When you’re traveling, interacting with local people is one of the best ways learn about a foreign culture. But with language barriers and a busy travel itinerary of tourist sites, meeting people outside the tourist bubble can be tough. If you are able to reach out and mingle with locals, however, it can be one of the most rewarding elements of travel.
Here are some tips for getting out of the comfort zone and amongst local people. Whether your interactions consist of a simple chat or a lengthy conversation, these moments can help you better understand where you’re traveling and what makes that country so unique.
Learn a Few Phrases
Not only does studying a phrasebook give you something to do on long flights or bus rides, but your work will pay off. Local people, who are no doubt used to English as the language of tourism, will appreciate your effort to get to know their language and make communication easier for them.
If you can’t remember long sentences, your best bet is a few flattering words. A simple “delicious” will get you in a food vendor’s good books. Words like “beautiful” or “impressive” will please local people if you want to compliment the landscape or architecture.
Also, if you are communicating with local people in English, be sure to compliment them about it. Learning a new language is hard, and most tourism workers practice English to better their work skills. A simple word of praise goes a long way.
Take Local Transport
When you’re traveling from city to city, bypass the tourist buses and take the inter-city transport that local people use. A long bus or train ride is the perfect setting to practice a few phrases of the local language on your seat-mate. It’s likely that the people around you will be equally interested in your ipod, your camera, and your journal-writing.
Likewise, if you’re in a city, opt for buses or subways instead of taxis. You’ll see more of the city than a Point-A-to-B taxi ride, and if you don’t chat with anyone, you can at least sit back and watch the way people interact.
Take Advantage of Networking Sites
There are so many friendship-oriented sites on the Internet today, why not sign on? Some pre-trip networking can put you in contact with local people who are looking to make friends from other cultures. Getting online could also give you information about local events or festivals.
Offer Your Help
Another way to meet local people is by offering some conversational English practice to keen language students. Sites like Facebook have language exchange groups in cities all over the world. Many college and university bulletin boards also have posts from students seeking English conversation practice.
The benefits here are twofold. You can pump your partner for information on local customs, places, and philosophies, and they get to practice their language skills. Even if it’s just for an afternoon or a couple of days, your new friend will benefit from the English practice, and you’ll get some great insight into local culture.
Anne Merritt is Canadian and has an English Literature degree. She has worked as a journalist for a university newspaper. She is currently living in Ayutthaya as an ESL teacher and is sharing her experience of Thailand with KhaoSanRoad.com.