“Meeting a local during travel is the key to unlocking any unknown culture.” -Buddha AWC
I know, I know. I’m wise beyond my shelf life. But from my personal wanderings, it really couldn’t be proven more true! From sleeping in tents with Israeli soldiers in the Negev desert, to village hopping Hungarian towns on the countryside, sharing Christmas Eve in Brussels in the backroom of a Syrian bakery with the whole family (and lots of baklava), to hanging out in a cave with Senegalian cavemen in Granada…
Yes, it’s true. Meeting locals around the world has never failed to lead me to incredibly spontaneous adventures, that I never, ever would have had if I didn’t befriend the natives.
Many of you guys have written me and asked: How do you travel all over the world by yourself and befriend all these locals? Well kids, I didn’t think there was a secret to it. The first time someone asked me this, I replied, “It’s as easy as just starting a conversation with one!” But then I realized; I’ve got the serious gift for gab, and could probably start a 3-hour conversation with a cardboard box. (Not that I have ever tried……..)
So, I gave it some real thought. And began to realize, I employ certain techniques to meet locals all around the world that I never even realized! It’s quite the simple recipe actually. There’s 5 key techniques I use to spark unexpected friendships around the world, and if you use them too, I promise the key to your local-livin’ door will open with a big, warm, welcoming hug:
Tip #1: Ask a friendly-lookin’ local in the streets for directions:
You’d be surprised how openly willing people are to help. I’m a direction-asker, plain and simple. Yes, I am a serious traveler, but I actually despise maps (yea, I’m that lost idiot you see standing on a street corner with a map, turning right and left 5,000 times deciding if I’m going the right direction…) I’ve always asked friendly-looking locals on the streets how to find a restaurant, a certain park, even the beach (lol; uhhh, which way is the beach? Yep, I’ve been that tourist). But almost every time, it’s never failed to spark a conversation! The key is, pick a person to ask that doesn’t appear to be in a rush, looks friendly, and maybe even someone you’d want to be friends with. Another tip? Pick someone that looks around your age. This way, they are less apprehensive to talk to you as a complete stranger. I’ve experienced multiple occasions when I’ve asked the magical question, and the local has said, “you know what? I’ll walk with you there!” And v’oila, this sparks a wonderful conversation. It’s even led me to unexpected nights out, days touring local-eats around the city, and even a couple long-lasting friendships!
Tip #2: The magical question: Where can I find the best local [insert food or drink here]?
HELL YES I wanna join. Piggybacking off tip #1, this question is an absolute magical gem. I always find the best places when asking. Even better than this question? I suggest taking it one step further, and following up the initial question with a bit of personalization: “Where’s YOUR favorite place to [insert activity, food or drink here]?” Given the right situation (see tip below for a great place to ask this), many times the local will say “well hey, I’ll go with you!” Or, “you know what? My friends and I are going to this XXXX great local spot tonight, why don’t you join!” Seems unlikely? Well, you’d be incredibly surprised at how open and inviting people are around the world if you show openness to them. And if they don’t want to accompany you? Well, it’s a win-win! You still found a great local place you wouldn’t have known about.
Tip #3: Go to a coffee shop
Coffee shops are magical places. A meeting place where people relax, chat, share common interests, love for coffee…etc. And it’s the perfect place to spark up a conversation with someone. (*Refer to Tip #2, this is a great place to ask the magical question!). One wonderful thing about many coffee shops is that there are large, joined tables. This makes it super easy to spark convo. Try the classic, “Hey, will you watch my seat? I’m going to the bathroom.” LOL, yea it actually works like a charm to break conversation borders. When you get back from the bathroom, BOOM! You toss in the magic question: “I’m here visiting from [insert yo’ country here]. I’m looking for the best [insert yo’ food, bar, etc. here] Do you have any cool recommendations for me?” SHABAM. And the convo has begun.
Another tip? Start talking to the barista. This is especially great in a small coffee shop, where there is a community sense and everyone kinda’ hears everyone. For example: I was in a coffee shop in Amsterdam. I asked the “magical question” to the smiley barista. Next thing I knew, an Australian guy overheard and hopped on in. Then, a Dutch Amsterdam-born guy reading the newspaper heard it all, and joined the convo bandwagon! One hour later, we’re all talking, sharing stories from around the world, and laughing like we’ve known each other for years. What happened next? Amsterdam guy invited us out with him! Yep, as easy as that friends.
Tip #4: Apps! Couchsurfers, MeetUp, Tinder…
- Couchsurfers: There’s truly an endless amount of resources and apps out there to help you engage with locals. To start, Couchsurfers. Traveling alone, I generally don’t like to use Couchsurfers for sleeping accommodations (you never know! Gotta be careful, kids). However, Couchsurfers has a wonderful network of travelers and locals alike, all over the world. There are daily meet-and-great events held in every city globally. Sign up to become a part of the Couchsurfers community (it’s free), put in your destination in, and low and behold! A list of locals and events await.
- MeetUp: Don’t feel weird doin’ it. It’s a great resource! Anywhere around the world, attend events with like minded locals who share the same interests as you. Into salsa dancing? Great! Go to a salsa dancing MeetUp in Berlin. Wine tasting? Cool! Go to a wine-lovers MeetUp in Naples. Like knitting? I won’t judge! Find local knitters to knit with in Sevilla (although I can’t promise you you won’t be with a group full of local grannies). Whatever your interest, there are like minded people around the world waiting to meet you!
- Tinder: OK. Here’s where things start to get juicy. Remember when I let out my big confession in Budapest? In case you missed it…yea, I met an awesome Hungarian local in Budapest through Tinder. No shame in the game! I was feeling pretty solo on my solo travel, and was having the hardest time of my solo travel career befriending a local, or anyone for that matter. So, desperate measures called. I started swiping. Low and behold, it couldn’t have worked out better. BUT! Important: If you’re looker for just a friendship with a nice local and nothing more, state that right off the bat!!! Whether you put it in your description or tell them in the conversation chat. That way, no messy confusions go down. And even if you don’t end up meeting with any local, it’s still fun to see what kinda’ smokin’ locals are in the area 😉
- Trip4Real– Meet a local that is passionate about showing you their city! Trip4Real is an incredible resource to get to know a city from the perspective of a local who knows it best. Find a tour designed by a local, sign up, and have the local show you their city! Want an awesome tapas tour around Madrid? Sign up HERE to take one with ME as your tour guide!
- Vizeat: Share a dinner in the home with a local anywhere around the world! Can’t put a price on home cookin’ when you’re on the road in a foreign country, that’s for sure. Find a home cooked meal (or even become a host in your own city) here!
- There’s a BAJILLION more! Here’s a few more great ones: Jetzy, Withlocals, Ventoura, Trip4real
Tip #5: DON’T BE SHY. Just ask!
Easier said than done, I know. But if I’ve learned one thing over the past year and a half of solo travel, it’s that people around this big beautiful world of ours want to help. They are innately nice, and are shockingly willing to open up to you! Often times, people have as much curiosity in your foreign culture and where you come from, as you have in theirs. Be brave, be confident, and remember: You’ve got nothin’ to lose in asking a friendly question! Whether it opens you up to a new friendship with a local, an awesome underground craft brewery you never would’ve known about, or you simply find the beach…
The key to the insider, local world is in your hands! Or in your gift of gab, rather. You just have to unleash it!
Now, BIGGGG SAFETY DISCLAIMER! Mama AWC here. Be careful who you ask, keep an eye on your stuff if approaching a stranger, and always have your guard up! Use your instincts and never, EVER meet up with someone in a private place. Safety in crowds, kids.