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16 Ways to Connect with Locals When You Travel

Even if 10 people go to the same place, they will emerge with 10 completely unique experiences of it. Well-traveled folks will agree that there is no better way to experience a destination than through the eyes of a local. But how do you go about that?

  1. Curiosity is key: Ask questions, lend your mind to wandering, and let your imagination soar. Every place has a rich history and story waiting to be unveiled.
  2. Positivity and smiles: Approach people positively, greet them with a smile – the best conversation starter!
  3. Keep an open mind: When conversing and interacting with local folks, keep an open mind. You sure are not going to understand everything they say, do or believe in but are in no position to judge or dole out unsolicited advice. Keep an open mind and refrain from jumping to conclusions or forming rigid, premature opinions.
  4. Be humble: Righteousness is toxic and an ugly color on anyone. Do not approach people or conversations with the attitude of ‘I know better’ or ‘my way is better’ – it is easily the worst approach.
  5. Fit in: When you want to connect with a local or learn about their culture, the spotlight should be on them, not you. Do your best to fit in, dress subtly and do not culture-shock those you interact with. Make yourself as relatable/approachable as possible.
  6. Use public transport: This is a fantastic way to get a buzz of the lives of the locals. You’ll see the town/city the way they do and have many chances to interact, strike a conversation (with a simple question about the next stop or location) and move on to other topics.
  7. Eat at local joints: Choose local eateries rather than franchises or corporations. Food unites us no matter where you are in the world, and exploring a place with your palate is a great way to find common ground. Remember not to make faces or comments if you dislike something.
  8. Discover: Find out about traditions, occupations, history, personal or family narratives, architecture and hobbies; be genuinely interested in learning and experiencing local culture.
  9. Couch surfing/air bnb /local inns or lodges: These are great ways to reach out to locals. The online world holds infinite opportunities that give you a better chance of local interaction.
  10. Local news: Check the local newspapers or college/universities for events and attend them. They may be cultural, artistic, social or political in nature and will give you a palpable picture of local realities.
  11. Volunteer: If you have the luxury of time, volunteer with a local organization, old-age home, orphanage – a sure-shot way of connecting with and getting to know locals. You could also sign up for a class or workshop.
  12. Ask before taking pictures: This is the basic respect to afford any person/s while interacting.
  13. Follow through: There will always be dire needs and expressed aspirations. It is important to know your limitations/resources and only make promises you can keep. Further, if you promise something – even as simple as sending a photograph – deliver on your word. Maintain long-standing relationships even after you have left the place, do not dismiss or forget folks when you go back to your life.
  14. Never refuse invitations: It would be a matter of great offense/insult to refuse invitations to people’s homes or for meals.
  15. Equality: If you are staying at the home of a local, offer to and partake in their daily chores and tasks. This is the simplest, yet most powerful, way to get a glimpse into their lives. It also demonstrates that you are equals, which goes a long way in having someone open up and share their lives more honestly.
  16. Do not quantify in money: If you want to express your gratitude or show appreciation, do so by giving a gift or sharing a meal – do not resort to cash or money to express yourself.

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An ambidextrous thinker, I am nourished by the arts and activism. Passion keeps me on my feet, moving, and living as (comfortably) close to the edge as is possible. From performing gypsy street theater to organizing music festivals, creative activism to travel writing, wildlife exploration and more recently developing an all-India module to teach snake safety – I have evolved with every experience. I believe, fully, in the power of the pen and pursue writing that shapes perspective and builds awareness on essential issues (that we can directly effect, and are directly affected by). I also believe, fully, that precise punctuation, good grammar, (un)avoidable alliterations and a bulletproof humor go a long way. I travel to stay sane, stalk birds in their natural habitat for fun, carefully avoid routine and have been known to burst into song, in good rhyme but for no reason. I am a dreamer and a do-er, a poet and a planner. Writing is the only way I know to understand.