Christine Sarkis, SmarterTravel.com | November 5, 2015
Share someone’s home or set up meetings with locals before your trip via Airbnb, Couchsurfing.com or other similar sites. You can meet locals while traveling, and immediately have a connection in a foreign place. Even if you prefer a hotel, Couchsurfing.com offers art gallery tours, hikes, dinners and meetups in bars and restaurants in 120,000 cities worldwide.
Opt for accommodations that offer a shared breakfast–most B&Bs and some hostels, along with other accommodations, offer shared breakfasts consisting of traditional local foods and friendly, like-minded travelers. While not all people at this meal are looking to meet travelers, it’s generally easy to tell who is and who isn’t. At the very least, you’ll gain new insight and suggestions from fellow travelers.
Volunteering is a unique and beneficial way to travel. You’ll be with people who share your same interests, help to better the local community and interact with a lot of locals–those you may be helping and those running the volunteer organization. Plus, most programs are located in rural towns or villages, so you stay for at least a week, meaning you’ll have the opportunity to meet locals while traveling and connect with them organically.
Tour with Locals
To meet locals while traveling, opt for a local led small or even personal tour rather than the large, touristy tours for an authentic experience. A lot of these tours are even free, though on an individual tour you’re usually responsible for your own transportation, admission fees for your tour guide, and, of course, their tip. Tour guides are generally very friendly and happy to show you all the best parts of their homeland.
Stay at a Hostel or B&B
Both hostels and B&Bs are redefining themselves. Even if you aren’t a college student studying abroad, you can stay in a hostel–now considered an affordable upscale lodging alternative. Most B&Bs are finally updating with more modern amenities and diverse decor–they’re no longer just for your grandparents. The benefit of booking a hostel or B&B is the people you’ll meet. With small quarters and often shared meals, you’re bound to meet travelers and make new friends.
Hotel Happy Hour
A lot of hotels now offer complimentary wine and small bites from 4-6 PM. Go, if for no other reason than to kill time between the end of your day and the start of your night. It’s also a great way to meet travelers, as everyone has traveled to this destination and is likely interested in meeting other people as well. You can get great recommendations on restaurants, activities and must-see sights from fellow travelers.
Join a Tour
When most people think a group tour, they think tourists wearing fanny packs on a double-decker bus snapping photos while an annoying announcer describes the historical relevance of every landmark–but tours have a bad reputation. There are a lot of different, specialized tours that allow you to meet travelers and locals while learning about the local culture. Take a snorkeling trip in Hawaii, a tapas tour in Barcelona, or a running tour anywhere in the world.
Ask a Local
Don’t be afraid to ask the locals questions–after all, they do live there. You’ll likely get great answers, find out interesting information about their home and maybe even make some friends. Asking questions is a great way to meet locals while traveling, but make sure to research the culture before you do this though–in some cultures, asking for something means the person must give it to you.
Become a Regular
Go to the same cafe each morning for your cup of coffee, or have lunch at the same restaurant each day. You’ll become a “regular” and the baristas or servers will start to recognize you. Strike up a casual conversation to gain invaluable local insight and perhaps an invitation to a local happy hour or party.
Use Social Media
We live in a socially, connected world–put it to use. Reach out to friends on social networks like Facebook and Instagram to see if they know anyone where you will be traveling. Social media is probably the easiest and safest way to meet travelers and locals in new cities–at least you’ll have a connection in common.
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Christine Sarkis has made friends around the world using these techniques. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineSarkis and Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.