Archive: Connecting with Locals
Good travel requires connecting with people. Get creative: bring a Frisbee, look up a bridge club, assume a fake last name and get out a phone book. Connecting with locals puts a shine into your travel memories. How do you make sure you connect with the locals in your travels?
Read the Distillation: Connecting with Locals, 2005
Connecting in sauna's
Be careful when connecting in sauna's if you are approaching someone who is alone. Especially when you are a man and approaching a woman, and you are both naked, it could easily be perceived as a pick-up line. It's kinda a private place ;-) Also, there are often rules about being silent in the sauna booths. Unless picking someone up is what you want, you can better opt for a chat when you wear your bathrobes in between sauna visits (at the restaurant/lounge), or when you are in a tub/pool, when the naked body is less visible under the water..
Attend a local classical concert in Salzburg
No, not the ones sold by the powder-wigged and costumed street peddlers that lurk at tourist attractions. Go to the ones performed by REAL musicians who live and work in this famed city of Mozart. For example, this Web page, aimed toward the locals or European tourists in the know, lists instrumental and vocal concerts in the upcoming week:
(OK, if you can't read German, you can always use Babel Fish translator ...)
The musicians are of a higher calibre and they're not going to play Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Bottom line is, if you want to connect with the locals, you need to hang with the locals! It's sure a lot more fun than to stand out like a tourist.
Rockville, MD USA 06/05/2010
Germany's News in English
Anyone traveling in Germany should be aware of the http://www.thelocal.de. It's Germany's news published in English. It's a great way to get a taste for what's going on in Deutschland, so if you find yourself in a conversation with locals, you can participate in the conversation. There is also a "What's Going On" section (like a City Pages) telling of the live entertainment, festivals, etc., for the weekend.
Through digital photography
I like taking pictures, especially of the fruit markets. Since I've been to Italy, where there are plenty. I've usually asked permission and showing my camera. Now, with digital photography, I've also offered to show them what I've taken. They seem happy that I've offered.
Scottsburg, Indian USA Thu 10/08/2009
Pictures of locals - send them a copy
While in Romania we visited a elaborately painted village church. The caretaker was there with her grand daughter. After asking permission I took their picture and then had her write her address on a piece of paper. When I got home I had a print made of the two (and some neighborhood kids) and mailed them to her. I copied and printed the address she wrote and taped it to the package. That way I was sure of having the correct address and not making a mistake in "translation" as European writing sometimes looks very different from ours.
Waikoloa, Hawaii USA Tue 07/07/2009
Nice People Everywhere
I want to echo Barbara MacPherson's sentiments below with a similar and simple experience. While taking train in Italy during my first trip to Europe, my friend and I were seated across from an elderly man. He spoke with a noticable accent though I couldn't place where they were from. We offered them some of our biscuits seeing as how we're just facing each other and the old man says, "...there are nice people everywhere.." This simple comment was at once kind yet terribly uplifting and encouraging. It spoke volumes to me in terms of how such simple gestures can spread friendship and peace between complete strangers from complete difference places.
San Leandro, CA USA Fri 06/12/2009
By far the best part of our trip to Italy was meeting people along the way. Several times we struck up conversations with fellow travellers...and this was how it happened. To be honest, it was awkward and uncomfortable to be sat SO close to other diners in restaurants...and this was the case in Vernazza. We were inches away from a husband and wife tourist and deliberately avoided looking at each other through our entire dinner. But,after the waiter had removed our plates, we realized that we would never finish the bottles of red and white table wine my daughter and I had bought. My daughter whispered, "Shall we offer them some wine?" I said why not...and the rest is history...They were a recently retired physician and his wife from Holland who spoke 6 languages and had travelled extensively. We talked about the upcoming presidential race, the recession and he expressed appreciation to American troups in WWII. The four of us finished both bottles and had to say good night and goodbye when the waiter removed our table cloths and closed the umbrellas... well after midnight! We will NEVER forget these dear people and the conversation that was started by a simple gesture of offering to share our wine. I will also remember the young middle eastern gentleman, seated by us on the train, who INSISTED on sharing HIS box of cookies with us...(that were wrapped in cellophane). No words were spoken, just hand gestures and big smiles. (Who needs words?) I think this is a travel tip worth sharing. I am not kidding, it MADE our trip!
Santa Rosa, CA USA Thu 06/04/2009
Get to know your hosts
Get to know your hostel/B&B/Pensione hosts! They're a wealth of information. From practicing the language to finding laundry detergent or a good cheeseburger, these are great sources. And now I have fabulous pen pals from around the world too.
