I don’t know about you, but for me, travelling is a lot more than seeing the sights. Yes, of course I want to visit the Louvre on a Paris trip and yes, I’ve been to Lady Liberty in New York, but what really makes a trip is to meet locals while traveling, to meet the ordinary people like you and me, who live, work and play in the city or country you’re visiting! And no, that doesn’t mean you have to strike up a conversation with every person on the street. (although feel free to do so)
Follow these few tips and you’ll never have problems to meet locals again!
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last few decades, chances are you’re familiar with Couchsurfing and AirBnB (oh you aren,t? Sorry! Let the education process begin on www.couchsurfing.org and www.airbnb.com… you’re welcome!)
What better way to interact with locals than to actually stay with them, right? They’ll be showing you the places where they shop, where they eat and where they drink! Store away your Lonely Planet and let them give you a real, authentic feel of the place!
Every big city has “meetup”-groups. There are meetup-groups for all kinds of activities: walking groups, foodie groups, book-lovers groups, … Have a look at www.meetup.com for your next travels, I’m sure you’ll find something that interests you!
Being in Madrid around Christmas, not knowing anybody and despite my Spanish language skills being quite rusty, I decided to go to one of the meetings. It was one of my best ideas ever! I met up with an Argentinian bunch for New Year’s eve and together we painted the town red until the early hours!
3/ Virtual Tourist
Virtual Tourist was a worldwide travel community where travelers and locals shared their advice and experiences, long before Facebook and/or travel blogging was around. The site was all about ” meeting the people behind the places”. Its members did not stay “virtual”, but met and still meet up on a very regular basis!
Every year there was a big Euromeet, where nearly 100 of travellers flock together for a weekend of laughter, food and visits!
Thanks to Virtual Tourist I spent one week in Tel Aviv with Nathalie, went to the Eurovision Song Contest in Düsseldorf with Sabine and had a great meeting with several VT-members in Copenhagen!
Unfortunately TripAdvisor, the company that bought VT in 2007, decided to close the site down in February 2017.
The millions of tips might have vanished, but the friendships and meetings survived!
4/ Slow travel
It’s pretty simple really: the longer you stay, the more chances you’ll get to know the local community!
I volunteered in a small mountain village in Spain, a place with +/- 100 inhabitants. My social integration went a little something like this: I met Silvia, the cleaner at the place I was volunteering, she was involved in the local women’s community who invited me to prepare Easter celebrations with them and before you knew it, I found myself dancing around the main square at the village fest!
Those things don’t happen if you pass through places like a whirlwind, so … slow travel it is people!
5/ Embrace the occasion!
I was having a quiet drink in the old town of Faro, Portugal, when a local group of friends walked up to me, asking if I wanted to join them! We shared a few drinks, a few stories and had a great night out!
In Krakow, I was staring at an indecipherable Polish menu when Zibi , a middle-aged Polish man, offered me some help. He ordered a local dish for me and we spent the afternoon driving around Krakow in search of more Polish delicacies.
Sometimes you just have to keep an open mind and embrace the occasion!
Do you already follow one or more of these tips? Any other tips to meet locals while traveling you’d like to share?