Top 10 Ways to Meet the Locals
Chris’ personal picks from places in the world that he has visited.
Very often the most memorable moments of an overseas trip are when you interact with the locals. Here are my Top Ten tips on how to ensure you meet the locals on your next trip:
What better way to get close to the people than to sign up for one of the voluntourism opportunities that have sprung up over the last decade? Your vacation is centred around actively participating in an overseas charity’s work in the local community, working within the community to assist them improve their lives. www.voluntourism.org is a good place to start your research for the right opportunity for you.
Language: Just a few words and phrases in the local language can make all the difference in breaking down barriers. Don’t be afraid to try – you don’t have to be perfect for the attempt to be appreciated. And very often, the locals will jump at the chance to try out their English on you. These days phrase books are giving way to small, inexpensive electronic language converters. But still nothing works better than memorizing a few local words..
Markets: The essence of the local culture is often distilled in the local marketplace. It’s the heartbeat of any people and it’s one of the easiest ways to really get to know local life and appreciate its richness. The local traders are happy to chat as you buy their produce and very often the bargaining session is viewed as a game too. Locals in the market will also be helpful in assisting you around the place. One tip: always go soon after the market opens.
Photos: Always ask permission before you take somebody's picture. Though some folk avoid having their picture taken - others enthusiastically get involved. Digital cameras and smart phones can be used to snap a personality and immediately share the image with them – guaranteed to raise a smile and break down barriers. And remember to have a few photos from home on your camera or phone too, so you can show them what Canada looks like, or your children.
Packages: For those who are a little hesitant about getting out there and connecting with destination hosts, Canada’s leading tour operator Transat has recognized this growing trend and now has three destinations under its Nolitours brand that include bite-sized organized opportunities to get out of the all-inclusive resort and visit local institutions such as orphanages and schools. They’re called NoliZONE and can be found in their latest holiday brochure.
Meet a Local Programs: Jamaica is the most prominent of several countries who proactively (and at no cost) offer to link the visitor and the local. The program allows the visitor to meet the People Ambassadors and their friends who share a common profession, hobby, or interest that will make for easy connection. Visitors may get to meet a family or a fellow musician, doctor or teacher perhaps, while visiting a market, church, or a school.
Local Guides: I have often found that I have learned most about the day-to-day lives of my hosts when I utilize a local guide for me and my family to tour the country. It can cost a little more to enjoy this one-on-one service but it can enrich the travel experience immeasurably.We recently travelled around El Salvador in the company of Jorge from Cuscatlan Tours and he found time to take us to his own beautiful gardens and cut down some refreshing coconuts to drink.
Music: There’s no need for a common language when you have music! Most destinations have a rich and individual musical heritage and it doesn’t take much effort to seek this out. Whether you play an instrument, sing or simply have a music payer of any kind, it’s an instant way of making new friends. I remember my youngest son when he was small singing “Will the Real Boogey-Woogey Please Stand Up” and attracting a huge crowd of admirers in a Zambian marketplace!
Resort Staff: That barman in your resort hotel who knows just how you like your mojito may also be the perfect introduction to the local way of life. If you take the time to get close to resort staff, it is fascinating to hear about their lives and their families, and if the connection is reciprocal then you may be privileged to be invited to their home – which can be a very humbling experience. A tip: plan to take some nice Canadian soaps and bathroom products as a small gift.
Trust and Humour: Ultimately, my best suggestion for meeting the locals in a truly heart-warming and memorable way is to pack plenty of trust and humour in your kit bag and smile, smile, smile! With a pinch of common sense, you will find that going with the flow in your travels, and putting your trust in the good intentions of your hosts, will open almost any door.