In an age when Instagram-worthy selfies and travel bucket lists are top priority for many tourists, it’s easy to find yourself wanting more out of your trip. Whether you’re seeking insider tips on where to eat or party, hope to gain a new perspective on your destination, or simply want to meet up with kindred souls around the world, finding a local connection can help give your travels meaning. There’s no better way to discover a country or understand its culture than meeting the locals. To help you break down the boundaries and seek out unforgettable experiences, here are 10 ways to connect with locals on your travels. Make a local friend to share adventures with in Hoi An, Vietnam.
1. Organize a homestay
The most authentic way to immerse yourself in a new culture is to spend a night with a local family. There are some incredible homestay tours to choose from, whether you wish to spend a night in a traditional Vietnamese stilt home in the Mekong, join a local family to celebrate Diwali in India, or camp out with a nomad tribe in Tibet. For the most memorable experience, look for tours that allow you to live like a local and help out with the shopping, cooking, and farm work.
2. Learn the language
Mastering a few phrases in the local language can be a real door-opener; even a clumsy attempt at a sentence will be sure to elicit a smile, especially in countries where the local language is rarely spoken by tourists. Book a language class at the start of your trip and practice some useful phrases, or join an immersion course to take your skills to the next level. Keep an eye out for conversation classes and meet-ups, and be sure to practice – strike up a conversation with local parkgoers, talk to a friendly stranger on the bus, or quiz your taxi driver on the best local spots.
Volunteer opportunities are available in almost every country around the world and are a great way for visitors to get to know the local community. Doctors, nurses, and TEFL/TESOL qualified teachers will find a large demand for their skills, especially in less developed countries, but there are opportunities for every traveler. Look for something that interests you and matches your skills. Animal lover? Help out with giant pandas in China or the turtle conservation in Central America. Love kids? Visit a local school or help out at an orphanage. Want to work outdoors? Swap farm work for a free bed through volunteer programs like WWOOF or HelpXchange.
4. Hire a local guide
Even if you normally prefer to go it alone, exploring a destination with a local guide who is truly passionate about his or her hometown can add a whole new dimension to your visit. Look for a guide who has similar interests, whether it’s history, art, or nightlife, and don’t be afraid to ask questions – most guides are more than happy to offer their opinions, give recommendations or explain local customs.
5. Make connections online
There are new travel websites and apps springing up all the time, so make sure you log on before you board your flight. Connect with like-minded locals on Couchsurfing, or rent a room (rather than a whole apartment) via Airbnb to benefit from your host’s local knowledge. Alternately, sign up for a unique foodie experience via EatWith (international) or Feastly (U.S. only), where professional chefs will cook for you in their own homes, or use apps like MeetUp, Party with a Local, or Withlocals to find yourself some friends. Holi Festival of Colors in Delhi, India
6. Attend local festivals and events
Whether it’s for Munich ’s Oktoberfest, Mexico’s Day of the Dead, or India’s colorful Holi Festival, visiting a town or city during one of its famous festivals guarantees unforgettable travel memories. To make the most of your experience, find out where the locals go: Rather than heading to Rio for Carneval, why not check out the less-touristy festivities in northern cities like Recife or Salvador? For a better chance at meeting locals, consider joining some of the world’s more unusual cultural traditions, like the Naadam festival in Mongolia, Up Helly Aa! in Scotland’s Shetland Isles, and Catalonia’s ‘correfoc’ fire-running festivals. […]