How to meet locals while traveling

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 tips on how to meet locals while travelling:

1/ Couchsurfing/AirBnB

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last few decades, chances are you’re familiar with Couchsurfing and AirBnB. 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!

2/ Meetup

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 … learn how to slow travel!

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!

meet locals while traveling

Do you already follow one or more of these tips? Any other tips on how to meet locals while traveling you’d like to share?

16 Replies to “How to meet locals while traveling”

  1. Callum

    Great article, thanks! Not sure if it’s available in the rest of the world, but in New Zealand, lots of travellers (and locals) do wwoofing – this is where you give 2-4 hours of your day doing any manner of work in exchange for food and board. Sometimes it might be farm work, sometimes it might be cleaning etc. – either way, it’s a great way to meet the locals and do it for free along the way!

    Reply
    • Els Post author

      Yes, we have wwoofing in Europe too. It’s a great way indeed to meet locals, get to know a place and to save a few bucks for your future travels!

      Reply
  2. Wanderlustingk

    Great tips. I am now a huge fan of GIrls Love Travel FB group although I most often just strike up conversation with people and meet some locals via couchsurfing. 🙂

    Reply
    • Els Post author

      Oh I definitely have to check out that FB-group, thanks for the tip and for checking out my article! Couchsurfing is indeed a great way to meet locals as well!

      Reply
  3. Thirumal

    Great tips! Can’t agree more on couchsurfing, airbnb and slow travel. I always prefer Airbnb for my stay and couchsurfing for events and meeting local people. Since I travel slow, I go to the same events again and again and make life long friends.

    Reply
    • Els Post author

      Thanks! It’s great to meet people and create friendships all over the world and indeed, slow travel is the way to go!

      Reply
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  6. Vlad

    Great tips! Although I’m a shy introvert, I do love meeting locals and having a glimpse of their daily life in the city I’m visiting 🙂

    Reply
  7. Alice Teacake

    I didn’t know about Virtual Tourist so thanks for the heads up about them! Another two to add to the list are GoCambio and WWOOF. They’re lovely resources and a great way to meet the locals!

    Reply
  8. Elena

    Hi, Els, those are all great tips. Thanks for so nicely putting them together. I want to add another one – internations.org. You have to join it first (basic membership is free). They have discussion groups for hundreds of locations worldwide. Usually, these groups organize monthly meetings in some local restaurants or bars. Also, I found these groups to be helpful in looking some specific advice (I am a slow traveler) about a doctor or a hair stylist. Cheers!

    Reply
      • Elena

        One more that I forgot to mention – language schools (I assume it could be any school for that matter). I studied Spanish at some small language school in Andalucia, and every weekend (and sometimes during work week too) they organized get-together between locals and students. Same was happening in Colombia.

        Reply

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