For me, travelling is all about people. Connecting with locals, understanding our differences and similarities, and learning about another culture. When I look back on my travels, although I am always blown away by the beautiful landscapes of this earth, it is always the people I have met along the way which stick in my mind.

As a photographer, connecting with local people is not only a way to learn something about the culture, it’s also the best way to get portraits, and unique images which no one else can recreate. For all these reasons, I make sure whenever I travel to a new place, to ensure that I create the best opportunities possible to meet and connect with local people, so I thought I would share some of my tips with you! These tips really are universal, and I’ve done these things in countries from India to Australia to Iceland to Vietnam. Hopefully they’ll be useful for you on your next trip too!


  1. Do a Homestay

Homestays are often the best way to live with a local family for a few days, learn about their life and culture and create a lasting connection with them. While homestays are not always luxurious and can often be culturally challenging, this is the very joy of travelling, learning and growing!

I’ve found that homestays are available in almost every country I travel to, sometimes there are official programmes set up by government bodies helping local people to earn extra income, or unofficially, by meeting people on the street and accepting offers to stay with them for a night or two.


2. Go trekking

Trekking not only offers a unique way to connect with local people, but it often also enables you to see some of the countries most incredible landscapes. By trekking either for a single day or for many days, you get into villages and see a different culture than that which exists in the towns and cities. Trekking in mountains, through deserts on the back of camels, into a countries highlands or National Parks will enable you to see the side of a country many may miss.


3. Learn some of the local language

One of the best ways to create lasting connections with local people is to learn some of the local language. Whether this means just a few words to make them laugh, or by learning phrases and sentences to create conversations with them, learning the language is often one of the best ways to gain a greater understanding of the local people and their culture. Although English is spoken widely around the world, local people often highly appreciate when you make an effort with their language.


4. Travel on a budget

When I’m travelling, I often find that the cheaper I go in terms of transport and accommodation, the more interesting and local my experience is. Why hire a private taxi when you can cram onto an overcrowded local bus and have an experience you’ll never forget (perhaps for both the right and wrong reasons!). In India, travelling on Sleeper class was always far more interesting than travelling in one of the A/C carriages, and in Egypt, staying in tiny local guesthouses gave me a much more authentic experience than in any of the gated hotels which dominated the towns.


5. Take the train

I love train travel, both for the slowness of travel and views from the windows as well as for the amazing people you meet on the journey. While travelling along an 88 hour leg of the Trans-Siberian railway, I met some of the most memorable people of my travels. And although a train I was riding broke down in the highlands of Burma for four hours, it was during this experience I shared a few hours with a very friendly mother and her smiling baby, sharing chilli mango and an interesting conversation. 


6. Travel off the beaten path

It often works that the further away you travel from the tourist trail, the more unique your presence becomes, and therefore the more people are likely to approach you and want to learn about where you come from, and what you are doing in their country.


7. Travel slow

One of the best tips I can give you for meeting and connecting with local people is to travel slowly, flexibly and be prepared to change your plans for an amazing opportunity you might have just had to stay in someones home or to visit a family wedding. Staying in a single place for a few weeks can give you the opportunity to be seen as more than just another tourist.


8. Visit local markets

I love shopping for local handicrafts when I travel, and rather than visiting stores and markets aimed at tourists, I often find the best way to get the best deal and to get the most authentic product is to find local markets and workshops. Local markets are also a great place to sample local food and witness local life take place.


9. Time your travels with a festival

Festivals are often the best way to meet local people, as they are in a celebratory mood, and are passionate about sharing their culture with travellers to the area. It is often also a great way to see a different side of local life, witness people in traditional dress and try some different foods.


10. Volunteer!

A great way to get off the beaten track and to both connect with and help local people is to volunteer. This could just be for a day, as in many countries in the world they are very happy to have English speakers help out in a classroom for a day, or on longer term projects. While volunteering in Iceland, I had the opportunity to meet many local creatives and it gave me a unique vision of the city of Reykjavik.


11. Be fearless!

The best advice I can give to you for meeting locals during your travels is to be fearless! Often, we don’t approach people because of the fear of being rejected, but pretty much everywhere I’ve travelled in the world, I have found that local people are usually very open to foreigners and are proud to show you their culture. Many people might be as afraid to approach you as you are to approach them, but once you break down that barrier, you will find that you will have the most incredible experiences. It’s worth a shot right?

So approach those people smiling at you from across the street, say yes to the wonderful Vietnamese H’mong lady who has invited you to trek to her village home, and accept the offer of a mint tea with the Turkish bazaar stall holder. 


Travel is all about expanding our horizons and doing something new every single day, and it’s the hearts of the people you meet across the world which really make your travels unforgettable.