What makes a destination special? Is the natural attractions or the historical monuments or the wide range of delicious foods? During the course of my journey, I have come to realize that it is the people that define a country or a region. The local population is and will be the core of any place you will visit, even if it is a hugely popular tourist destination. We talk about experiencing and learning about different cultures across the world, but where would be the existence of cultures without the local people? What significance would those cuisines have of not for those people? The world has evolved from the times when countries and people would be isolated from each other. Cross-cultural interactions and exchanges are at an all-time peak right now. Gone are the days when we would just rely on news channels to get a hold of how the world is shaping up. If you are able to understand these factors, then you yourself can find a whole lot of reasons to mingle with the local communities.
There are a lot of ways you can connect with the local people when you are traveling to and across a country. Most of the time you don't even have to make a big gesture or invest a lot of time doing this. Sometimes, the most simplest of things you do are good enough for those people to appreciate you. Here are a few ways how you can connect with the local people:
● Speak their language - No, you don’t have to be an expert at a new language to do that. Just learn some of the simple greetings like “Hello”, “Good Morning”, “How are you”, “Thank You” in the local language. You get these pocket-sized language guides everywhere and those are come in quite handy to get yourself acquainted with the foreign languages. Trust me, it is quite fun when you greet someone in their language, for example “Ni Hao”, “Goedemorgen”, “Apa Kabar?” - which stand for Hello, Good Morning and How are you in Chinese, Dutch and Indonesian respectively. This way even the locals would feel quite warmed up to you.
● Make small talk - When you are at a restaurant, bar, shop or even your hotel/hostel, make small talk with the local folks there be it the waiter who served you food or the people at the reception desk or even the vendor from the street-food cart. You do not have to ask them about their family history but just a simple “Hi”, “Hello”, “How are you”, “What’s your name”, “Nice to meet you” is a good enough conversation. You never know what these interactions can lead to. My friendly chat with a waiter at a restaurant in Siem Reap,Cambodia led me to the best travel memory I have had when he took me to meet his uncle who was a survivor from the Cambodian civil war.
● Learn about culture and food - When you have longer conversations with the local people of the place you are visiting , more often than not you will end up discussing about their food and culture. If you are of the inquisitive kind or an adventurous foodie, then trying to know more about their food and culture will come naturally to you. Showing interest in their way of life, their religion, their rituals, festivals and foods is a great way of bonding with the local people.
● Volunteer - Whether you want to blend in or you want to give back something to the local communities, volunteering is a wonderful opportunity to do both. Many travelers take part in various volunteering projects across the countries they visit. I too have been involved with a couple of volunteering stints when I was traveling in Indonesia and Thailand. Most of these volunteering projects are setup by a group of local men and women with the intention of helping sections of the local communities. As you travel, you will find a lot of these environmental conservation, English teaching, community development and similar socially relevant projects where foreign volunteers are welcome. When you become a part of any such activities, you not only are doing something good towards the society but you gradually become a part of the team of local people. You live, eat, work with them for days and ultimately they become some of your best friends for life. Even though now I am at my home in India writing this book, I constantly crave for the company of those lovely people back in Indonesia with whom I lived for three months.
Traveler, Blogger and Social Volunteer - the three things that describes me best. I am Tamshuk from India. I fear heights so you will never see me bungee jumping or skydiving but you can find me hiking and climbing mountains somewhere in the world. When I am not trekking across the jungles, getting bitten by snakes or exploring the underwater world, I volunteer in community service programmes and as an English teacher. I travel for the stories that are behind every destinations, cuisines and communities.