5 ways to meet locals when you travel

Posted by Claire Allison on 20 February 2014

By stepping out of your comfort zone and making an effort to meet more people on your travels, you’ll discover a side of yourself you never knew. Here are five ways to interact with locals on your next trip.

namibia, people

As creatures of habit most of us prefer to stick to what we know. Change is never easy but by taking a step out of our comfort zone we get to see parts of ourselves we never knew existed. Travel is no different. Exploring unknown destinations, especially those off the beaten track, can be scary but it’s always worthwhile. Meet locals, learn from them and have authentic experiences. It’s guaranteed to change your life.

1. Go solo

Some people may not be too comfortable with this idea but the truth is you’re never really alone when you travel on your own. When you focus on everything else around you instead of a travel companion it opens you up to so much more, including people and experiences. Travelling solo makes you more reliant on yourself and free to go wherever you choose, make friends with whomever you like and, if you’re anything like me, chat to just about anyone.


2.Support small businesses

Supporting small businesses in rural, less-touristy areas is a great way to support the country’s economy. (See Responsible travel: what is it all about?) Travellers will help instil a sense of pride in the community they’re supporting and enjoy a much more life-enriching experience than they would have had they stayed in a touristy hotel. Helping to grow emerging businesses and the jobs they provide by giving them your patronage helps build the surrounding community and create more jobs in the long run. It’s a win-win situation, really.


3. Use local transport

Depending on where you are travelling and if it’s possible, this is a great way to meet locals you wouldn’t normally encounter. You can read all you like in guide books but nothing beats word-of-mouth recommendations from the people who live there. It’s also great for people-watching and photo opportunities so keep your camera handy and don’t forget to ask permission to take someone’s photo, even if it is by way of some crazy western gesticulation.


4. Know the basic lingo

Before you get to wherever it is you’re going, make sure you know a few basic phrases like “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me.” “Cheers” is also very helpful if you plan on enjoying some of the nightlife. Just a few basic phrases will help you get out of a jam and locals always appreciate effort from travellers. When in doubt, smile. Nothing breaks down language and cultural barriers like a genuine smile. Be open, respectful and gracious and others will respond in kind.


5. Take the road less travelled

People in small towns are often friendlier and more accommodating to outsiders as they’re not as jaded by the high levels of tourist traffic the bigger cities and tourist hotspots are used to.  There’s an element of fascination with an outside guest when you’re a rarity and locals seem to feel the need look after you while you’re passing through. I always return home a different person after a jaunt in some far-flung destination I never thought I’d see. And I am always – always profoundly changed.


For ideas on getting off the beaten track, check out Open Africa’s self-drive travel routes throughout Southern Africa


What are your favourite ways to interact with locals when you travel? Tell us in the comment section below.

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