One of the best ways to truly immerse yourself in a different culture and have a unique travel experience is by befriending the locals in a new city. They can show you things you would have never found on your own and share with you insider pieces of knowledge. They can show you what daily life is truly like for the average person in that area, as opposed to your run-of-the-mill, sugar-coated tours. Yet, making friends is difficult, especially in a foreign country. Here are some ways to break through these barriers. And remember that learning about the local culture and being open-minded can greatly help your chances!
Hanging out with the locals in Kilkenny, Ireland
1.) Reach out on social media
You might be surprised by how many friends-of-friends or distant relatives live in the destinations you want to visit! And more often than not, they will be happy to let you into their world and show you some local treasures.
2.) Stay with locals
Couchsurfing and Airbnb are two great resources for finding locals willing to spare a bed (or couch). Read through the host’s reviews to see if they prefer to be more independent or if they are the type to introduce you to their friends and show you around town.
3.) Stay in hostels
There are multiple ways to make local friends by staying in hostels. First, I’ve found hostel owners to be some of the kindest and most knowledgeable people I meet in most cities I go to. Especially at smaller hostels, they may be willing to show you around, introduce you to friends, or simply give you advice on where the locals hang out. Second, befriending other hostel goers is a great way to make connections. Their hometown just might be your next destination. Finally, I have occasionally met people from neighboring cities who were trying to save a few bucks while traveling for work. You really never know who you will meet!
4.) Go solo to local pubs
Hitting up a bar or pub for dinner and a drink is a great way to mingle with the locals. Whether it’s the bartenders or other patrons, let’s face it: people are most open to outsiders when they’ve knocked back a few. This is especially effective in smaller towns and cities in Europe, where pubs are often very much a part of the local culture. I think it’s also important to go alone and sit at the bar. Going with friends or acquaintances seems to hinder your chances of actually connecting with new people. I frequently did this in Ireland and I made many new memories, such as being invited to a party by members of the Irish navy.
5.) Try WithLocals
Currently available in Asia and select European cities, WithLocals site allows you to book unique experiences, such as home-cooked meals or arts and crafts, with a city’s locals. Some of the most unique options include sleeping in a cave with your host in Malaysia and net fishing in Cambodia.
6.) Couchsurfing events
Couchsurfing also hosts events where travelers and locals can connect in a fun, no-pressure environment. Also, since most Couchsurfing hosts prefer to board members with good reviews, these events are a great opportunity to gain positive references and make a name for yourself in the community.
7.) Think outside of the box
Look for opportunities that put you in contact with the locals, rather than traditional tours. When I was in Colombia, I located a tour of Santa Marta that was produced by a local who introduced us to his home and served us lunch. It was an incredible first-hand experience of the local culture and living conditions. I had a similar experience in Sa Pa, Vietnam. It just takes a bit of deep research on the internet to find these unique experiences.
8.) Join clubs or volunteer
If you’ll be staying in a city for an extended period or are moving abroad, try joining clubs, meet-up.com groups, or volunteering. You’ll be ditching the other tourists and you’ll be connecting on an entirely different level since you’re being united by a common interest or goal. Language exchange programs are also great for this!