Making Connections

One of the best ways to feel less like a tourist is to build some local connections while traveling. A local connection helps you understand the pulse of a destination, learn about the hidden gems, and have a deeper experience. This doesn’t always come naturally to many of us though – even if you’re not a total introvert, making connections in a place where you’re not a native speaker can be tough. Here are a few of my strategies. 

Hire a Friend

In past newsletters, I’ve talked about how much I love hiring local guides when I travel. Sure, I’m interested in taking a food tour or a bike tour or whatever it is they’re offering. But I can guarantee I’ll be the one who’s asking them all kinds of other questions along the way – “How long have you lived here? How has it changed? Are there any special events happening this week? Where are your favorite places to eat? What do you do for fun?” 

When you build a connection with a guide, they’ll often pass you their WhatsApp or other social media info, and they become a great resource for the rest of your trip. And, if you’re ever in a real jam, they might help you out. Even better, they can become ongoing connections and actual friends – I keep in touch with some of the guides we’ve hired around the world, and always make a point to say hi in person when I can. 

Do Something Normal

When you’re doing tourist stuff, you’re going to meet tourism people. Do non-tourist stuff. Is there a particular athletic activity you enjoy? I always try to look for a rock climbing gym. Sure, in part it’s because I love climbing. But it’s also an awesome chance to connect with regular folks. On our recent trip to Penang, I met some  younger folks at the climbing gym and learned about their secret climbing spots on the Island, plus where else in Malaysia they like to explore. 

It doesn’t have to just be athletic stuff – like to knit? Go to a yarn store and chat with the customers. Do you love videogames? Find a gamer bar. 

Stalk Social Media

In advance of a trip, I’ll do my best to look for people and groups to follow on social media. As you’re doing your research for a trip, look up the restaurants you’re interested in and follow them on social media. Reply to some comments and ask for other recommendations. You’ll be surprised how often you can make meaningful connections this way. Often you’ll also find folks talking about related events or other opportunities. Don’t hesitate to click that “follow” button – you can always unfollow them after your trip (though I never do). 

It’s worth putting in a bit of effort to make these types of connections. It’s how you get the really great stories and memories. Everyone can talk about going to Teotihacan when they visited Mexico City. But you need to make some local connections so you can tell the story about the time Avidan hooked you up with invites to a secret mezcal speakeasy.

So, those are my basic tips for making connections. Do you have a strategy? A go-to destination? I’d love to hear.

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