When many travelers prepare for a trip, they focus on safety more than connecting with locals in their vacation destination. People research how to blend in as a tourist or how to avoid being pickpocketed. Preparing to be safe where you’re visiting is a good thing but focusing solely on avoiding being scammed puts travelers in defense mode every time they encounter a local. I think locals can see when we are suspicious and can end up feeling offended.
Trying to be invisible can make traveler’s look standoffish and sometimes downright rude. The truth is, when we travel locals know we are visitors and the best thing to do to enjoy our time in a foreign land is try to fit in and make connections with locals, not try to hide from them.
That’s the point of travel, getting to know the places we visit, right? How can we do that if we don’t try to connect with the people? Here are ten easy things travelers can do to connect with locals and avoid being an ignorant tourist.
I know it sounds cliche, but it’s true, when you smile at the world, the world smiles back. You and the people around you will feel happier because you smiled. There is actually science to back that up! Smiling often while on vacation should be easy, so relax and smile:). Locals will see you as friendly, nice and likable, all good things when you’re trying to get to know the place you’re visiting. It will also make challenging situations easier, and impatient people more patient and understanding.
2. Learn How Not to be Rude
Instead of Googling “How not to be ripped off”, learn about the conduct that offends local people and work to avoid doing those things when you visit. Nothing makes the statement, “Ignorant tourist” truer than displaying overtly rude etiquette in the place you are visiting. Every culture has behaviors that are taboo, learn what those are and avoid displaying them.
3. Use your manners in the Local Language
You show common courtesy at home, why wouldn’t you when you travel. Not knowing the language is a poor excuse for skipping “Excuse me”, “Sorry”, or “Please” and “Thank you”. Learn a few polite words and phrases in the local language and use them when you should. Being polite using local language has made people smile so appreciatively in the places we’ve visited.
4. Make Eye Contact
Nothing is more engaging and disarming than eye contact paired with a genuine smile. Making eye contact with people makes you appear focused, engaged, friendly and confident. It also provides you with a lot of non-verbal information about what local people are thinking or feeling.
6. Learn Peoples Names and Use Them
Learning a local person’s name and using it every time you see them on your trip makes them feel good. Just like it make anyone new you meet at home feel good. It shows you care and is a skill that will help you connect with more people and make more friends on your trip and, in life actually.
7. Think the Best of People
In our experience traveling and just living, most people are good, very few are looking to do others harm. There really is something to “you get what you expect” and “energy flows where focus goes”. Expect to be slighted and you will be, think the best of people and you will get their best.
8. Pull out the Phrase Book
Do you feel self-conscious pulling out a phrase book? You shouldn’t! Using a phrase book, you learn appropriate responses to questions and show you want to connect with people despite the language barrier.
9. Seek Similarities When Meeting Locals
Focusing on differences divides people, seeking similarities connects people. The differences can be glaring but if you look to find similarities, the differences start to disappear. Point out and talk about the things you share with local people and many a friend will be made.
10. Manage Your Emotions
When your traveling things can go wrong. Challenges can arise because of a variety of different things; language barriers, visa complications, getting lost or just simply making a silly mistake. Freaking out in these kinds of situations invariably makes things worse. Worse for your situation and how people view you as a visitor.
Remaining calm and composed when trying to explain or negotiate inspires people to listen and try and understand what you are saying. Showing outrage, yelling threats and demands makes people shut down or go on the defensive. As the saying goes, you catch more flies (and understanding in some cases) with honey than with vinegar. Using the behaviors mentioned above will also help people want to work with you instead of against you.
If you want to befriend not offend locals when you travel doing these ten simple things will help you build more local relationships. Using common courtesy, learning cultural etiquette and making an effort to communicate despite language barriers helps bridge gaps to make more connections.