to meet locals, you should consider staying put in one place for a fair amount of time; long enough to get to know the place, to engage in some of the activities and groups there, to meet some people and make some friends. You are more likely to form meaningful relationships with locals if you engage with the people and the place for longer than a couple of days.