As I looked up to a stretch of sky I couldn’t place, surrounded by locals, towering bluffs and a refreshing swimming hole, it seemed as though I found a place a traveler wouldn’t be able to discover alone, a slice of local living.
Travelers often search for the local experience, following the advice of those who have rich cultural experiences. What they don’t tell you is traveling like a local or obtaining the local experience when you travel is easier said than done.
If you have always wondered how those travelers meet locals and have these colorful exchanges, you are not alone. Here are a few ways I have learned how to meet locals and find local spots that tourists can’t always find.
Do a homestay—Couchsurfing has since replaced this option. While this can be a good way to meet a local, it doesn’t always work for the traveler looking to stay longer than a few days. A homestay is a great way to interact with locals and their friends. Whether you sign up for a language school or you are a student studying abroad, if there is a homestay option with a local family, jump into the idea. The more private person may worry about the decision, but your local interactions will be forced upon you and you won’t regret it.
Talk to your waiter/waitress—While traveling, you are probably constantly eating. As you relax with a good meal and perhaps a great drink, you might feel more comfortable talking with your waiter or waitress. These locals are so accessible to the traveler and usually have a local tip on a place you wouldn’t know otherwise. If you just order your meal, you have missed a simple opportunity to have a local exchange and perhaps even discover a local hotspot.
Learn a Language—When you don’t speak the local tongue of the country you are visiting, you might feel a bit like a turtle. You will crawl into a shell of your own local tongue and fail to speak with locals. Enrolling in a language school for a week or two in a destination can be your ticket to local experiences. Being able to communicate or just trying to communicate will present more exchanges with those who call your destination home.
Attend a local market—Markets aren’t exclusive. There usually isn’t an entrance fee or card you have to flash, unless you are heading to Costco. Most cities and towns have local markets at least one day of the week. Much like talking with your waiter, a conversation with a vendor over the price of peaches could turn into a series of suggestions of where you must go and more importantly, where you must eat.
Get uncomfortable—The best way to find local secrets and to interact with locals comes not from doing some set activity, but from opening up the mind. If you close yourself off in an all-inclusive resort or you only talk to travelers at your hostel, you aren’t opening up your mind for local exchanges. It can be easy to sink into the comforts of home when you find them far, far away from home. Get uncomfortable with your mind and step outside your home mentality. You never know what will meet you on the other end.
How do you find local experiences when you travel?
I really like the talk to your waiter/waitress tip--that is so easy to do, and those people really are so accessible to you!
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