Denver, CO USA Mon 06/01/2009
Sit at the bar!
The best advice we received from the Rick Steves' guide book was to always sit at the bar, rather than a table. My husband and I just returned from Ireland and met so many fantastic locals at the local pubs. The amount of history and culture we received by talking to them was mind boggling. We'd also use the opportunity to ask, "Where would YOU stay if you were on holiday?" We saw a ton of small towns- some on the map and some not. This allowed us to see a side of Ireland that we never would have seen. Great advice!
Portland, OR USA Mon 03/16/2009
Talking with local kids
Last spring while in Amsterdam, husband and I took a day to go to Bruges. We took the train down from Amst. (I love European trains!). In Antwerp, two ladies got on with 2 young boys. Due to seating, the boys ended up sitting right across from husband and I, and the ladies were kitty-corner from us. Long story short, we got permission from the moms to talk with the boys (who were 12 and 7), and also to take their photo. They tried their best to teach me how to say numbers from 1-10 in FLEMMISH, and the older one enjoyed practising his English. When we got clear back home, I got 2 major league baseball caps and some other things, and sent them, with the photo, to one of the boys' mom. (She had given me her address.) A couple of months later, a package came in the mail from the mom...a tin box of Belgian chocolate! Along with a lovely letter and a photo of her entire family. Chatting with those boys is one of my favorite memories from that trip.
USA Fri 10/31/2008
Haircut in Venice
rick steves says getting a haircut at the local barber is a great way to meet locals and since i want to trim about a foot off of my locks anyhow, i gave it a go. the barber he suggested in his venice book gave me a cute new 'do but kept my hair as a "souvenir." i found out from my b&b operator later that the barber can sell my hair for a pretty penny for carnivale masks. the thought of doing that honestly didn't occur to me and i feel my experience was ruined in that not only did i have to pay to get my hair cut, but the barber can profit off of my locks too? i wish someone had warned me beforehand; maybe he and i could have worked out a trade instead!
Los Angeles, CA USA Wed 07/16/2008
Please & Thank You can go a long way
My husband & I flew to Vienna for 4 days, then to Poland by train for two more days. I was very worried about buying train tickets in a language neither of us speaks. We had Rail Europe tickets to get us to Katowice, but from there we would have to fend for ourselves, with the help of a one-sentence email in Polish (from the tour guide who would be meeting us in Ostrow Wlkp.) to show to the conductor on the train. I had written in my trip journal the Polish words for "please" and "thank you." As we sat in the train compartment, I showed my husband the two words, telling him I had no idea how to pronounce "thank you." Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the mother of a traveling family with a big smile on her face. I pointed to her and said, "Polish?" She nodded her head. I showed her my journal and she taught us how to say prosze and dziekuje. She didn't speak much English but told us her name, her husband's name and their son's name, and said they were returning from a trip to Italy. I showed them the maps of the US and South Dakota that I had glued into my journal for just such an occasion. Later on, we were joined by a Polish software engineer who spoke English fluently. He translated for us. As it turned out, the Polish family was making the same train connection we were! They helped us find the right platform, and explain to the conductor what ticket we needed. The part of the trip I was most worried about turned out to be the most fun!
Vermillion, SD USA Wed 07/16/2008
For the love of cycling
I am not sure where to post this because it's just so darn hilarious, but certainly doesn't belong in "most embarassing moments". Anyway, we were on a bicycle tour of Tuscany. It was pure heaven. Our routes took us through small villages and hill towns. In one of the hills towns the tour women were all grouped together, riding up a narrow street. Out of one of the shops comes running an old Italian man yelling. At first I thought that he was upset, but then he was yelling that he loves cycling (in Italian). He was waving a flag and started smacking the girls on the butt as they rode past him, to encourage them up the hill. After they passed him he held his heart and repeated "cyclismo, cyclismo". I was told the Italians love cyling, but this guy was really into it.
Vancouver, WA USA Tue 07/01/2008
Post Office in Dutch
Just back from a trip to Netherlands, Belgium & Switzerland. Not the first time for any of them, but first time I noticed the Dutch term for Post Office and had to laugh at my first thought. TNT is where you buy your stamps and mail your cards, NOT what might occur to a safety/security saturated and jet-lagged American tourist these day.
