Hanging out with locals gives you the opportunity to truly experience a country and discover a new way of life. Not only will your host give you insight into cultural customs, actual local prices, tips to travel cheap, national politics, daily life and essential slang, but they might also even treat you to lunch, which can be great for the budget.
Unfortunately, many budget backpackers think that meeting locals is hard. Admittedly, a language barrier, the beaten backpacker path and the confines of backpacker only hostels really don’t help. But if you put yourself out there, stay open to forming new relations, and say ‘yes’ more, you’re going to make local friends.
Below are 5 strategies that will give you the best chance of making local friends while traveling abroad.
1) Take A Course & Learn The Language
A lack of communication is perhaps the biggest barrier to meeting locals. Therefore it’s essential that you try and learn at least the basics. Check out this guide for language learning tips, “The Secret To Learning Languages.”
Depending on the country, you can usually find a 1 or 2 week language course for relatively cheap. It’ll teach you the basics and also introduce you to a group of likeminded language learners. Plus your teacher might just invite you and the class to a local party or even a festival like the one below.
2) Hangout At Universities
If learning languages isn’t your thing, that’s not a problem. Most local kids around the world speak some level of English and this is especially true around Universities.
Recently, while looking for a hostel in San Salvador, I wandered into a large lecture hall at the National University of El Salvador. When the lecture concluded, I ended up talking to and getting lunch with a few students from class. One of them even offered me a couch to sleep on.
3) Sleep On A Local’s Couch
CouchSurfing.org is a brilliant concept that allows you to connect with a local host whose willing to offer you their couch for free. You can literally find thousands couches in almost every country in the world. It’s a great way to get to know a local and sleep for free. Plus, some hosts will even show you around their city and treat you to a meal or two.
4) Eat With Locals
WithLocals.com and EatWith.com are two awesome resources that connects you with a local dinner table. There’s no better introduction to local culture then by spending a dinner with a local family. For cheap home cooked meals in Asia, check out With Locals. From hip and classy local dining experiences from New York to Amsterdam, definitely have a look at Eat With.
Hitchhiking is my preferred method of meeting locals. You don’t just get a free ride out of it but also the chance to converse with local people. Since most people who pick up hitchhikers have hitchhiked themselves, they’re often open minded, friendly, and have stories to share. For info on hitchhiking, check out “A Guide To Hitchhiking.”
Meeting locals is only as difficult as you want it to be. If you believe you’ll never make local friends and decide to just hang out with other backpackers, then it’s true, you never will make local friends. But if you swallow that bit of fear induced pride, venture out on your own, and attempt to talk to anyone about anything, you will make friends.