Meeting Locals: From Strangers to Friends (Or More!)
Episode #8 of the course A practical guide for budget travel by Damon Dominique, Joanna Franco, and Alyssa Perrott
Throughout this course, we’ve been exploring how the concept of “thinking local” allows budget travel to be possible. So, since you’re taking a local approach to transport, accommodation, food, and activities, it makes sense to adopt this attitude to the people you decorate your days with too. Let’s dive into how travel can see you turn strangers into friends, or more …
Shrugging Off Shyness
In order to meet people, you’ve got to put yourself out there and be willing to speak up. This doesn’t mean you must abolish all social anxiety (this is an unrealistic expectation). But do try to embrace any discomfort you might feel, and roll with it. Ask yourself, what’s the worst that can happen if you approach this person? Even if you do something completely embarrassing, you’ll never see them again; they’ll remain a stranger. And if they judge you, judge ‘em right back for being The Worst. They ain’t worth your time, and time is money, and we’re on a budget, so bye!
Easy, super innocent things to try include asking someone for recommendations on what to do, see, or eat in the area, or, “I’m not from here, but such-and-such seems interesting; have you been before?” Admitting you’re a visitor from the get-go immediately invites the other person to ask about where you’re from, and off you go!
Find Other Loners
We happen to like traveling alone, as do many travelers on a budget (in fact, this is often one of the reasons for the whole “budget” situation in the first place). One great thing about this is that you’re automatically approachable to everyone. Switch this around, and take it upon yourself to approach other people who are alone.
Some of our making-friends-with-a-local experiences have included befriending a fellow loner at a concert, mutually complaining about a broken-down bus, meeting someone by the cookie jar in a co-working space, and complimenting a person who had the exact same backpack.
Sometimes, if you go grab food or a drink alone, the server or bartender working will immediately take to you because you’re a way better client than the plastered group of tourists singing “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” Ask to get a drink after their shift, and boom, you have a new friend.
Make Use of Your Accommodation
Hostels are great for making international friends, but if you’re keen to meet locals, ask the staff members for recommendations on where to meet people or even for somewhere to eat or hang out at that’s not touristy—it’s a good starting point. Or again, take the hostel staff person out to coffee and pick their brain!
If you’ve opted for Airbnb or couch surfing, congratulations, you’ve got a local just down the hall! Make an effort to get know your host, because you’ll know pretty quickly if you get along well, and if you do, amazing things could happen.
Social Media and Apps
Join Facebook groups based in various cities that are tied to your interests (psst, here’s our Facebook group dedicated to this), reach out to people on Instagram, and download apps while you’re at it. There’s Tinder, for example, which, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t have to serve as an endless hook-up factory if you don’t want it to (if this is what you’re after, that’s great too!) Why not be open to simply spending a fun night with a local and seeing where it leads? Just want BFFs? Try Bumble.
You can use sites like Meetup and Show Around or attend a language conversation group. If you’re in Europe, look up Erasmus events near you for the study abroad crowd. As mentioned in our “activities” and “accommodation” lessons, you could also take a dance class or commit to a homestay experience. The point here is to actively chase that immersion.
When it comes down to it, meeting locals abroad is just like meeting anyone anywhere. It can be a combination of mutual interests, mutual friends, or mutual circumstances, but everything has to begin with the willingness to say hi (or even just to flash a smile). Start with that, and you’ll have local friends to write home about in no time. Tomorrow, we’ll discover how to infuse every stage of budget travel with sneaky little hacks that make a big difference.
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