This post was last updated on July 26th, 2016
Veteran travelers seem to consistently recount chance encounters had with locals, telling stories about being invited to a stranger’s home for dinner or spending hours discussing politics and religion with a local on the train. We have many of my own similar stories; we’re certain our friends have long grown tired of hearing about our being stranded in rural Vietnam, thankfully having a kind family take us in for the night before an impending monsoon. But we tell these stories over and over again, because despite the attractions that we visit and the bucket-list items we cross off our list, these interactions with other people are often the most memorable parts of our travels.
Although we have this desire to connect with locals, it can be surprisingly difficult to do so. The opening paragraph to this article comes from a guest post I recently wrote for The Expeditioner, which details 8 ways to make meaningful connections with locals on your travels. One of the specific tips I included was utilizing websites that connect you with like-minded individuals in your host country. Since writing the article, a new community-driven website has come to my attention: WithLocals.
WithLocals is a global marketplace of locals sharing genuine insight to their home countries and cultures—at a much smaller price than your standard tour. The idea is simple: those living in the host country know the most about where to go, what to eat, and how to experience local culture. This allows you to learn about everyday life in your host country while enhancing your own knowledge and skills. What’s even better is that by hiring a local member of the community to cook authentic cuisine, tour off-the-beaten track places, or experience real cultural activities, you can be sure your money is making a positive impact on the local economy.
We have experienced amazing acts of kindness from locals around the world, but this is specifically true of our time in Vietnam. We could never have cycled from Hanoi to HCMC if it hadn’t been for the aid of the Vietnamese. Whether it was taking us in for the night when we were stranded in a storm, refilling our water bottles, giving us directions, or just running alongside our bike to pass on a high-five, these acts of kindness proved to be the number one reason why we say everyone should visit Vietnam. We even wrote an entire blog post dedicated to all the Vietnamese who made our trip so special.
Unfortunately, not everyone recounts the same rewarding connections with Vietnamese that we experienced. If you’re headed to Vietnam and looking for a way to interact with the locals (that doesn’t necessarily require cycling 1500km), then we highly recommend signing up for a WithLocals tour. Just a few of the options include dining with a typical working class family, spending the day as a farmer, and participating in a private clay art workshop! Previous visitors can rate their experiences and provide comments, ensuring that you know exactly what it is you’re signing up for. It’s sort of like AirBnB, except for rather than paying for a bed to sleep in, you’re gaining real insight to the local culture and making friends around the world.
Unfortunately we didn’t know about WithLocals when we were living and traveling in Asia, but now that we do, we will certainly be using the website to have more meaningful interactions with locals on our travels—and as a result, more meaningful travel.
What other ways do you use to interact with locals?