There are plenty of websites and blog posts out there talking about “traveling like a local” and seeing a city or country through a local’s eyes. We don’t want to be tourists anymore! We don’t want to stick out while traveling. We want to blend in and pretend we’re part of that culture for just a few days and try to really understand what this country embodies and how people here live. Traveling like a local is hard! It’s not only eating at all the cool local spots, going to all the hip local bars or doing the things locals do, it’s trying to immerse yourself (even for a little bit) in a local’s lifestyle.
This can be really difficult and a little daunting. It’s understanding the culture of a country, the language, the customs and the government. It’s knowing about the history and how it affects the present day culture and lives. There are so many things that “traveling like a local” doesn’t touch on that are much more important than eating at the local spots or going to the hip “local’s” bar.
At Map It, we believe in connecting travellers with locals so that you can have a more authentic experience in the country or city that you are living in. No one knows it better than a local does! Who better to ask about the town’s secrets and tricks than someone who has been living there and can show them to you? If you’re interested in seeing a new area through the eyes of a local, we suggest befriending one! Here’s how to meet locals in the country you’re visiting:
Learn The Language (Or at least learn some key phrases)
Alright, alright, we’re not asking you to pick up an entire language a few months or weeks before your trip! That’s a huge task! We do suggest, however, learning a little bit about the language and some key phrases in that language. Yes, English is the most prominent language in the world at the moment, with all tourism companies, hotels, restaurants, etc being able to at least speak enough in the language to communicate and help tourists. But, we believe that learning a little bit of the language can help you connect more with locals and learn more about the country and the culture.
Of course, there are some key phrases you should always know before going! For example, hello, goodbye, thank you, please, you’re welcome, where is the bathroom…, my name is…, one beer, please, and so forth. We believe that if a local sees you trying to speak their language and putting in effort, they’re definitely more likely to help and try to communicate with you! Plus, you can’t start a conversation without saying “Hello!” or “Hola!” or “Bonjour!”.
This one is a bit trickier because it really depends on the tourist area that you are visiting. For example, finding locals to befriend at a popular park in the area is much easier than going to a monument and hoping to befriend someone. One of my favourite areas (this is Cassandra writing) is Retiro Park in Madrid. It’s a huge park with lots of grass, pathways, and different things to see and do. When it’s warmer, there are always people sitting in the park with their friends or picnicking. It’s really difficult to jump into a group of friends, so try to find a group made up of two or three people who may be doing something interesting (i.e.: tight-rope walking between two trees) and ask if you can join!
This is a great way to meet locals and maybe even have them invite you to a cool “local’s only” bar that you may never have known about. It’s scary approaching people, we totally get it! But, it never hurts to say hello and try! Meeting locals is one of our favourite ways to travel and learn more about the city or country that we are visiting.
If you haven’t heard of Couchsurfers, we suggest you look it up. This website is made up of a network of travellers and hosts. Hosts open up their homes to travellers and allow them to stay in their home (for free!) on a couch or even sometimes on an extra bed. It’s the camaraderie of trust and the fellow traveling spirit that makes Couchsurfers so successful.
If you’re not into sleeping in someone’s house that you may not know, at least create an account and see what meet ups some people may be having in the area. A lot of couch surfing hosts are willing to show people around like a personalised tour guide! This is a great way to meet a local and see how they see and live in the city that you’re visiting.
Although it's a bit tough to strike up a conversation with people you don't know and even more with people who don't speak the same language as you, we really suggest doing so! They can share their secrets with you, a few tips, or any recommendations that they feel you'd really enjoy! One of our beliefs is that traveling is not only about the places you visit and the things you see, but about the connections and relationships that you find, make, and create along the way. We believe that each travel experience is unique, but can even be more unique by making connections and creating relationships while on the road. Who doesn't love having international friends?