Hanging with locals when traveling will always make a more unique and usually more fun experience. Why? Honestly, because they can make your experience more authentic, especially if you’re traveling to a foreign country. When you show up somewhere, it’s hard to find the best things to do. Apps can be helpful, like Yelp, but let’s be honest: All of the people leaving the reviews are travelers, too. And usually (not always, but usually), their five-star review about “the incredible majestic experience of El Caliente Fun World,” is based on the fact that they were just excited to be somewhere new but they didn’t have anything to really compare their experience because it’s not their home and how could they possibly know. I can’t tell you how many tourists come to Italy with a list of things they “must,” do according to their cousin, Barb, from Florida. And the list is a bunch of weirdly touristy things that couldn’t possibly be further from where the locals eat, drink or socialize. Seriously, someone once told me that their friend told them to “eat dinner at BLANKETY BLANK in the Duomo Piazza in Florence!” and I kind of threw up in my mouth a little. Because in that Piazza, there is only ONE restaurant that makes good food, only one place the locals eat, and everywhere else serves actual trash food that is reheated from frozen bags they excavate from their freezer. But, how would you possibly know that if you don’t live there?
On my very first trip to Florence, my friend and I met a group of Italian guys at a local concert. We found the concert by asking a Florentine store employee what she was doing that night. The result? A whacky group of guys who were able to show us a side of Florence that we’d never have found otherwise. In fact, when I moved to Italy for school two years later, the stuff the students were doing was totally different from the stuff my Italian friends did. It’s so easy to fall into tourist traps in cities that thrive on tourism.
So, how do you make local friends and see the authentic side of any given place to get the best experience possible? Well, mostly by chatting with strangers with reckless abandon. But also, remember that people can be rapists and murderers even in pretty places like Paris or Rome (even though it does happen much less in most European countries) so have fun, open up, talk to people, but like don’t follow them alone down a dark alley at 3 a.m. Use your best judgment and the buddy system when possible. Traveling alone? Stay in well-populated areas and carry Mace (no, I’m not joking).
Go to Local Bars
A really great way to meet people is by going to local bars or finding a local concert. And I’m not talking about the dance clubs that some sketchy dude handed you a flyer for the second her heard you speak English. That place will suck, I promise you. Instead, ask a barista or a shop assistant to point you towards their favorite bar. Make sure that you emphasize that you want to go where they go, not where they think you’ll want to go. Local pubs are always a fantastic way to meet random people. I have a close English friend who I met in a pub in London ten years ago. We’re still friends, we still talk, and he still makes fun of Americans for wearing stretchy waist pants.
When you’ve dreamed of going somewhere like Rome or Florence, it can be really easy to get obsessed with site-seeing. And you’re thinking, yeah, of course, I have to see this, and that, and all the things I’ve read about in history books! And I agree, you should see some of that stuff for sure. But part of the beauty of travel is to actually meet the people who made all of that cool architecture, food, and art possible. What would Florence be without Florentines? And Rome without Romans? You get the idea. Leave time to wander, give yourself a half day to aimlessly walk around, have a long coffee break, go to a bar, and talk to people. Talk to your barista, your bartender, or the shop assistant. Chat with the people sitting next to you in that cute cafe in Budapest. Go ahead, they’re not going to bite (unless they’re a vampire. Possibly check mirror reflection if they seem unnaturally pale and magical to you).
You can meet some pretty fun people abroad by going to a Meetup, like this one in Padova, Italy called Tea and Talkers. You show up, chat, make new friends and have tea apparently. Glorious.
Eat at a Local’s House
While you can’t just show up to someone’s house and demand they feed you while vacationing abroad, you can do the next best thing–sign up for a dinner on EatWith. Humans basically invite you over to eat in their home for a fair price. The humans are vetted (think Lyft) and you get to meet some locals, eat some delicious food, and get the details on what locals do in the city you’re visiting.
Reading blogs, like this one, is an excellent way to explore a city through the eyes of a local person. Sure, there are a few blogs out there that care more about curating a pretty Instagram (this isn’t a dis, I love these blogs, too, but for different reasons) than helping you to have an authentic experience but it’s easy to tell the difference between a person just passing through and writing blips about their trip and a person who knows the place decently well and has spent a good amount of time there.
Instagram and Facebook
There is a shitload (actual scientific measurement) of amazing Travel Instagram accounts out there. Some are enormous and others are not. Honestly, the smaller accounts are more useful for you as a traveler. Follow them, share their stuff, make friends and chat a little. In no time, you can spark up a friendship and they might be willing to meet up with you when you’re in their city. I’ve met some pretty great people through my FB page and would def hang out with them if given the chance. Now, if you write someone and they don’t reply back in a timely manner, don’t get mad. I try to reply back to every email I receive and sometimes it takes me MONTHS to get back to people. Not because I’m an asshole but because I get a lot of emails and just honestly can’t get to people fast enough.
I have expat friends who love Tinder for meeting potential partners and friends alike. And one of my fave people in the world met ALL of his Italian friends on Grindr (so, so many friends). Again, be safe, but sometimes these dating apps can be a really fun way to meet people. It’s especially fun if you’re traveling with a friend and you guys can do a double date. Safety in numbers! But also, have a great time! Traveling alone? Again, just meet in a very public place ideally during the day like for lunch. And, avoid being alone with that person until you know them better.
And there you go! How do you meet locals abroad? Share your stories, tips, and tricks in the comments below.