How to Meet Locals While Traveling (In Any Country)

If you’re a culturally curious type of traveler, your trip isn’t complete until you’ve met some locals. A friendly chat with the right person can be fun, eye–opening, and educational for both sides. Whether it’s discussing American politics with a bunch of Ugandan men, Kyrgyz farming practices in a nomadic family’s yurt, or a young Sudanese woman’s educational aspirations as we sit together on the bus, many of my fondest travel memories involve meeting locals and learning about their lives.  

These conversations make great stories, and we travel writers love to trot them out as evidence of how well-traveled we are (guilty!). But the truth is they are hard to come by, especially on shorter trips. Most locals are just going about their own day in their own neighborhood, oblivious to your desire for connection and “cultural experience.” An authentic interaction requires openness, effort, and a good dose of luck.

So how do you meet locals who are just as interested in talking with you as you are with them? What about when there’s a language barrier? If you’re introverted, should you give up hope entirely? This post is here to help.

By the way, I’m as introverted as they come and I still love meeting locals when I travel. It takes a bit more effort and I don’t do it as often as my extroverted counterparts, but I still find it very worthwhile. In a travel culture that prizes “authentic” experiences, a serendipitous conversation with a local is one of the few remaining travel experiences that can’t be bought, planned, or scheduled.

The details of exactly how and where to meet local people depend, of course, on where you’re traveling. A rural area of West Africa is going to be a very different than, say, a touristy city in Europe (in fact meeting locals in West Africa is much easier!). Pick and choose the best tips for your particular destination and culture, keep an open mind, and you’ll be sure to have some interesting and rewarding experiences (and hopefully be part of someone else’s good memories too).

Without further ado, here are 11 ways to meet local people while traveling. 

Take Public Transportation

This is my number one favorite way to meet locals while traveling and has led to countless memorable conversations. When it comes to bonding with strangers, there’s nothing like an endless bumpy bus ride to get the conversation flowing. The longer the better! 

I’ve had some of my best travel conversations while jammed into a shared taxi in Liberia or wiling away the hours on an overnight bus in Morocco. Often I’m the only tourist on these types of rides, and locals will take me under their wing and look out for me. Plus, taking public transport saves a ton of money compared to a flight or private vehicle, and gives a much more realistic sense of local life.

Pro tip: Bring a big package of snacks to share with your travel companions. It’s the perfect way to break the ice. 

While backpacking through West Africa, public transportation was one of my favorite ways to meet locals. Plenty of time to talk!

Choose A Friendly and Open Destination

If you’re still in the planning stage of your trip and meeting locals is a priority, consider the openness of the local culture when choosing your destination. Certainly all cultures have friendly and curious people, but I’ve found that some places are more interactive than others. 

In many African countries, for example, I get almost too much attention! People sit down at my table and strike up a conversation, befriend me on a bus, or stop me on the street to say hi and ask why I’m there. Partly this is due to the relative lack of tourists in many places, and my white skin that’s visible from a mile away. But partly it’s a cultural value, and one that certainly makes life easier for introverts looking to connect with locals.

In many other places – much of western Europe for example, or even less touristy places like Central Asia – people are more reserved. It doesn’t mean they aren’t friendly, but they may be less inclined to initiate a conversation with a stranger, so it’ll take more work on your part.

Sudan is one of the most open and friendly places I’ve traveled. People were constantly waving, saying hello, and inviting me to take pictures. As an introvert this made meeting locals so much easier!

Go Solo

I’ve traveled solo extensively, and I’ve also traveled as part of a couple, and I have to say that meeting locals is easier when solo. There’s something about showing up alone, perhaps especially when female, that creates approachability and interest. This is especially true in off-the-beaten-path destinations like West Africa or Sudan, but I’ve found it to be a factor everywhere. My most memorable conversations with locals almost always happen when I’m alone.

If you can’t or don’t want to take a solo trip, you can still harness some of this special solo travel energy from time to time. Consider taking a mini solo adventure during a trip with others. Go for a walk alone, grab a meal, or even take a weekend side-trip on your own while your travel partner does something else. It’s a great way to build confidence and open yourself up to more serendipitous experiences, which might include some interesting conversations with locals.

Try Couchsurfing

Despite all the horror stories, is still a good way to meet locals. It can save you a ton of money on lodging too. Solo women in particular can find Couchsurfing challenging, as some hosts seem to mistake the platform for a dating app, but if you choose your hosts carefully it can be a fun way to meet locals who are also interested in meeting travelers. 

You can also find a number of expats hosting on Couchsurfing, which is not quite the same as meeting locals but often just as interesting. An expat from a culture more similar to yours, who’s been living for awhile in your travel destination, can be the perfect bridge to help you understand more about a very different culture from a perspective you can relate to.

Ask Your Networks

In today’s interconnected world there’s a good chance you already know someone who knows someone in your travel destination. Try asking friends and coworkers or posting on social media. You might end up with a great local contact, someone who can show you around or at least meet up for lunch and conversation. This is a fantastic way to meet locals when traveling because there’s some vetting in advance. If you have safety concerns about connecting with random strangers it’s definitely more comfortable to start with a friend of a friend.

Get Off The Beaten Path

You can’t plan for serendipitous conversations, but you can certainly make them more likely by putting yourself in places where people aren’t totally sick and tired of tourists. Plan to spend time in smaller towns or take a bus to a random place with “nothing to see” (there’s always something to see). Even touristy destinations have less touristy regions and neighborhoods. I’m always amazed by how much the vibe can change, even just by walking a few blocks off the main drag. 

