Posted 21 Jul, 2014 | 25 Comments
Posted in: Musings, Travel Blogs

“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!

black and white rickshaw men india

1. Iran:

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.

Friends In Esfehan

2. Egypt:

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.

Friends in Egypt

3. Myanmar:

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!

Our Class In Naloy Village, Myanmar
Our Class In Naloy Village, Myanmar

We taught English in a tiny village in northern Myanmar where we met many adorable children and friendly villagers. Click here for that story!

4. Nepal:

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.

woman in Nepal


5. Kyrgyzstan:

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!

friends in the walnut forest

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 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.

Children Near Hsiwaw

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.

Have you ever had difficulty meeting locals abroad? Where did you find the most meaningful connections? Share with us in the comments below!

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Written by

Nick Wharton and Dariece Swift are the owners and founders of Goats On The Road. Together they have been travelling and working abroad since 2008 and have more than 20 years of combined experience in online business, finance, travel and entrepreneurship. Their expert advice has been featured on the Lonely Planet, CNN Money, Business Insider,  WiseBread and Forbes and they also spoke at the World Tourism Forum in Istanbul about the business of travel blogging.

Learn more about Nick Wharton and Dariece Swift on their respective author archives on this site and on the Goats On The Road About Us Page.

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25 thoughts on “5 Of The Best Countries For Making Real Connections With Locals

  1. This is a really interesting post! I’d never heard of the website–

    I’m really starting to wonder if I missed my chance to go to Myanmar, before it really changes.

  2. great post., I really want to go to Iran one day… Everyone I meet from there is so friendly!

  3. This post makes me even more exited to visit Myanmar & Nepal on my upcoming travels! Kyrgyzstan sounds amazing, would love to get there one day soon!

  4. Unfortunately I haven’t been to any of these countries. I found Syria (before the civil war) was where I made some of my most meaningful connections with locals, and to this day, that is one of my most treasured travel experiences. I also found Argentinians pretty easy to connect with, and that’s definitely a place I’d go back to!

  5. Iran all the way, number #1 on my 5 top most hospitable countries!

  6. Very interesting list! For me, it would have to be Tanzania. The people there were so warm & welcoming!

  7. Thanks for the comment 🙂 We’re looking forward to checking out With Locals too when we get back on the road. I would still suggest going to Myanmar! It’s a great country.

  8. Very thought provoking post, as I have not been to any of the places we write aobut. I found that South Africa was an amazing place to talk with locals in all walks of life. From the people in the townships, to the people taking out luggage at the airport, everyone we encountered was genuinely open and friendly. The woman at the airport insisted that during our lay over in AMsterdam, we go hunt up a specific cheese. We did, and it was truly special! Thanks for sharing!

  9. I love that Iran is the top of your list, and I couldn’t agree more!! People are so friendly 🙂

  10. Hey Sam,

    I think we’ve told you before how we were about to cross into Syria in 2011 from Jordan and the day that we were packed up and ready to brave the issues that were going on at the time, they closed the borders! We couldn’t get in and were sooo upset about it. Syria is supposed to have some very friendly local people. You’re so lucky that you were able to experience it pre civil war – it’s horrible what’s happened there since.

    As for Argentina, it’s high on our list! Hopefully this year actually 🙂

    Thanks for commenting.

  11. Agreed! Nice to hear from someone else who has “braved” (haha) Iran!

    Cheers 🙂

  12. Tanzania does have friendly people but for us, we didn’t make all that many meaningful connections – sort of “hello” type of things. Glad to hear you had a great experience there 🙂 and thank you for commenting.

  13. Good call Susan! The people in S.A. are fantastic as well. The only issue we had there was that we found it easier to connect with the white population, rather than with the entire population 🙁 We absolutely loved our 5 weeks in S.A., but felt that the racist divide was very strong there.

    I’m glad to hear you had awesome experiences though, that’s wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

  14. Iran has definitely been on my list for quite some time now! Everyone I know from there has been so kind and interesting and has encouraged me to visit. Hopefully sometime next year 🙂

  15. I think it’s just so inspiring that you’ve not only been to some of these places, which so many people will never see but also that you’ve made these wonderful local connections and shown a side to countries that are so often only known for their political situations – it’s lovely to read your stories and get a feel for the the real people behind the politics 🙂

  16. That would be great! Iran is an awesome country, we really loved it there 🙂

  17. Wow, thank you for the lovely comment! We do try to really get to know the people of each country we visit and learn a thing or two!

  18. Thanks for this great post … I was so happy to find Kyrgysztan on your list – I’ve just spent five months teaching German at Bishkek and had the chance to travel a little bit at the end of my stay. I’ve found Kyrgyz people to be the most hospitable I’ve encountered so far. Everywhere I went people went out of their way trying to help me and make my stay as a single woman safe and enjoyable. I had numerous invitations to peoples ‘homes and was fed with such abundant amounts of food that at some times I got worried about not fitting into my clothes any longer ☺ and mind it’s one of the 20 poorest countries on earth …
    Unfortunately, I’ve felt like you about Morocco, but probably I also should go back and try to stay away from touristic places …

    Keep travelling with a smile on your faces, I’m always looking forward to reading from you …

  19. Thanks for the comment Julia 🙂 Wow, teaching in Kyrgyzstan would be such an amazing experience I’m sure! Glad to hear that you found the people were kind and welcoming when you lived there.

    Happy travels 🙂

  20. That’s right, people in Iran welcoming strangers very well, They all challenging to invite you to their home. we Iranian love to connect with foreigners and tourists. I am really happy to see you add Iran in the list.

  21. That’s right, people in Iran welcoming strangers very well, They all challenging to invite you to their home. we Iranian love to connect with foreigners and tourists. I am really happy to see you add Iran in the list.

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