Making friends in foreign places

A traveler’s guide to making friends in foreign places. Source: Shutterstock.

THE trend of traveling like a local picked up popularity in 2018, with a plethora of “how to stop being a typical tourist” guides emerging from the woodwork.

Traveling became more about getting off the beaten path to experience hidden gems in a destination and leaving the much-loved, but often burdensome Lonely Planet guide on the bookshelf at home.

This trend of traveling like a local has only done good things for travelers and local economies alike. Instead of tourists only eating at “recommended” restaurants that offer attractive commissions to hotels, the trend of self-exploration in a new destination has revealed smaller, independent eateries to travelers.

Likewise, smaller tour companies get a look in as travelers seeking more of an authentic, less crowded experience are using locally-owned and often cheaper tour options.

The trend of traveling like a local is brilliant but on the same note, we understand how daunting the prospect of ditching a Westerner-filled accommodation, your guidebooks, and beloved fast-food chains can be, especially when navigating a language barrier.

It doesn’t need to be a discouraging notion because more often than not, the locals at the destination you’re in will be more than willing to help you with directions and tips of where to go and what to see.

Take Taiwan, for example. They’ve recently been voted as the friendliest county in the world for expats. Despite Mandarin being the official language of Taiwan, a hard one to learn, conversing with locals is easy.

Many of the younger generation, especially in the Taipei, speak good English. But even a broad smile and a few hand gestures could see you get what you need. In fact, you would be hard pushed not to experience the friendliness of the Taiwanese because even if you look bewildered for just a moment, you’ll likely have locals asking if they can help you.

Making friends with locals in a new destination is the best way to have an authentic, uncrowded experience.

So, here are some tips on striking up conversations with locals in foreign places:

Ask for directions

Just because you’re ditching the tourist label in favor of the traveler badge doesn’t mean you can’t ask for directions.

Asking a friendly looking local were to go might even see you taken to your destination.

Ask for recommendations

We do concede guidebooks are great for suggestions on where to eat but you’ll be dining with tourists who have all read the same book.

Asking a local where to eat almost guarantees you an authentic meal.

Share your food

In Asia, meal times form a huge part of the day. All you have to do is ask a Malaysian about missing breakfast for a feature-length lecture on why no meal should ever be missed.

While the dining culture in Asia is important, it’s also hugely social with many family members and friends dining together each evening. In countries such as China and India especially, food is presented in the middle of the table and everyone digs in.

Source: Shutterstock.

So why not share your food in an attempt to build a friendship, if only for one evening?

Learn the language                  

Ultimately, learning the local language or even just useful phrases is the fast-track way to interact with locals and discover the destination’s hidden treasures quicker.

Be inquisitive and show enthusiasm

Asking questions about what locals enjoy in the region, even about their hobbies, families or faith shows a genuine interest in them and what they have to say.

Hopefully, a two-way conversation will be struck up and you can reveal elements of your own culture too.

Attend events

Airbnb Experiences have made discovering the local area, interacting with locals and trying new things easier than ever for travelers.

There are also sites such as Meetup and Facebook which host plenty of interesting local events.

Source: Shutterstock.

Attending events, festivals and experiences will encourage you to interact with others.