Lutz, FL USA Tue 04/15/2008
Wherever you are, try to find out if there are any folk-festivals going on, usually the kind with tents. Small towns are typically better than large cities for meeting and hanging out with locals. Many towns will have some kind of festival or tent-party around spring and summer holidays like May 1st, Penecost, or St. John's Day (Summer Solstice). They usually have some kind of religious or pagan connotations to them, but that doesn't keep them from throwing a good party with live music, plenty of beer or wine, and street food, and sometimes these things go all day into the wee hours of the morning.
I've been to several on my travels throughout the EU and have always managed to get along very well with locals. Some remain my friends several years later.
Atlanta, GA USA Wed 04/02/2008
A great place to meet Europeans is at campgrounds. We have camped in France, Greece, Germany, and Italy and were usually the only Americans. Many campgrounds have swimming pools, restaurants, and bars. I've met locals while washing my car, doing laundry, eating in the restaruant, walking to the loo, swimming, etc. Most of the campgrounds that we've stayed at have campers from all over Europe. We traveled in an old VW camping-van on one trip and with tents, blankets, and a rental car on another occasion (with our then high school-aged kids). Our daughter played soccer and brought a ball, leading to some impromptu fun with other kids. Many campgrounds also have bungalos for rent. Campgrounds are sold out during July and August so plan ahead.
Charles A. Robinson
Lodi, CA USA Sat 02/09/2008
Rent A House
Last September we went to the Champagne Ardennes region and rented a cabin that was on the owner's property. It was a great experience. We went to dinner at their home and they ate with us in the cabin. The owner even made a tart one day. It was a great experience and I learned more about the French than I have in any of my many trips there. We learned about the economic problems first hand. We still email them.
Springfield, va USA Fri 01/11/2008
We arrived in Laarne, Belgium, which is near Gent, the last night of our vacation. I had reserved a bed and breakfast in the village so we could enjoy Gent but still be close to the airport. We arrived and found the town was CLOSED--all the roads were blocked--we couldn't get to the B&B and the people we found couldn't speak English to help us. We finally found someone at a restaurant and he informed us that the town was closed for a Witch burning (a recreation of course). We found our B&B, went to the witch burning (it was the 400th anniversary of the event) and enjoyed the people, music, dancing and fireworks. A local man explained the whole event to us. It was a great end to a great vacation in Holland and Belgium.
Provo, Utah USA Tue 09/04/2007
Just recieved an email from my son whom is traveling in Europe with his girlfriend and two other friends from school. They went out of their way to meet and try and talk with a young Italian guy on their train trip from Venice to Florence. In Bolonga, his girlfriend left her passport and train tickets (a lesson to make sure your always actually wearing your moneybelt when on the trains)as they transfered trains. This young man went out of his way to actually get off his train, and chase them down in the staion to give her back her passport and tickets. What a wonderful gesture this gentlemen displayed. He saved their trip! Unless they are playing the US team, I'm always rooting for Italia from now on in football!!! Molto Grazie!!
Orlando, FL USA Sat 06/16/2007
Staying with Family
The best way to conect with the locals is by staying with your family. Whenever I travel I always make it a point to stay with my family. Everyday I can explore the town. This works well in the US and abroad. The family knowes where the best restairant is, where the best theater is, the best museums to go to and their hours. If you send an email you may be invited to a relatives hourse for a day where you can swim with the locals in the community pool, share a dinner together and have a good time. It is also nice to stay at the home of your relatives as you can truely relax and unwind. Be sure to offer to buy groceries,help with the chores etc. You will feel like a temporary local meeting friends and seeing the sights as if you lived in the city.
Rick has empjasized to try and contact as many family members as possi ble as it adds to the travel experience. Just imagine being abel to spend a week at your relative's house midway through a trip staying at hotels. It's a luxry that won't cost you much and you can taste the local foods as well.
Saratoga, CA USA Sun 06/10/2007
making jokes, making friends
On a train from Cologne to Amsterdam, my friends and I, some American college kids, had to sit in the aisles because it was a busy holiday weekend. A few middle-aged couples on holiday were in the seats surrounding us. Since my friends and I had to keep standing up to let people pass, I leaned over to the gentleman in the seat next to me and said "es ist wie eine katholische Messe!" ("it's like a Catholic mass!"). Apparently that was hilaaaarious...my joke was a hit! We ended up playing a game with them where we tried to name a town in Germany that began with each letter of the alphabet. We laughed all the way to Amsterdam. Amazing what one little joke can do!
