We travel for many reasons, but one common experience that bonds travellers together is their appreciation of the rich culture of another country. When we travel, we get a rare glimpse into other peoples’ way of life. This exposure to different cultures, broadens the mind and gives us a better understanding of the world around us.
It can be tempting to stay within the safe-zone of our tour group, or hotel and to eat where all the other visitors do, however, it pays to venture further afield than the tourist bubble and get a glimpse of life through the locals eyes.
Some of the obvious ways to connect with locals while travelling is to be friendly, smile and ask questions. Show an active interest in their way of life. Try and add a few phrases in their language as this shows that you are making an effort.
So how best to try and meet the locals? There are many ways and it depends where you are travelling. Try to connect with locals at every opportunity whilst doing what you usually do when you travel. Whether this is talking to the shop assistant, baristas, or servers in café’s and shops. Chat to the market traders about their produce, where they get supplies, if its local, where its grown/made, how business is doing – in fact anything that will help get to know more about the local community. Try going to a local festival, fiesta or carnival if the time is right. Always look for where the locals eat instead of opting for the café’s, bars and restaurants on the tourist strip. You will get a much better feel for the local community and cuisine. The food will probably be better and certainly cheaper!
You can join a tour group that is run by a local guide and has local participants. Opt for a language exchange programme, or volunteer somewhere that locals will gather such as a community, or day care centre. Couchsurfing and Airbnb offer chances for you to meet and stay at a local’s home. Your host could be happy to provide insight on the local culture and their way of life.
Some travellers say that you have not really experienced a city until you eat a meal in a local’s home. Eatwith.com makes eating in someone’s home possible by bringing together chefs and foodies around the world. You can book a meal, usually dinner, in a registered host’s own home. You will be having dinner and conversation with a diverse group of people, who are most likely locals in the area. Eatwith.com operates in 50 countries and 200 cities around the world.
If you haven’t taken the time to chat to the local community, why not try it on your next trip and see what happens. Read about the culture of your travel destination before you travel, and as always, don’t forget to take out travel insurance for peace of mind while you are away.