Finding Locals

ElizabetaThe sun stands high over the campanile as I begin to melt.  A group of tourists, all in matching orange shirts, bump into me as a man with a camera steps on my bare toes after trying to take a picture of the basilica.  If I put my arms out and spin,

I would take down about 11 people.  They are everywhere.  These aren’t Venetians though; they are travelers just like me.  Where did the locals go?

Meeting locals is crucial for diving into the culture.  This is true whether you are going to New Orleans or Venice.  Here are some tips to end the hiding, and seek the locals.

Hire a Local Guide

This past summer I met some of the most influential people on my travels.  Many of them were local guides.  Herr Jung was a retired schoolmaster in Bacharach, Germany that brought World War II to life in the vineyard covered Rhineland.  Francesca was our Rome guide.  While walking through the Colosseum, I almost heard the lions roar.  Local guides offer expertise and a connection to their city.

Finding a guide can be as simple as checking out a reliable guidebook.  Something that I will be trying this summer is a greeter tour.  The Global Greeter Network offers free tours to over 40 destinations.   The company connects you with a local to provide an insider experience.  Check out the site for more information.

Take a Class

I love learning and often take classes here in the states to meet new people.  Consider your interests when thinking about options.  Visiting Paris and want to learn some new recipes?  Take a cooking class.  Staying in Madrid and want to practice your Spanish?  Take a language class.  This will be extremely handy for the next tip.

Talk Herr-Jung-Through-the-Back-

The truth is, you will probably have to talk to people if you want to build any kind of relationship.  If you are traveling abroad, learn some basics from the language.  This breaks down barriers even if all you can muster up is a “buongiorno.”  Chances are they might know English anyway.

Traveling solo forces the adventurer to begin conversations.  Ask someone to take a photo for you, comment on someone’s football jersey, or ask advice for a place to eat.  There are so many ways to begin a conversation.  Imagine your kindergarten days when all that stood between you and your new friends were the first words.

Check the Calendar

I love when markets are in town, or a festival is taking over the streets.  This is one of the best times to get involved with your new destination.  If I’m in Paris during the summer solstice, I wander the cobbled streets as my ears take in the music all around during the Fete de la Musique.  Is it October in Germany?  I hope you’ve trained yourself for some serious beer drinking.  Visiting Arles on Wednesday?  Get ready to hunt for some bargains because there is a great market along the ramparts.  Maybe you could even pick up a baguette and cheese for a makeshift picnic in the spot Van Gogh supposedly got the inspiration for Starry Night.

Stay at a B&B

Staying at a bed and breakfast is like going to grandma’s.  Get ready to be spoiled with food, comfy accommodations, and an expert on the area.  Hosts can offer a unique perspective that allows you to find the best restaurants and local hangouts.

There are several tricks to getting out there to meet new people.  Become a liberated traveler as you break free from the tourist label and become someone’s new friend.

Do you have a story to share?  Please tell us how you have met new people while traveling!

Be a Morning Person

I understand that very few Haarlemindividuals out there are morning people.  Even if that is the case, I urge you to become one on your travels.  When I recount my favorite travel memories, so many have taken place in the early morning, before the tourists have been dumped off their ships, buses, or whatever vessels they arrive on.  One of my favorite examples is my recent stroll in Haarlem, Netherlands last summer.

If you look at my pictures, you might be able to pull out the reasoning behind my infatuation with the morning.  First, take in the light.  It is gentle and accents every object it touches.  Second, gaze up at the sky.  I find some of the most complementing clouds during this time.  Third, observe that water.  It is still with precise reflections.  Finally, do you see any people polluting my shots?  The only people out at this time were the locals.  They were taking a peaceful canoe ride, or riding on their bikes in their formal dress attire.  These are the types of compositions I want to design while traveling.

Set your alarm clock early, fix some coffee, and start your day.  The experiences may be the only motivation you need to change your habits.

Reflections

The Master of European Travel: Rick Steves

Rick Steves has been traveling with me since Paraglider3my first trip to Europe. His guidebooks offer the insider tips every traveler needs to get rid of the tourist label.  His company, Europe Through the Back Door, promotes thoughtful travel at an affordable price.  If you are going to Europe, he is your man.  I wouldn’t zip my suitcase without him.

This time I not only took his advice, but let him plan everything.  I don’t think there is a better touring group in the world.  I’ve always been more of an independent traveler, and this tour offered that freedom.  For more on my experiences across Europe on a Rick Steves’ tour, please visit my award winning website: www.experiencingthebestofeurope.com.