“Be genuinely interested in everyone you meet and everyone you meet will be genuinely interested in you”
― Rasheed Ogunlaru
Meeting people is one of the great benefits of travel and meeting local people is a great way to get a deeper insight into the country you’re travelling in. Their lives may differ from your own, but their curiosity for culture and family is always shared.
It’s not always easy to meet local people and there are some countries where the residents are too shy to approach a foreigner. In other cases, there could be some animosity towards tourism and locals choose not to communicate much with tourists. There are even times when they are scared of us! But in many countries, the local inhabitants are what stay in the minds of travellers long after they’ve returned home.
The connections and friendships we forge abroad affect us much more than the sites we see or the challenges we conquer. If you’re looking to connect with local people and find new companions around the world, here are a few countries where it is very easy to make friends!
If you’ve read our articles about Iran, then you’ll know just how easily we connected with the local people there. The Iranians were friendly and kind, but what made them unique was their constant curiosity and genuine care for our well-being. It seemed as though each and every one of them wanted to ensure that we had a safe trip in Iran and that we left the country with a new outlook on its people. Whenever we were in a social setting, Iranians would build up their courage to ask us a question, and once we were in a friendly conversation the flood gates would open and we’d find ourselves having deep and meaningful chats with complete strangers.
Iran is a country where you wouldn’t have to pay for accommodation if you didn’t want to because travellers are so often invited to stay in people’s homes and eat at their dinner tables, an honour not to be missed! For us, there was no easier place to make new, lasting friendships. We still have many friends in Iran and we keep in touch with them to this day.
Many travellers have mixed feelings about Egyptian people, but after our experiences there, we find it hard to believe that people feel this way. Travel is personal and for us, Egypt was one of the greatest places to mingle with the natives! We met people who lived in small mud homes, with little more than a stove, pots and cups, and yet they would invite us in for a cup of tea. We would sit in their basic, but charming, living rooms and look around at what they had and we couldn’t help but to be amazed that people with so little would offer us so much. Tea was a great way to meet locals in Egypt and we found ourselves drinking dozens of cups per day! If you go to Egypt, make sure you listen closely while you’re walking down the streets. Sometimes their calls for you to join them are quiet and shy, but if you hear them and take them up on their offers, your travel experiences will be richer for it.
This is a country where things are changing fast. Until a few years ago, Myanmar was completely untouched by mass tourism and the people here were so cut off from the western world, that their curiosity overwhelmed them! When we visited in January, 2012, we met so many of the native people who just wanted to learn about Canada and about life in the west. Magazines, stickers and pens would excite them beyond belief and some children we met were seeing white faces for the first time. Sometimes when we were riding buses in Myanmar, women would sit next to Dariece and stare at her, eventually rubbing her arm, amazed at the color or her skin. Burmese people are pretty shy at times, so if you want to connect with them, you may have to make the first move. But even if you can’t communicate with language, their smiles and obvious inquisitiveness will sustain a conversation long enough to become friends!
We taught English in a tiny village in northern Myanmar where we met many adorable children and friendly villagers. Click here for that story!
Most of our experiences in Nepal were in the Annapurna region, where a largely Tibetan culture harbours an incredibly hospitable group of people. As the hiking trails in this region became more and more popular, the inhabitants here found a great way to connect with foreigners, while making money to support their families. They converted their homes into tea houses, where trekkers can stop, eat delicious local food and spend the night for a small fee. This makes Nepal one of the greatest places to meet local people. It’s as easy as knocking on a door! Some tea houses are larger, and less intimate, but if you find a small home with a single family running the place, you’ll have a great insight of local culture and day-to-day life for these high altitude survivors.
Thanks to community based tourism projects like CBT and Shepard’s Life, Kyrgyzstan could easily be the best place in the world to meet locals! Wonderful village homestays around the country makes it easy to learn about the Kyrgyz way of life. You can simply call CBT or go to their closest office (they’re everywhere) and find a homestay that’s right for you. Once you’ve chosen a home, a family member will come and pick you up and show you back to the house, where you get your own cozy room. The best part of the homestays in Kyrgyzstan is the food. The families cook up the best meals you’ll ever find in the country, from hearty stews to tender kababs, the food is amazing!
Some of you may be able to connect with locals in countries where we had difficulty. In places like Morocco and Malawi, we found it very hard to make honest connections with the natives and we found that they were usually expecting financial gain from our interactions. But this may be because we were staying too close to the tourist trail. There is a new resource that travellers can use to meet locals however, and it’s called WithLocals. This great new website helps travellers to have real connections with the people in the countries they travel to, while helping the locals out financially as well. It’s like a huge network of home stays around Southern Asia. Locals create a profile and offer travellers the opportunity to stay with them for a small fee. They also have cooking classes, hikes, meals and day trips.
It’s like couch surfing, but as we know, feeding and housing foreigners is not always an affordable luxury for many of the world’s inhabitants. Now, thanks to WithLocals.com they can make a few dollars to feed their families, while giving tourists the opportunity to stay with them! It’s really a win-win for everyone and it’s a project that we’re excited to promote here on Goats On The Road. Not only are we excited to share it with you, our readers, but we’re really looking forward to trying out the service as soon as we’re back on the road.
Meeting locals has always been a top priority for us when we’re travelling and many of the friendships we’ve forged have remained to this day. The best part of making friends in new countries, is the opportunity to return and see them again one day. For us, sites, cuisine, and history always come second to the amazing friends we make along the way. Travel is all about meeting people and learning new things, and we look forward to a future of new friends, both local and foreign.