There are two ways to travel to other countries.
You can purchase a travel package, join a tour group of your “own kind,” and travel to a country. There, you will stay at a nice hotel, eat where other tourists eat, travel to the museums, the scenic sights, and the historical buildings, shop, and ultimately go home with lots of pictures, very happy to have seen a foreign land.
The second way to travel is to go “on your own,” perhaps with a spouse, partner, or friend, having made the decision to make friends with the local people, to get to know the culture and the customs through the eyes of the people who live it every day.
This kind of travel is the way to really experience a country if you want to return home knowing that you really understand the people and a culture different to yours.
The biggest issue with this way of traveling, however, can be summed up with: “And how do I actually meet and make friends with the locals?”
We have you somewhat covered on this! Here are 7 ways to do that, and all of them will work like a charm.
1. Find Someone From The Country In Your Own Town Before You Go
Go to a local university — they all have international student organizations — and get the contact information for one of the students from the country where you will be traveling.
Meet with them and ask about the country, the culture, and local spots to hang out when you get there.
You will then have local knowledge in advance of your travels. Most of these students also have family and friends back home, and they might offer to “introduce” you to them by email or Facebook before you even go. Voila! You will then have a contact person who can help you get around and experience the local lifestyle.
2. Learn The Language (At Least The Basics)
There are crash courses all over the Internet. Sign up for one and get the common expressions so that you can speak the language a bit.
This will help you to fit in when you go out to local bars and restaurants. And as you strike up conversations with some of the locals who eat there, you may make some friends who will be willing to show you around a bit.
3. Hang Out At A College Or University
This may sound like a strange tip, but one traveler tells a story about how he went to the college campus and into a classroom building. He walked into a large class and sat down. When the class was over, he began to talk a bit with a couple of the students there and they ended up going out to lunch. One of the students even offered his couch to the traveler to stay overnight. Getting into the home of a local is always a great way to learn more.
4. Engage With The CouchSurfing Community
This is just one of many websites that will help you get right into the local “scene.” It has locals from nearly every country in the world opening their homes for travelers to stay while they are in that town. If you plan in advance, you can have all of your lodging taken care of by staying overnight in locals’ homes.
Alternatively, it’s just a cool place and a community to ask for all sort of travel tips, get to know the best hole-in-the-wall bars, and meet locals who will walk around town with you for a few hours.
5. Eat Where The Locals Eat
Arguably, the best way to “learn a country” is through food. Yet so many travelers eat in their hotels or in the typical restaurants that serve foreigners. The food at these places is nothing like what the locals eat.
Always choose restaurants that are filled with locals, even if they look less alluring than your typical diner.
You can make friends with your waiter and the bartender and return every day. Pretty soon, they will be offering to take you places when they are off work.
You can also find families that open up their homes to foreigners for a meal. Some charge a bit, but the bigger value is to eat real food and have a conversation with local people. They will also be great sources of information about where to go to have a more local experience in the country.
6. Find Out About Local Events Before You Leave
There may be holidays or special events or festivals going on while you are there, so be sure you find out about these and plan to attend them. If you have not taken the time to do this, you can always ask that waiter or bartender you made friends with.
You want to see and understand how people in your host country celebrate, what they wear, what they eat, and what the events and festivals mean to their cultural history.
7. Find A Crafted Vacation Planner
Because many people now want to travel outside of the typical tour group, there are lots of companies that plan personalized trips. They are connected to locals in countries and will arrange for personal local tour guides and even opportunities to stay in homes or share meals with local families. One of the advantages of this method is that the locals are already known to the company so they are safe hosts for a foreigner. These planners can also be great sources of information about where to go and what to see for a really “local” experience rather than just the “tourist” one.
Now you have 7 ways to connect with the locals in any country you visit. You should also try doing the same when foreigners come to your country. You can sign up on the websites that were mentioned in this post and offer your home for a meal or arrange to meet a traveler and show them around your town.
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