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How to meet local people when travelling

Tea local village Iran

When you go on a holiday anywhere in the world it is not always easy to meet local people. Some tour operators seem to deliberately shield you from cultural impact and present you with a sterilized version of the country you are in. Other tour operators offer tours which are designed for you to have a total immersion in the local culture. So how can you meet local people and have meaningful interactions while travelling? Here are some tips to have great cultural experiences while on an adventure holiday.

1) take your time

We have all heard of slow food. But slow travel? High-paced travel will ensure you see a lot of a country but it minimizes your chances of meeting people. Walking and cycling trips are ideal for slowing down and striking up conversations. In Vietnam you can join the locals cycling the country roads, in Japan you can hike the back roads and in Kenya you can walk with the Maasai.

2) stay put

Stay in a place for more than a few nights and chances are you get to know people. G-Adventures has some good trips in their "local living" portfolio. To be sure, not all of those trips are created equal but I particularly like their trips in Umbria and Croatia, where home-cooked food eaten at your host's table ensures great conversations. Further afield, in Mongolia you get to travel in oxcarts and live with the locals in gers, while in Nepal community feasts and games help to grease the wheels.

3) visit with the local people

Stay in a hotel and chances are you will have few interactions besides dealing with the staff. But stay or eat in a local person's home and you will get to know their culture and what makes them tick. Intrepid Travel is a world leader in this kind of travel. In Iran I stayed a night in a farmhouse high up in the mountains and picked apples, danced and drank tea with the farmers. On the same trip I enjoyed great food and conversation with every-day Iranians on several different occasions. And I have bragging rights for visiting the home of Miss Russia (disclaimer: she was not there but her parents were lovely). On that trip I learned to cook simple dishes from a Russian grandmother, shared a beer on an overnight train with a local teacher and elsewhere had great conversations about gardening and life in Russia in general.

4) travel with a local tour guide

Most tour operators these days employ local people as their tour leaders (although there are some exceptions, so ask us if you are not sure). Clearly a local guide is going to be able to connect you a lot better to local people than someone visiting from abroad. I mean: picture yourself getting guided around your home town by someone who has just flown in from, say, the Falkland Islands - what local people would they know?

5) be open

Of course the most important part of meeting people is to be open, curious and personable. Yes there may be language barriers but you have so much more in common with people abroad than language. Use your hand and feet and above all smile and show people you are open to interactions. Find a shared interest and take it from there. Show you are inquisitive and people will respond.

What your fellow travellers say?

Pauline just came back from a home-stay on Isla Taquile, a rocky, terraced island in Lake Titicaca in Peru. This home-stay is exclusively available on our tailor-made trips which we run for groups with as few as two travellers. Accommodation at Taquile is basic –there is no electricity on the island, nor running water. Your hosts give you a comfortable bed with clean sheets and plenty of blankets, water in a clay pot drawn from a nearby spring, and candles for your room in the evening. Views in every direction are spectacular – you are in the center of the lake, surrounded by mountains of which the 20,000-foot summits of the Royal Range in Bolivia are the most impressive. Pauline would normally stay in hotels yet rated her home stay as one of the highlights of her trip. She was taken to the island by our guide who knew all the people and as a result they were invited to a church service and got to meet the local weavers in their homes.

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