In Egypt’s Nile towns, cruise boats let tourists off to shop at the street stalls near the corniche. The vendors here can be aggressive and impersonal, and I don’t blame them — they deal with tourists all day long. But I walked just a few more blocks up from the river and suddenly the shopkeepers were kinder and more curious (and the prices were lower). If you want to connect with locals, spend more time in places where your presence is not expected and not the foundation of everyone’s business. 

This is where I can plug my personal favorite mode of travel: bicycle! It’s perfect for putting you in all the “in between” places that most tourists breeze by or hop over. Show up in these places looking approachable and unusual and you’re sure to attract the attention of curious and kindhearted locals. Even if you’re traveling in a more typical manner, these same principles apply. Spend more time in less touristy places and your odds of connecting with locals go up.

Bikes seem to bring out the friendliness in people, like this Kyrgyz man who wanted to pose for a picture with my partner’s bike.

Lean Into Your Interests

Shared interests are one of the best ways to connect with other humans, including the locals wherever you’re traveling. It can be so cool to meet someone from a very different place and culture who shares a love of your favorite activity. Your common ground will give you plenty to talk about!

Love running (and drinking beer)? Look up the local chapter of Hash House Harriers. If you’re a surfer, ask around for the friendliest local spots. If you’re brave enough, hop into a pickup soccer game (but be sure to call it football, if you’re American). Maybe you have a more niche interest, like archery or music or dance. Seek out classes, especially more in-depth ones not marketed to tourists. Maybe it’s Djembe drumming in Guinea, or Muay Thai in Thailand, or tango in Argentina. You’ll meet locals and learn a new skill at the same time – nothing better than that!

Sharing a meal with my djembe instructor and another student in Guinea

Leverage Your Social Category

It’s just a fact of life that many people feel affinity toward others in a similar social position: age, family status, etc. I’ve heard that young adults can make great connections by asking local bartenders for party recommendations or local contacts. Similarly, families traveling with young children have an easy time connecting with other families as the kids naturally want to play together. When I travel alone I often have a much easier time connecting with local women than I imagine a solo male traveler would. Think about where your local counterparts hang out, go there, and just be yourself.

Connect Online

If you’re traveling in a place with more reserved culture and lots of tourists, you may have trouble striking up conversations informally (especially if you’re introverted). You might need to lean on more structured online methods of connecting. Some options:

  • find hosting or just meet up
  • find local interest-based events
  • share a meal with local foodies

Work or Volunteer

On a longer trip with more time, you might find it worthwhile to meet locals by working or volunteering. It’s often the case that “volunteer” projects are really more “cultural exchange” experiences, and in some cases they can actually be exploitative, so do your research and make sure you’re not doing unneeded work or contributing to harmful local dynamics.

If you can find some harmless local work (like WWOOFing) or lend a hand in a volunteer project, you’ll have a chance to interact with the locals running the project (and locally run projects are the best ones to join anyway). Learning about a place’s work culture – how they get things done, deal with disagreements, view authority, and prioritize tasks – can be a fascinating window into the culture as a whole. 

Women's advocacy group near Kasese
Building a website for Roots of Hope Foundation in Uganda was an amazing way to connect with this local women’s advocacy group and learn about their work and lives.

Be Open (But Not Naïve or Pushy)

Perhaps you’re wondering, doesn’t all this openness make you vulnerable as a traveler? What about scams, crime, etc?

This is a tough topic to tackle. I’ll say that in general I’ve found the world to be much friendlier than expected. But yes, I have on occasion had people try to take advantage of my openness while traveling. It’s a delicate balance between staying open and trusting enough to enjoy authentic encounters and remaining vigilant enough to be safe when needed.

To help discern between scams or sketchy intent and genuine interest, ask yourself: How common is this kind of interaction in your destination? In a very touristy place, an invitation has a higher likelihood of being a sales attempt or scam. In a rural place with fewer tourists, especially with a strong culture of hospitality, an invitation is more likely to be genuine.

If in doubt, always stay in a public place. Have your conversation on the bus, in a restaurant, or on a park bench. Think twice before going into someone’s home. Consider who else is around, whether anyone else knows where you are, and don’t go if you have a funny feeling about it.

My final piece of advice is to remember that no one owes you a conversation, so don’t be pushy. You’re in their home country and it’s not their job (unless they’re a guide and you’re paying them) to give you a “cultural experience.” Use the same conversational skills you would at home to discern whether this person is as interested in talking to you as you are to them! 

And with that, I wish you the best of luck meeting locals on your next trip. I hope you bring home the best souvenir of all: the gift of learning about someone else’s culture and sharing yours with them.

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About the Author

Hi there, I’m Alissa, founder of Exploring Wild. I’ve had the pleasure of traveling independently and solo on six continents, including some unusual destinations like Liberia and Sudan, and it has forever changed the way I see the world and myself. Learn more about me here.

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2 thoughts on “How to Meet Locals While Traveling (In Any Country)”

  1. “Love running? Look up the local chapter of Hash House Harriers.”

    Are there still a lot of active chapters? It has been some years since I was involved (traveling by bike is enough exercise), but I heard a lot of Asian chapters had to shut down entirely due to COVID, and other chapters seemed to be aging without any younger generation to pass the baton to. Also, one shouldn’t mention HHH without the caveat that it can get very alcoholic, and in a few cities it has been tightly bound with the local swinger scene, so not everyone will feel comfortable.

    • Thank you, that’s an excellent point and I just updated the post to mention the drinking bit (didn’t realize that about the swinger scene – good to know LOL). I know of some US chapters that are alive and well, but I haven’t looked into any abroad for at least 5 years. Once I started traveling by bike I stopped running as much, since as you say, biking is plenty of exercise!


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