Please be a traveller, not a tourist.” said Andrew Zimmern. “Try new things, meet new people, and look beyond what’s right in front of you. Those are the keys to understanding this amazing world we live in.” I love to meet local people when I travel. In fact, Zimmern’s mantra is something I’d lived by even before I had read his quote.
Becoming acquainted with locals and finding real experiences though is not always straightforward, has potential safety concerns and requires some know-how. Here are our tips for getting to know the locals wherever you go: Just like at home you will find good and bad people everywhere. Sort scammers and those with questionable intentions from the genuine and you’ll have a great time.
There’s safety in numbers. Never go alone to someone’s home, or on a tour with a local person on your own. If a situation doesn’t feel right for some reason, go with your gut instinct and give it a miss.
For those that like a little more surety there is a useful new service worth checking out. With locals puts you in touch with reputable local guides like what’s On Edinburgh tours and meals in local homes. It allows you to sample the hidden delights of a destination most tourists never get to see, coupled with assurances on safety and quality experiences. So for example if you’re interested in exploring Edinburgh, they have a tour allowing you to meet local people in Edinburgh.
If you’re visiting someone’s home, try to learn a little of the local culture before your visit. Enquire about local customs and social mores so you don’t cause any upset.
Consider if taking gifts or leaving western items behind is appropriate. There may be times when your gift could be in bad taste or upset the economic balance in a place. In some places it would it be appropriate to take a gift, in others it leaves the hosts feeling they need to return your generosity with an even bigger gift (and they may not be able to afford that). In extreme examples, travellers who have met with remote tribes and left them gifts have even caused outbreaks of infections like the common cold – something some tribespeople have not built defences against.
Give generously – not necessarily in things, but give of your time. Take an interest in the people you’re meeting. They say a smile goes a long way, and this is never truer than when you don’t speak the same language.
Don’t objectify the people you meet – they’re people just like you. Be polite and treat everyone with the same respect you’d expect and you’ll have a wonderful experience.
Realise that underneath our clothes, beyond our customs, varying languages, foods, and beliefs, people are largely the same wherever you go. However you travel and wherever you go, try to get beyond the normal tourist traps and enjoy a real local experience. It just might make your holiday.