Travel Deeper: how to connect with locals

I met Madhu on a train on the way to Delhi.

Solo travel presents many opportunities to spend time with other travelers. As I do, I learn about my destination and at the same time learn about the home country of my fellow traveler.

But focusing on other travelers can also have the effect of walling you off from meeting and connecting with locals. I thought about this again when I read this comment from Shelly on my post One Delicious Day in Venice.

I also went to Venice as a solo traveler for two weeks last September and stayed on a canal in the Canareggio sestiere. I think Venice is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Yes both the heat and the tourists can be somewhat oppressive… but it is truly a magical place. As a photo enthusiast I had the time of my life. Once I found a good restaurant, I went back every day, and the proprietor and staff treated me like royalty and always sat me next to the most amazing conversationalists. I’d love to go back in the winter to capture its foggy beauty.

Jamie Steel - the man about town who knows music.

Jamie Steel – I met this man about town who was central to the music scene in St. Andrews by the Sea. See The Harley Haggerty Technique for Meeting People in the list of posts below.

So, with thanks to Shelly for the inspiration, I give you…

10 tips for connecting with locals

volunteer

This book helps you find ethical volunteer opportunities around the world.

  1. Repetition – If you are staying in one place for a few days, find a great cafe or restaurant and keep going back. As Shelly found the locals working there get to know you and take care of you really well.
  2. Volunteer – Volunteering is a way to connect with locals while making a real contribution as well. How do you find the right volunteer experience? Check out The Volunteer Traveler’s Handbook. I found its advice on how to volunteer ethically eye-opening.
  3. Greeter Programs – Greeter programs are free services offering volunteer local guides who show travelers around their city or neighborhood for an hour or two. They are offered in many places around the world. Read about my Greeter experience in Paris here. To find a greeter go to Global Greeter Network.
  4. City museums – City museums are typically small and not usually on traveler’s radar. In other words, they are not well attended. However, they offer real insight into the local culture and museum employees are usually thrilled to take time with visitors and share their local knowledge.
  5. Cultural events – Whether it’s a music festival or simply a park, find the local option. To connect with locals, consider the small festivals that are made for the locals rather than the large ones that are designed to bring in tourist dollars. Ever been to a pancake breakfast at a small town rodeo? I had the pleasure of that experience years before starting Solo Traveler and still remember it fondly.
  6. Couchsurfing and B&Bs – staying with locals is an excellent opportunity. Both couchsurfing and B&Bs offer your this experience. I have not done the former but there is a post by an experienced couchsurfer on Solo Traveler that you may want to check out. Overcome Your Fear: how to practice safe couchsurfing
  7. This book helps you enter a culture through its food.

    This book helps you safely enter a culture through its food.

  1. Food – Food doesn’t just happen. Each local dish is a cultural and even historical experience. Go to markets and local restaurants to explore the food. Ask why questions: why this spice, why not meat… To learn how to enter a culture through its food safely, read The Food Traveler’s Handbook.
  2. Dine with a local – I did this on my Paris trip and found it an amazing experience. Using Voulez Vous Diner, I booked a dinner with Sasha (see her picture below) and had a great meal with wonderful company in her 19th century apartment. Thanks to the conversation I changed my plans the next day and explored the city in a whole new way. There are other websites offering similar services but this is the only one I’ve tried. You can read about it here: Guest in a Paris Salon
  3. House-sit – Whether it’s for a friend or through a service, house-sitting gets you into a community. The person for whom you are sitting will likely introduce you to neighbors and friends who are go-to people in case something comes up. There are many websites that will help you find a house-sitting gig if you Google it. (I can’t speak for any site in particular). To learn how Tracey made the most of a house-sitting for a friend read 16 Tips for Successful Solo House-Sitting.
  4. Meetups – If you have a particular interest, go to Meetup.com and search your interest in your destination city. You’ll find people who share your interests and meetings that you can attend that will connect you with locals.

Posts about locals I’ve met.

Sasha was my hostess for the dinner I booked in in Paris.

Sasha was my hostess for the dinner I booked in in Paris.

 

 

 

  • Andy

    I think that repetition is a great suggestion, even if it is just to your favorite cafe.

    Andy
    BackpackingDiplomacy.com

  • Corinne Vail

    Fantastic post. We just experienced number one this past weekend. We stayed at a hotel near Gruyeres and ate at the same place each evening. By day three, we were almost locals. Such a great time!

  • Ciaran

    Thanks for the great tips Janice. I particularly liked your point about attending cultural events.

  • http://www.thequestforawesome.com Dave

    Some good tips here…I think one of the biggest tips here is food, food, food. It’s amazing what breaking bread with a local can do to strengthen a connection!

  • http://www.roundtheworldwego.com/ Round the World we go

    Thanks Janice, they are some great tips for meeting the locals. I think a greeter program is a really lovely idea!

  • Trisha Andrus

    Thanks for posting…this is exactly how I hope to travel….

  • Shelly Freitas Arnerich Morgan

    Janice, thanks mentioning my experience in Venice. I would like to add that going to that same restaurant also resulted in lots of prosecco, appetizers, grappa and desserts all of which were on the house. But, best of all, on my last night the owner embraced me and made me promise to return to Venice again. It is this connection with the locals that make solo traveling such an enriching experience.