In an age when Instagram-worthy selfies and travel bucket lists are top priority for many tourists, it’s easy to find yourself wanting more out of your trip. Whether you’re seeking insider tips on where to eat or party, hope to gain a new perspective on your destination, or simply want to meet up with kindred souls around the world, finding a local connection can help give your travels meaning. There’s no better way to discover a country or understand its culture than meeting the locals. To help you break down the boundaries and seek out unforgettable experiences, here are 10 ways to connect with locals on your travels.
1. Organize a homestay
The most authentic way to immerse yourself in a new culture is to spend a night with a local family. There are some incredible homestay tours to choose from, whether you wish to spend a night in a traditional Mongolian ger, join a local nomadic family to celebrate lunar new year festival in Mongolia, or camp out with a nomad tribe in Gobi desert. For the most memorable experience, look for tours that allow you to live like a local and help out with the milking animals, riding horses, cooking dishes, and helping their everyday lifestyle work. Staying with nomadic family for a night is usually part of the trip. Ask your Local Friends in Mongolia, they also offer cheap bed & breakfast for a small rate in Ulaanbaatar. It is most convenient way to start and end your trip in Mongolia.
2. Learn the language
Mastering a few phrases in the local language can be a real door-opener; even a clumsy attempt at a sentence will be sure to elicit a smile, especially in countries where the local language is rarely spoken by tourists. Learn some useful phrases at the start of your trip and practice them, or join a private course to take your skills to the next level. Keep an eye out for language exchange classes and meet-ups, and be sure to practice – strike up a conversation with locals, talk to a friendly stranger on the bus, or tell your taxi driver your destinations. Mongolian young generations are so keen to learn English and other foreign language, they will be so happy to talk to a stranger in their language, or meetup for language exchange. There are some language exchange clubs in Ulaanbaatar, just search them on Facebook groups. It will be fun.
Volunteer opportunities are available in almost every country around the world and are a great way for visitors to get to know the local community. Doctors, nurses, and TEFL/TESOL qualified teachers will find a large demand for their skills, especially in Mongolia, but there are opportunities for every traveler. Look for something that interests you and matches your skills. Animal lover? Help out with vet clinic in Ulaanbaatar or the wild camel conservation in Gobi desert. Love kids? Visit a local school or help out at an orphanage. Want serious office work? Help local English language newspaper for its newspaper production by offering your volunteer skills on news editing, writing reviews, opinion, or photography.
4. Hire a local guide
Even if you normally prefer to go it alone, exploring a destination with a local guide who is truly passionate about his or her hometown can add a whole new dimension to your visit. Look for a guide who has similar interests, whether it’s wild nature, history, art, or nightlife, and don’t be afraid to ask questions – most locals are more than happy to offer their opinions, give recommendations or explain local customs. They will tell you more than official tour guides who work for tourist agencies. Hire #LocalFriendsMongolia and travel like a local.
5. Make connections online
There are new travel websites and apps springing up all the time, so make sure you log on before you board your flight. Connect with like-minded locals on Couchsurfing, or rent a room (rather than a whole apartment) via Airbnb to benefit from your host’s local knowledge. Join your host family for a dinner, they will be more than happy to welcome you. You will also learn to make some traditional Mongolian dishes like dumpling, stir fried noodles, or even bigger weekend feasting for landmark barbecue with red hot stones.
6. Attend local festivals and events
Whether it’s for Munich’s Oktoberfest, Mexico’s Day of the Dead, or India’s colorful Holi Festival, visiting a town or city during one of its famous festivals guarantees unforgettable travel memories. To make the most of your experience, find out where the locals go: Rather than heading to Rio for Carnival, why not check out the less-touristy festivities in northern village of Khatgal for reindeer festival, ten thousand camel festival in Gobi Desert or Golden Eagle Festival in Altai mountains? For a better chance at meeting locals, consider joining Mongolia’s more unusual cultural traditions, like the Naadam festival. But not the big one in Ulaanbaatar, hire #LocalFriendsMongolia to take you to local Naadam festival in small remote villages, which is more grass-root level experience.
7. Use local services
It can be easy to stay inside the “tourist bubble” when you travel. But even with a busy itinerary, there are easy ways to incorporate local life into your stay: Hop on the bus or public transport to get around, pick up some picnic supplies at the town market, or stop by the supermarket to grab some snacks for your journey. Whatever you need to do, consider if there’s a local service you can use, whether that’s doing your laundry at the local launderette, heading to the hairdresser or barber shop, or treating yourself to a traditional massage or manicure.
8. Escape the tourist trail
Climbing the Eiffel Tower, walking the Great Wall of China, or marveling over Machu Picchu might be on your travel bucket list, but you’ll likely be shoulder to shoulder with other tourists the whole way. For a more local experience, take the time to get off the beaten track by travelling to smaller villages, lesser-known places, and suburban neighborhoods. Don’t be shy about asking for recommendations either – quiz locals on the best places to eat or shop, or follow #LocalFriendsMongolia to the coolest bars or live music clubs.
9. Try something new
Even if you’re only in town for a few days, look for classes and activities that will give you a chance to meet others. Attend a yoga class in the park; take part in a cooking class or crafts workshop; or join local running, walking, hiking, or salsa dance nights for an unforgettable experience of the city.
10. Travel slowly
If you’re aiming to connect with locals on your travels, the best advice is to take your time and travel slowly rather than rushing to check off the sights and hopping back on a plane. Opt for a leisurely road trip, ride camels on the sand dune, spend more nights in Gobi Desert, or sitting next an open fire under the millions of stars while sipping some local-made hard liquors. Keep your itinerary flexible, be spontaneous, and give yourself extra time in each destination so you are open to invitations. The best moments always happen when you least expect it.