I strongly believe that you'll have a better experience when travelling if you take the time to meet the locals. Within reason though, befriending a local cartel might not be good for your health.
When you're travelling somewhere it's all fun and games to get lost on your own, but along the way you should definitely make the effort to talk to people who live there - you never know what could come of it!
When I've taken time to meet the locals on my travels I've learned so much more about the place I'm visiting; the history and the local gems that aren't in the travel brochures. Sometimes it pays off to be a little annoying and talk to anyone and everyone:
- Locals don't do the touristy stuff, they have their own local spots that they can tell you about/show you
- How will you make new friends if you don't start the conversation?
- You might have somewhere to stay next time you're in town
- There's every chance you could meet your soul mate (not speaking from personal experience here sadly)
Example 1: Munich, December 2014
My friends and I had stopped for a hot drink at the night markets in Munich because we had a free night on our Topdeck tour. Everyone else had stayed at the beer hall and we'd gone out and got lost in the city.
The winter markets there have this really cool thing where you hire mugs for your mulled wine or hot chocolates etc and there's a little sheltered area where you can hang out and drink. While we were standing there we started chatting to a woman who had three glasses of mulled wine - no, they weren't all for her, she was waiting for her nephews.
They turned out to be a couple of guys our age and we all had a great time chatting. The store had closed before I was able to return my mug so I kept it, and still have it back home as a keepsake (better be looking after it Mum!). My friends were Australian and the guys remembered there was an Australian bar near-by...or was it an Irish bar? They couldn't remember which it was but they took us there anyway.
I know, we all look like family but we only met them that night, I swear.
When we got there, turned out it was both! There was an Irish bar with a cheesy Australian bar down under (I hope this was on purpose!). We probably would've met plenty of locals at the beer hall too, but it was such a fun, memorable encounter.
Example 2: Molokai, Hawaii, March 2015
When my ex and I travelled to Hawaii, his gift of the gab saved us from being stranded at the tiny airport on Molokai Island, where baggage claim and the waiting area were the same thing. He struck up a conversation with a lone traveller, Tony, on the shuttle to the inter-island airport (I was really grumpy and antisocial because it was the morning). Once we landed, we soon realised that the airport was quite far out of town, rentals were very expensive, and there was no public transport for us to catch.
Luckily, Tony was there and he told us he and his partner would take us to the motel. It was a bit of kerfuffle - the motel was closed and when I called they didn't have our booking. Tony and Tim stayed with us though and made sure we were alright.
Over the next few days they drove us around the island, cooked us dinner one night and took us to get a Molokai delicacy. Molokai Hot Bread is famous with the locals but you'd never find it if you didn't know that the bakery opens a back window onto a dark alleyway, and every night they sell the most delicious fresh bread rolls filled with sweet things like strawberries and cinnamon. So delicious, but so ugly, sadly none of the photos I took turned out any good so you'll just have to take my word for it when I say people love it so much, they stock up and take it home on the ferry.
Example 3: Indonesia, year unknown
When my parents came back from their second honeymoon in Indonesia they told us a story about being invited to a banquet. They had been chatting to their taxi driver who really liked them and he came back a couple of days later to pick them up and took them to a big banquet being thrown by his family. They didn't know what half the food was but it was such an honour to be invited into their home and they had an amazing time.
I have other examples of great recommendations of finding great spots thanks to locals or hearing about the history of a place that not a lot of people know about, but this post is getting really long!
If you've had a cool experience like this I would love to hear about it!