Endless articles, posts, and ride reports praise meeting the locals as one of the most important components in long-distance adventure travel. They all talk about how meeting the locals, living with the locals, going to local eateries or getting locals to recommend hidden gems are the ultimate experiences, and I fully agree. But how to truly feel like a local while traveling if you don’t already have friends in the countries you visit? And how to make friends if you have a time limit and can’t spend days or weeks in just one place?
I discovered AirBnB experiences while visiting Cuba with my dad and looking for interesting things for him to do. I chanced upon a “walking tour in Trinidad with a local journalist”, and immediately booked the experience as I knew it’s something my dad would love to do. And it was worth every penny: Luis, the Cuban journalist who took us on a walking tour in Trinidad, was professional but so friendly we ended up having lunch and chatting over coffee long after the tour was over. We got to see Trinidad, its history, and Cuban culture through Luis’ eyes, visited places tourists typically don’t see and met people we definitely wouldn’t have, like the caretaker of a small Congolese community house who told us about how ex-slaves in Cuba retained their religion and culture and how the African traditions have fused with the Spanish and Cuban culture creating something truly unique.
So if you’ve just arrived in a new place, have a quick look at AirBnB experiences and see what you can find. It doesn’t have to be a walking tour – it can be anything from a pub crawl to a surfing lesson, a Mojito-making class, a horseback trek through a jungle, a fishing trip, a photography tour… whatever it is, you’ll be meeting a local who’s going to show you the best places and teaching you about the local ways of life. More often than not, you’ll click with the guide and you might end up making friends, or at the very least, you will meet other locals and get to experience their country through their lens.
One of the best ways to get to know local people and their culture is by working with them. It doesn’t matter where or in what capacity: working together always creates connection. There are literally thousands of volunteering options available worldwide, from helping out in animal shelters to teaching underprivileged kids English to building yurts.
Another great option is Workaway, where you can barter your work for room and board. This way, you’ll be connecting with locals but also saving a little on food and accommodation.
Seeking Out Local Riders
Native riders are a blessing when it comes to connecting to locals and getting to know a new country inside and out. I’m forever grateful to Sebastian Cavallero, a Peruvian rider who took me out on the trails in Arequipa, Diego, and Ecuadorian rider who found the time to go hard enduro riding with me near Quito, and Gianna Velarde who took me out to the dunes of San Bartolo near Lima.
Local riders have the most extensive knowledge of awesome routes, places to see, and food to try in their country. Often, they might ride with you for a little, or even pass you from rider to rider in their country to help you feel welcomed (true story!).
For me, I found that the best place to connect with local riders is Facebook and Instagram. On Facebook, just look for pages with two keywords – “motorcycle riders” or “motorcycle club” + location (city, region, or country). On Instagram, be sure to use hashtags with the current country you’re riding, such as #rideperu or #ridingbosnia, and follow similar hashtags to find locals. Facebook groups such as the Horizons Unlimited Motorcycle Adventure Travellers or the PanAmerican Travelers Association can also be helpful.
Once you get home after your trip, be sure to return the favor and welcome foreign motorcycle travelers to your country!
If you’re exhausted after a hard day’s ride, it may be tempting to stay at a faceless chain hotel and have a McDonalds. But with a little bit of effort, avoiding tourist traps can lead to new friendships and experiences. Book an AirBnB or a small family hotel, and have dinner where locals eat: often, because tourists rarely come to these places, locals will be curious about you and start the conversation themselves. Street food stalls and open-air markets are also great places to mingle with locals, especially if you know at least a few phrases in their language.