It is a lovely idea that is a slightly harder to do than most backpackers will admit. For starters unless you are visiting an English speaking nation odds are you do not speak the language to a level beyond ‘Where’s the toilet?’.
The second complication is finding locals that want to get to know you. In quite a few countries even a backpacker will find locals a little hard nosed against them. Its important to remember that very few people in the developing world can afford to not work, let alone afford to leave their job and go travelling to other nations – keep this in mind when discussing your life and travel plans.
Lastly the approach to meeting locals can be hard. Think about your everyday life at home and your personal reaction if a random non-English speaker tried to start up a conversation in the line at a grocery store? You would be pretty freaked out, and wonder what they want from you. It is no different when visiting other lands.
With that said here’s some sure fire ways to get to know a few locals.
The honest truth is a visit of a day, a week, even a month is not likely to garner you any long term local friends. If you truly want to make friends and blend in you’ll need to spend a few months working and learning the language. Getting work as a Nanny, cleaner, cook, waiter, or hostel worker is quite easy these days.
Want to truly get to know the locals, then you will need to speak the language. Classes are available in most countries; some towns pride themselves on being the best place to learn. Immersion classes are regarded as the best way to learn, but do expect the first few weeks to be irritating as you struggle.
Volunteer at Schools/Community Projects
Getting involved with local schools and humanitarian projects is a great way to get to know the locals as well as give back. Not only can it be amazingly rewarding but you’ll get a very intimate look at what makes a community tick. Try and combine this with language lessons.
Nothing brings out the local flavour like a good football/Rugby/baseball/cricket match. Grab yourself some local paraphernalia like a scarf or jersey and head on down to the stadium. Cheer, laugh and enjoy the atmosphere.
If you can not afford a ticket, try a local pub/bar/café that is showing he game. Just remember to cheer for whom every the rest of the patrons are. In some countries supporting the opposition (even as a joke) can land you in some awkward situations.
I’m yet to find a country that doesn’t have cooking classes, or some form of food related activities. Not only do cooking classes let you get to know locals that run them, but also are a surprisingly good way to learn the local lingo. Learning to cook a dish or two is a brilliant souvenir to have, one you can show off when you finally make it home.
These can be a lot of fun, as long as you go into it with an open mind. Do make sure you book beginner classes, and do not just rock up to a dance club. Salsa is a prime example – salsa bars/clubs have an inbuilt rule that you need to be able to salsa before you go. While the locals will be friendly at first after 10 mins of teaching you they’ll want to get back to dancing.
TOP TIP: Get involved
All of these activities that ensure you meet locals have something in common – Getting out there and getting involved with the community. These are also great ways for expats that have relocated within their own country on their return to build up friends.