Winston-Salem, NC USA Wed 05/02/2007
Neither my high school French nor the dim memory of my mother's side of the family speaking Quebecois French was much help in Paris; so I alternated 2 badly accented expressions that got us through our wonderful week: 'Je ne parle pas Francais; je tue Francais' and 'Votre pauvre oreilles!'. (I don't speak French; I kill French, and Your poor ears!) These at one point turned a distant waiter into an old pal and we left calling 'l'ange de nourriture.' (the angel of food).
San Francisco, CA USA Sun 03/18/2007
speaking about Karneval with locals
Being in a town in Germany still celebrating Karneval can be a rewarding experience. For instance, I was able to ask a couple in Stuttgart, dressed in clownlike outfits visiting a local pub/snackbar, how they celebrated Karneval, or if they called it in Fasching which is the other word in German. For instance in Cologne one says "Kölle Alaaf!". In Stuttgart on the other hand, they say "Stuttgart Nari Naro!". No matter what part of Germany Karneval or Fasching is celebrated, it seems that the band "Die Höhner" are the best known performers nationwide. We even compared the songs from that group - our favorite somehow was "Die Karawane zieht weiter, der Sultan häät Doosch" (the caravan goes on further, the Sultan is thirsty). This is one of the times to forget whether one is from Germany, Austria, France, Spain, or even the USA. As they say in Cologne during Karneval "Mir sin alle Kölle"
Frisco, TX USA Sat 03/10/2007
Ireland friendliness continued
continued from below: 7 or 8 of them took turns singing solos, and their buddies all joined in on the chorus. A couple of them came over to our table and had a quite lengthy visit. We had a great time!
WA USA Sat 10/14/2006
It's true folks! Everything we found posted here about the hospitlity and friendliness of the Irish people was right on. The best experience was in a pub in Dungarvin during a "session" A group of about 15 guys from Cork walked in about 10 PM. They had been golfing, and had stopped in for a couple of pints. 2 were drinking cola....must have been the drivers
WA USA Sat 10/14/2006
Theading a needle in Europe
Mike, relax, you will find more people who want to have a friendly conversation, willing to help you, etc., then you find trying to scam you.
USA Sun 09/10/2006
threading the needle in Europe ...
reading the graffiti wall and the book "Europe Thru the Back Door" I alternate between terror and anticipation! I'm going to Europe soon, and to me one of the attractions of the methods Rick advocates is the chance to be (as he says) a "temporary European", taking part in their life and culture. The terror comes from the multitude of warnings both in the book and on the Graffitti walls of all the scams that befall unwary tourists.
So if a charming person invites me into a bar for a drink have I made contact with a local or am I part of the scam where I'll end up buying a $200 beer? Is the stranger helping me find my train really helping me or trying to make me miss it? Is the stranger showing me the way a person taking pity on the lost foreigner or a scammer sending me down a dark street where his pals lie in wait?
Both scenarios (friendly contact and complete ripoff) are amply described in the book and in the multiple warnings on this site. So how do I know which play I'm in? I'm no idiot, but if I wanted to play it safe I'd stick to American travel and American culture where I know a bit about the scams and what is normal and what isn't. As they say, in a card game if you don't know who the patsy is within 5 minutes then it's you. But in a different country, with a different culture, people speaking a different language ... How does one tell?
If I walk around paranoid and suspicious of everyone and everything, I'll miss out on the adventure and fun I'm looking for. But if I'm trusting then I'm the easy mark every con artist has waited for.
So how do you, the experienced traveler, thread the needle? How do you stay safe but at the same time make contact with the real people and culture?
Los Angeles, CA USA Mon 09/04/2006
Fly a foreign airline
Start connecting with locals on the flight over. You are more apt to find a foreigner on a foreign airline. I try to fly KLM or Lufthansa instead of Northwest or United. The flight attendants will definitely be locals. I have recently had pleasant conversations with a German/American woman who was just starting a job in Berlin and with a couple of German girls who had finished a short exchange visit in Michigan.
I have to force myself to be an extrovert. Instead of just raising my eyebrows and pointing I speak. "Excuse me. I have the window seat. Sorry. Thank you."
The most successful icebreaker questions for me are, "Where are you from?" and "Where are you going?" Be prepared to pull out maps of Europe of the United States to find home towns and then proposed travel routes.
Sharing a minor treat like a Lifesaver candy also helps, but you can't just hold out the roll. "Would you like a lifesaver?"
