If you want to mix with local people, you obviously need to be where the locals are.
Here are my favorite strategies for getting close to the locals:
1. Travel independently.
If you travel as part of an organised tour group, most of the people you will get to talk to will be others on your trip, and the people who are placed in front of you by the tour organiser – that is, what I like to refer to as Professional Locals.
The sort of people I’m thinking about are not the people you will meet in that lovely little bistro you discover down the secluded lane, or the saleswoman who spent an hour helping you find the perfect pair of shoes or even the friendly receptionist at your hotel, but those people who have been engaged and put in front of you specifically to be nice to you. Even if you are travelling as part of a tour group, the more independent you can be during that trip the more authentic your interactions will be.
Experience more than a bought smile and really see the difference!
2. Stay in small hotels and B&Bs.
There is nothing nicer than staying in someone’s home, or a small hotel which is owned and operated by a family and also where they live. Choose a B&B or a small, family run hotel and you will not only be meeting the locals, but living with them.
3. Public transport.
You don’t meet the locals on a tour bus or on one of those hop on/hop off tourist buses. The locals are on the local buses and trains. Longer intercity train trips are a great opportunity to strike up a conversation with the locals, but even a short metro ride can get you in contact.
If you are travelling with children, you will find that so many people will want to talk to you and your child that you won’t need to think of a way to break the ice, but if you’re not, some easy ways to get in contact are to offer some of your food, ask for some help with directions to the buffet car, or the next stop.
If you are feeling more adventurous, ask about vocabulary for wherever you are travelling or ask for some tips on where to eat at your destination. You will also find that if you are travelling with someone else people will speak to you if they hear you talking to each other – especially if it’s obvious you’re not sure about where you are going or what you are doing!
The real message here is it doesn’t matter what you say or ask, the most important thing is just to do it. Not everyone will want to chat, but it’s still worth the effort for the ones who do.
The local food markets that spring up in every town in Europe are a great opportunity to get in touch with local people. Stallholders are usually particularly proud of their wares, and love any opportunity to talk to people about them, and often share a little taste.
Ask about unusual ingredients – what is it? How do you use it? Could you have a taste? Anything really to get a conversation going. Again for some reason children are magnets in markets. You don’t necessarily have to buy anything or speak the language – take along your phrase book and get chatting!
5. Learn a few words of the local language.
This is nowhere near as daunting as it sounds. Please, thank you, yes, no, hello and goodbye are a cheap way to connect with local people. In fact, if you look the words up on the dictionary or have a free translation app on your smartphone it comes completely free.
If you can manage a smile as well (see below) it is amazing how much your world will open up – even in Paris!!
This is my absolute favorite FrugalFirstClassTravel strategy of all time no matter where I’m travelling and who I’m with. Nobody wants to make friends and chat to a grump. If you are pleasant and smile the whole world will open up to you.
Link your smile and pleasant manner with a few words of the local language and you will be an absolute winner – guaranteed!
Meeting and connecting with the locals is an important part of most people’s trips, and it can come (all but) free.
Remember, the most priceless parts of your trips are the often the bits that come free!