4 mins

The Wanderlust guide to meeting the locals

Interacting with people from different cultures is one of the best reasons to travel. Here’s your guide to meeting them

Meet the Maasai (Dreamtime)

Meeting people from different cultures is one of the best reasons to step outside your front door – creating the stuff of lifelong memories.

And while much of the travel industry has often seemed devoted to keeping travellers cocooned in resorts, the times are a-changing. From homestays to house-swaps, couchsurfing to indigenous-run lodges, the opportunities to share the lives of others are growing fast. ‘Community-based tourism’ is the buzz-phrase for many emerging travel destinations, and networks of guides, homestays and local ‘greeters’ are springing up worldwide. 

Meet the locals (Magazine)

Looking for inspiration?

So, how do you meet the locals? It’s easy enough to meet the hawkers – they’ll spot you a mile off and make themselves known. While that can offer an interesting cultural exchange, what if you want to meet people who don’t necessarily want to sell you something?

With that in mind, Lousie Spratt has put together a list of 5 alternative ways to travel that will put you in immediate and close contact with locals. Thidara Udomritkul has put together a guide on how to fast track a truly local experience.

Meeting the locals is an essential part of Nick Boulos’s job. As a travel writer he needs to get underneath the surface of a destination. He reveals how in his piece about taking notes and meeting locals.

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5 alternative ways to travel – Louise Spratt

How to fast track a truly cultural experience – Thidara Udomritkul

Taking notes and meeting locals – Nick Boulos

Traditional ger tent (Shutterstock.com)Traditional ger tent (Shutterstock.com)

Staying with locals

The quickest way to meet the locals – and understand their life – is to live with them.  It’s easy too. Whether you’re looking for homestays in India or Barcelona, we have gathered the best options in both.

Looking for something more exotic? Antonia Bolinbroke-Kents recommends Mongolia and explains the ins and outs of staying in an iconic Mongolian ger.

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Top 5 homestays in India – Wanderlust team

7 of the best homestays in Barcelona ­– Wanderlust Team

The ins and outs of visiting a Mongolian ger – Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent

Learning to cook in Italy (G Adventures) Learning to cook in Italy (G Adventures)

Dip your toes

If you’re the kind of traveller who likes their own space, then staying with locals probably isn’t for you. That doesn’t mean you have to miss out on meeting the locals too. Deborah Vernon has put together a list of free local tours around the world where locals introduce you to their neighbourhood. Paul Bloomfield, too, highly recommends this approach, especially on the sub continent where he went on a walking tour through Indian villages.

Meeting the locals doesn’t always have to involve walking. Casey Mead lists 5 ways to experience local cultural in Italy, one of which includes cooking delicious Italian food. The Wanderlust team have put together a list too, revealing 6 authentic cultural experiences in the Maldives from catching the public ferry to eating savoury snacks in an authentic Maldivian café.

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Welcome to my neighbourhood: free local tours around the world – Deborah Vernon

A walking tour through India’s villages – Paul Bloomfield

5 ways to experience local culture in Italy – Casey Mead

6 authentic cultural experiences in the Maldives – Wanderlust Team 

Himba woman (Emma Thomson)

Want to go even deeper?

Maybe you are the kind of traveller that wants to do more than dip their toe into the cultural waters. Then you’ll want to check out the more immersive cultural experiences some of our contributors have had.

Sabina Trojanova ventured deep into Morocco’s mountains to live life as a Berber. Suzy Bennett spent time with the Aborigines of Central Australia's Pit Lands to gain a deeper understanding of their cultural. And Emma Thomson lived with the Himba people of Namibia. Dan Linstead bedded down in the longhouses of Sarawak to get a better idea of life in Borneo.

Mindy Budgor, however, went deepest of all. She joined a Massai tribe and undergoing training to become a fully-fledged warrior.

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My life as a Berber – Sabina Trojanova

Meeting the Aborigines of Central Australia's Pit Lands – Suzy Bennett

At home with the Himba of Namibia – Emma Thomson

Meeting the locals in Sarawak, Borneo – Dan Linstead

How to be a Maasai warrior – Mindy Budgor

The wai is the traditional form of Thai greeting (Shutterstock)

The wai is the traditional form of Thai greeting (Shutterstock)

Avoiding cultural pitfalls

People do things differently around the world. Meeting the locals ­– and especially staying with them – can be a cultural minefield.

Fear not. The Wanderlust team are on hand with 5 ways to be a better homestay guest. Elinor Court lists 7 etiquette tips for travelling in Thailand. And the folk from China Simplified explain how to avoid looking foolish in China.

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5 ways to be a better homestay guestWanderlust Team

7 etiquette tips for travelling in Thailand – Elinore Court

How to avoid looking foolish in China – China Simplified

Happy chaps in Esfahan (Peter Moore)

Capturing it all on film

It can be fascinating watching local people going about their daily toil – but while the resulting photos can be great, you need to shoot with respect. That goes for the people you are staying with too. Engagement is the key, says Steve Davey as he explains all in his piece about photographing locals with respect.

If it’s inspiration you’re after, check out the photos taken of locals by readers in their travels.

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Photography tips: respecting locals – Steve Davey

Readers’ photos

Locals in a Madagascar village (Dreamtime)

Everything you need to know

Ready to start planning your trip? Our Meet The Locals travel guide is the place to start. Make sure you drop by our recommendations and the latest news about meeting the locals too.

If you have a particular question about meeting the locals, pop over to the myWanderlust Forum where our knowledgeable community are ready to spring into action and share all they know. Or check out the questions that have already been asked about meeting the locals. The answer to yours might already be there.

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Meet the locals guideWanderlust Team

Meet the locals recommendationsWanderlust Team

Latest news about meeting the locals

Forum posts about meeting the locals 

Meet the Sikhs (Peter Moore)

Ready to go?

Here’s a selection of fantastic tours from our partners that are guaranteed to put you in close contact with locals. From Cuisine and Culture tours in China to Orangutan and Tribes Volunteers in Borneo, there is something for every taste and budget.

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Our Trip Finder can help you meet the locals.

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