Iowa USA Sat 09/02/2006
Just got back from Scotland, and had a great time in 2 pubs frequented by locals in Inverness. In Scotland, if you ask for ice in your whiskey, you'll definately draw the locals w/advice on how not to ruin a good glass of whiskey! At the second pub, came across a fantastic duo rocking the place w/Scottish folk music. Bottom line - find the pubs where locals, not tourists, congregate.
Phoenix, AZ USA Wed 07/19/2006
Conversations with Locals
Our efforts to connect with locals in a laundromat in Florence ended up with a conversation with 2 American college girls who are attending the same university from which one of my cousins graduated. :)
But--on the train between Rome and Naples, an Italian woman about my age (50-60) noticed my cane and my efforts to sit down. I noticed her shopping bag was from a toy store. We ended up having a pleasant, fun conversation for about 15 minutes--she in Italian, me in English--about my knee replacement, her hip replacement, and our grandkids! We used a lot of body English also! It was one of the most fun moments of my trip.
USA Thu 05/11/2006
Go to a laundromat
Go to a laundromat to talk to locals. You can have some very interesting conversations and if all else fails, at least you have clean clothes!
Haverhill, MA USA Fri 05/05/2006
Find out where the art galleries are- many galleries have great opening parties (with free wine and cheese!) on Thurs, Fri and Sat nights. Best of all, you will have hit the pulse of the city; the modern culture rather than what can be found in museums.
Canada Tue 04/18/2006
ROTHENBURG: if anyone is looking for internet svc go to "Der Computer Shop", on ansbacher str on the way from the train station into town. Great owner, cheap internet, also games and computer services if needed. happy travels!
Stoneham, MA USA Tue 04/18/2006
Meeting at the market
My husband and I love to go to the markets. We talk with the vendors and other shoppers. Even if we are just looking, we enjoy! The food, crafts, books, etc. give you loads of options for starting a conversation. We've made lots of new friends this way and gotten great tips about getting around, shopping, wbere to eat, places to avoid, etc.
Charlotte, NC USA Sat 03/25/2006
Locals on a bus
I think one of the best ways to meet the locals is to go on their local bus service. My husband and I were in the lovely wilds of the North York Moors and decided to take the steam train from Pickering. We were staying in Hutton-le Hole and had to walk to Kirkbymoorside and catch a bus that left from the front of the "chemist's"(drugstore). We met a man with a beautiful English pointer dog on the bus. He told us how his dog had won a prize at a show the weekend before. He pulled out a ten pound note proudly, apparently the purse for such an honor. Though I can have fun with the drunken soccer hooligans at London pubs and the euro-trash of the nightclubs, nothing makes England more real than a proud, tweed capped Brit and his beloved dog. On a bus, in the middle of the moors.
Houston, TX USA Wed 03/01/2006
Traveling in Wales
Welsh male voice choirs are a popular attraction in Wales. On our recent trip, we not only attended a weekly concert in Llandudno and a massed choir event in London but also a local choir rehearsal in Cardiff. We had emailed ahead and had a choir member to contact once we arrived in the city. He confirmed that the rehearsal was on that night. We were the only visitors and so many of the choristers came over to say hello, to tell us of their trips to the U.S., and to wish us a safe journey. It was a highlight of our trip! In Llandudno, the practice is to ask who in the audience is from outside Wales; there was actually another couple from Massachusetts in the audience that evening. Once we had identified ourselves, audience members in front and back of us introduced themselves. A very friendly people!
Natick, MA USA Wed 03/01/2006
The road less traveled.
I agree with Terry in California, I much prefer to go off the path to meet with the locals. I have been to Ireland many, many times yet have never seen the Blarney Stone, Waterford Crystal factory or the Guinness brewery. Why bother? I'd prefer to go see the other gems. I was once at a pub in Cloghane, Co Kerry and met the "village idiot" He was a drunk guy who warned me his back tooth was rotting so he wouldnt get too close to me because he knew his breath was "stinkin" He went on to tell me his Mom was an Apache Indian and started spouting off these fake Indian impressions. I informed him he'd been watching Dances with Wolves a few too many times! He also told me about how he wrestled an Oraca whale in Brandon bay and took his took and proceeded to show me this tooth looking thing on his neck. Needless to say after a few pints the guy actually started making sense (that was when I knew I had too many!!!) He did tell me about the history of the "black and tans" and how they fought the English and didnt allow them in Cloghane etc. It was a wild night, the guy was so full of bologna but it sure beat being stuck with a bunch of Yanks on a bus kissing the Blarney Stone!
Surprise, AZ USA Mon 01/23/2006