The desire for experiential travel and “traveling like a local” has been on the rise in recent years, but how do you really break down barriers and connect with others while you’re traveling in a foreign land? Some places are easier than others to cross the cultural divide but, no matter where you go, there are always a few tricks and habits you can rely on to break out of the tourist bubble and engage with the locals.
Take a class
Signing up for a course in the area you’re traveling to, whether it’s a month-long intensive language course or a short, one-day workshop can help you meet other locals interested in the same things. Even if you’re simply doing an afternoon pasta making class in Italy that’s geared toward tourists, you’ll still be interacting with local experts on another level.
Just turn the corner
You can get away from almost any tourist trap by simply turning the corner—it’s incredible how quickly you can get away from the hoards of foreigners and find yourself in a local neighborhood. Take Bangkok’s infamous Khao San Road for example. The street is arguably the most intense backpacker hub in the world; yet, less than two blocks away, you’ll find shops, temples and locals going about their usual business without another traveler in sight. Don’t be afraid to take the road less traveled.
Check out local arts and entertainment listings
Instead of sticking to your guidebook’s recommendations, find a local newspaper or listings site, such as Time Out, to see what’s going on in the city you’re visiting. Seeing a show instead of visiting a well-known attraction will put you in the company of locals, not tourists.
Stay with a host
By using Airbnb to rent a room or trying out Couchsurfing you’ll interact with locals you wouldn’t have otherwise met and stay in more authentic housing than your typical hotel room.
Take public transportation
Sure, you may not interact a lot with the other passengers on the bus, but by taking public transportation you’ll be exposed to a wider range of people and see more of how they live their daily lives than if you were stuck in a private car.
Connect over hobbies
Seek out shops, studios, companies and clubs specializing in hobbies you’re interested in to further connect with others. If you’re a jazz fan, try finding a local jazz bar. If you’re interested in woodworking, check out a region’s traditional handicrafts and visit some workshops or factories.
Share a meal
Whether it’s offering a bit of your snack on that long train ride or sharing a full meal at a local’s house, food always has the power to bring people together no matter where you are in the world. Sites like Dine with Locals and Bon Appetour match up eager travelers with locals willing to cook and host a meal.
Find a local tour guide
Don’t stick to large tour companies. Tours can offer great experiences, but try to find ones that operate on a smaller-scale and are run by locals who know their stuff. Vayable, for instance, lets travelers find one-of-a-kind tours operated by passionate local insiders and focusing on a range of themes and topics unique to the region.
Be curious…and friendly
Smile at a stranger and ask them a question. Chat with shop owners or market vendors, get to know your driver, and show the locals you’re interested in them and their culture. You never know where a simple introduction or question may lead.
How do you connect with locals during your travels? Tweet @TripIt your tips.