If you are traveling alone, you may enjoy the solitude at first, but after a while you may really crave some fellow human interaction. Meeting other tourists can be fun, but a local can give you insight into the city and tell you about the hotspots that the travel books don’t mention. Here are some tips for meeting locals when traveling.
If you sit on a train with your iPod on and your headphones stuffed in your ears, you will appear shut off to the outside world (some of my best travel conversations have happened with strangers on trains). If you sit on a patio at a restaurant hoping for conversation, nobody will talk to you if your head is buried in a newspaper. When you are in a totally new environment, it’s easy to stick to what’s comfortable. But if you want to meet new people, think of how others will see you. Nobody will approach you if you look like you want to be left alone.
Hang out near colleges
One great way to meet locals in their 20s is to hang out at bars and restaurants where the students live and play. When I stayed in the small Italian town of Perugia, which has two universities, our little hotel was right near one of the campuses. Right down the street was a bar that was packed every night with students, and the main town square a few blocks away had people in their 20s everywhere. If you are in a city with a college or university, you are guaranteed to find young locals near campus.
Do research and make connections before you go
If you know you are going to a city ahead of time, use your online network to connect with locals and learn about the best hangouts. Ask your friends if they have any friends in that city that you could meet up with. Couchsurfing.org is a great way to connect with locals who will let you stay at their home; they can be a good companion and show you some of the local haunts. Couchsurfing can also be used just to make new friends and find people to meet up with (there is a profile option for this rather than actual couch surfing), so if you aren’t comfortable crashing at someone’s house, they can at least show you around the city or take you out with their friends. You could also use Twitter to see if you can find any cool locals or hangouts.
Stay at a bed and breakfast
Bed and breakfasts are more expensive than a hostel, but they offer a very personal experience. Most B&Bs are family run, and the owners are often the ones checking you in and serving you breakfast. In my travels, I have found that bed and breakfast owners can tell you all about the best local places where young people hang out; they are much more interested in sharing their city with you than a hotel concierge! You may also meet some interesting fellow travelers in this intimate environment.
Look for clues
If you are visiting a place where English is not the predominant language, you may worry about trying to strike up a conversation for fear that there is a language barrier. If you are nervous about this, be observant and look for clues that the person speaks English, such as what they are reading. Listen more closely to peoples’ conversations and see if anyone is speaking any English. My sister and I met some sweet college girls in Florence because they overheard us speaking English. And you should always learn how to say, “Do you speak English?” in the tongue of the city you are visiting. It can’t hurt to try speaking to anyone; the worst that can happen is they will say no. It just happens sometimes!
How do you meet people when you travel alone?