From time to time, I work with other travel writers who want to share their travel and destination tips. Here’s a post by Matt from Nomadic Matt.
We all want those magical movie moments when we travel, where you step off a train and someone invites you to their family dinner… or you fall in love with the waitress/waiter at that café… or you stumble into adventure and learn important lessons along the way.
But you know what? That’s not how traveling works. Those stereotypical moments are not as common as travel writing and films make you think they are.
But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to have a unique, local experience when you’re traveling. It just takes more work.
However, thanks to the plethora of websites and services out there, it’s a lot easier now to make those situations happen, rather than just hoping they happen. To help you meet people overseas, check out some of these resources:
- The Nomadic Network
- Nomadic Matt’s Community Forums
- Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree
- Girls Love Travel (women only)
- Couchsurfing Hangouts
In addition, here are some tips to help you connect better with locals when you travel:
1. Talk to strangers
Don’t be afraid to talk to people, whether residents or other travelers. Remember, they are just like you! Chances are you have more in common than you think, so feel free to start up a conversation. Maybe you’ll learn something new about your destination, the culture, or the language that you wouldn’t find in a guidebook.
2. Be approachable
You’ll have a hard time meeting people if you’re sitting around with your arms crossed, or with headphones in your ears (or worse, in your dorm room watching movies). Body language is important if you’re planning on meeting new people. Try to appear more open, relaxed, and friendly. This way, you’ll be more likely to meet people who are also looking to make friends, and together you can find yourselves some adventure!
3. Don’t overplan your trip
Let your days unfold naturally, without cramming them full of activities. Schedule 2-3 activities and then let the rest of the day get filled in on its own. This will let you be more spontaneous. See a neat restaurant? You’ll have time to try it. Met some other travelers who want to grab a pint? You’ll be free to join them! Having trouble picking a hostel? Just book it when you arrive. You might not get the best hostel, but you’ll still be able to find somewhere to stay. Keep your schedule flexible. Don’t overplan. You’ll be better situated to enjoy those more serendipitous experiences.
4. Learn to haggle
Haggling isn’t something many of us are used to, but it’s a fun way to embrace new cultures and break out of the norm. Talk to locals about what prices to expect, and then give it a try. Not only will you learn how to negotiate but you’ll also get to meet more people and learn their way of doing things.
5. Try hitchhiking
Not everyone is going to love this one, but I can assure you it’s much more common and safe than many people think. In many parts of the world (such as planning a trip to Iceland), it’s perfectly normal. As long as you use some common sense, you likely won’t get into trouble. It’s a fun, unique, and more adventurous way to travel and offers a perspective that taking the bus or a train just can’t compete with. By hitchhiking with locals, you’ll be able to ask them any and all of the questions you have about their country. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so don’t pass it up!
6. Use the sharing economy
The sharing economy is a way to create peer-to-peer exchanges: instead of dealing with a third party, you interact directly with a residents of your destination. Use the sharing economy when you travel to get more unique experiences and better prices for all sorts of activities and accommodation. It’s one of the best tools in your travel arsenal. Websites like Airbnb, Couchsurfing, EatWith, BlaBlaCar, and Trusted Housesitters are all great sharing economy platforms that can give you a much more authentic experience.
7. Try working when you travel
Slow travel is the best way to really experience the nitty-gritty of a destination. If you really want to dive into a place, you’ll need to stay there for a longer period of time. And if you’re going to do that, you might as well try to make money by working overseas. It’s a great way to build relationships with locals and develop a deeper understanding of life there.
If working isn’t feasible, consider volunteer options like HelpX or Workaway. These websites let you exchange work for free room and board. You’ll be able to take a cultural deep dive, interact more with residents, and embrace their way of doing things.
8. Learn a language
Finally, if you want to have a more local experience during your travels, then you’ll need to be able to communicate! Learning a language (or at least a few phrases) is a great way to open doors. Just knowing a few words or phrases will impress the people you meet, potentially creating the opportunity for continued conversation. If you don’t want to be just another tourist, practice key phrases before you go and try them out when you arrive. You don’t need to be perfect. You just need to make the effort. That is what people will appreciate and respond to. When they see you’ve taken the time to learn some of their language, they in turn might share something with you, adding depth to your travel experience.
I know it can be hard to meet people and have authentic experiences as a foreigner. The serendipitous interactions we often read about or see in the movies only happen some of the time. But by employing these simple tips, you can increase your chances of having a much more in-depth experience the next time you travel.