When asked about their most memorable experiences on the road, most long-term travelers say, “meeting the locals”. Meeting local people is definitely one of my favorite things to do on the road – from village kids and Andean grandmas herding goats and llamas in the highlands to local adventure riders, mechanics, AirBnB hosts, coffee growers, artists and cab drivers, it’s always a unique experience, especially as my Spanish is still a little sketchy which sometimes makes for entertaining conversations (“kitchen? Why do you want a kitchen for your bike? Ooooh, you meant gaaaarageeeee”).
Most of these encounters happen naturally – while changing a flat tire or waiting at the traffic light, stopping for a photo or a lunch break, or exploring a new city or area on foot. But sometimes, especially when traveling as a couple or in a group, meeting locals can be a little harder because you’re less approachable. So here’s what you can do to meet the locals everywhere you go:
- Smile! Often, that’s all it takes (except maybe in Scandinavia, where people might assume you’re a bit wrong in the head if you’re always grinning). In the Southern regions of the world, a smile is pretty much the same as a “hello”.
- Speaking of “hello’s”: say it first. When you come into a restaurant, say hello and bon appetite to people who are already there. Gas stations, queues, borders, checkpoints, eateries, shops – everywhere you go, just say hi, how are you? first, and you’ll be met with the same. Often, travelers think Bolivians and Peruvians are unfriendly, but forget to make the effort themselves. Be friendly and polite first!
- Offer help. See a local with a broken-down bike? Stop and help them – more often than not, that’s their sole means of transport, and they’ll be very grateful when you lend a hand. Little old lady pushing a heavy cart? Help her out, and she may tell you a story in return. As a traveler, you receive help from the most unexpected sources on the road. Return the favor – and make friends in the process!
- Compliment people. Admire their kids, their hats, their horses, bikes, or businesses, and you’ll instantly befriend them. Who doesn’t like hearing they’re awesome?
- Ask for directions (always adding how much you’re enjoying their country/region/village). Instant conversation starter!