7 Ways to Connect with Local Culture in Travel
The benefit of travel lies in visiting breathtaking landscapes and in experiencing a new way of living. Connecting with local culture is a primary way to gain profound insight during your trips and can lead to a lifelong transformation. While there may be roadblocks when it comes to language barriers - knowledge and friendship can still be gained through genuine interest. While traveling with family or friends can is an incredible experience, it’s always nice to take the time to meet with people who know the ins and outs of the place you are visiting. There is no way to get the deepest look at your vacation spot without access to spaces that only locals know. This way, you are getting a raw and unfiltered look at what it is like to live where you are visiting. If your goal is to gain a deeper understanding of the world via travel - immersion into local culture holds the key. Below are a few tips on how to make that process a little easier for you!
1) Lean into the unknown
The first step to making the intention of meeting locals into a reality is to accept the vulnerability of being a foreigner in an unknown territory. Make the decision that where you are is where you have chosen to be and to reference back to the first line, lean into it! If you are alone, finding ‘your places’ is the first step to finding ‘your people’. Write a list of your interests and research locations in your area of travel that incorporate those interests - deciding to enter those spaces is the first step in connecting with new faces. If you find a bar you like, ask the waiter questions about the area. Then, move to the bartender and the owner and so on. After a few weeks, you will have absorbed much more information about the culture of the place you are visiting and you may have met a few new friends in the process.
Before you set off on your new adventure, check out the volunteer programs that are in the area that you are going to be staying in. I’ve found that volunteering is one of the best ways to connect with other travelers and locals in order to get a deeper view of the community that you are surrounded by. Additionally, sharing a common goal with the people you meet while volunteering can lead to lifelong friendships. You could spend just one day volunteering and potentially gain access to new perspectives, locations, and people that you may have never seen or met otherwise.
Homestay accommodations are a way to book a time to live in the home of a local person in order to have an authentic vacation experience. Homestays are an example of collaborative consumption and sharing. The terms of homestay are worked out with the homeowner and the people visiting - but they typically lead to more fulfilling experiences because you would be getting that first-hand view of what it would look like to live in a new place from the perspective of a local.
4) Explore Cuisine
Getting to the heart of local culture is a sensory experience. You will find that each dish you try gives you a deeper perspective on the location you are visiting. Go to markets and local restaurants and explore the food. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to the waiters and waitresses, find out what is locally sourced and if where you are has sustainable produce.
5) Find Local Travel Apps
Meetup: The beautiful thing about meetups is that the app is accessible around the world. Wherever you are, there are interests that you are able to explore through it. It’s beneficial to check it each time you go to a new place. Whether you find a cooking class, a travelers group or a fun new experience with people you’ve never met before - it’s something you should always keep in your back pocket on your travels.
Be Welcome is an app that can help one find a place to sleep, offer up your own knowledge as a host, or just get in touch with someone to meet up for a drink. The site also hosts some pretty comprehensive message boards, safety information and travel tips!
TravBuddy is an amazing place where you can meet your own travel buddy abroad. Scroll through your chosen destination and see who’s heading there soon and looking for a friend. There are generally less locals than travelers on the site, but keep an eye out for people wanting to share what they love about their home city. Even if you aren’t initially connecting with a local, finding someone who has open as you to gain new experiences will lead you to deeper interactions with locals.
6) Try CouchSurfing
Couchsurfing will help you get right to the heart of the local scene! It has locals from nearly every country in the world opening their homes for travelers to stay while they are in that town. If you plan in advance, you can have all of your lodging taken care of by staying overnight in locals’ homes.
7) Try to Find Someone from the place you are traveling to in your own town before you go (If it’s outside of the country)
Go to a local university with international student organizations — and get the contact information for one of the students from the country where you will be traveling. Meet with them and ask about the country, the culture, and local spots to hang out when you get there.