When you’re traveling long-term, you often don’t want to just be passing through all the time. Sometimes you want to take a moment and meet people and make local friends. Also, making friends with locals is a fantastic way to get the scoop on the best restaurants and coolest things to do, often beyond the usual tourist scope. If you can find someone who knows the language to show you around a bit, all the better as it often gives you access to things that you wouldn’t otherwise find. This is an important goal for us while traveling. I love meeting new people and experiencing new cultures, as well as getting a new perspective on the places I’m going. Here’s how we manage to accomplish it.
–CouchSurfing – I’ve mentioned CouchSurfing before as a cool way to sleep for free. But also, your host lives in the city you’re staying in and can often give you great insight into the area. Hosts are not always free but often they will take the time to at least make you a list of cool stuff to do, if not go around with you and show you things.
–CS meetups – Maybe you couldn’t get a host on CouchSurfing or you did get one but want to meet more people. Look on the CouchSurfing website for the group based in the city you’re in. In the information section (if it’s an active group) they will often detail the weekly meetups available. Often these are on a weeknight and involve going to happy hour at a bar or eating dinner together. Look for a thread about this week’s meetup, sign up, and go! You will meet lots of cool people and often they will be up for doing stuff with you later in the week. Another option utilizing CS groups is to look for threads about other gatherings, or make one yourself – for instance, you might find a few people getting together on Thursday for a short hike and cliff jumping, or you might want to go to Disneyland but not by yourself so you make a thread and hope people want to join you.
–Meetup.com – My final recommendation for meeting locals is to use the site Meetup.com. Make an account and search for meetups in the city you’re going to. Look for things related to your interests and join the group. Then hope that there’s a good-looking meetup while you’re there. For example, we went on a midnight bike ride with Beijing Outdoor Adventurers, and went to the weekly board game night of the Hong Kong Board Game group. These were both things we really enjoy, and the people that came also enjoyed it. So you instantly have something in common with everyone there, which is cool. You also get to do something you like, at times things that are difficult to arrange on your own (like a board game night – you have to know people to get in on that).
All these options are pretty easy ways to quickly make local friends in a place you’re visiting. Of course, they’re mostly limited to urban areas so you might have trouble finding things out in the countryside. I’ve also found that using any of these options nearly requires having a local phone number, or at least a phone that can be used internationally. I never thought I’d need a phone while traveling, but it has actually come in handy much more often than I expected.
Can you think of other ways to meet locals?