Last updated: 01:00 PM ET, Thu December 24 2015

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  • A Cruising Couple | December 24, 2015 1:00 PM ET

    5 Easy Tips For Memorable Encounters With Locals On Your Travels

    5 Easy Tips For Memorable Encounters With Locals On Your Travels

    Photos by A Cruising Couple unless otherwise indicated.

    Many people remember their travel experiences in terms of food, experiences or sights. But for us, often our most memorable travel experiences are the result of interacting with locals.

    We firmly believe one of the true treasures of traveling is connecting with people from an entirely different culture than our own — seeing the underlying threads that link all of humanity, and learning from the diversity that makes us each uniquely beautiful.

    When we hear of travelers who left a new destination without making a single meaningful connection with a local, our hearts sink. Of course it’s not always easy to make friends abroad. Language barriers, anxiety and safety are some of the first concerns that always come to mind. However, just because it isn’t easy, doesn’t mean it’s not possible to make memorable encounters with locals abroad.

    Visit Vietnam New Friends

    One of the first things to remember when you want to make friends abroad is that you must be intentional. Whether you're in your home city or a destination on the other side of the world, being intentional will take you from casual conversations to meaningful connections and newfound friendships. Once you have set the intention to make friends abroad, these five tips will easily help you form memorable encounters with locals:

    1. Smile

    Visit Vietnam Bike Repair

    The language that defies all barriers and cultural differences. Simply smiling will go a long way toward making locals feel comfortable around you. And at the very least, you never know what impact your smile has on the life of another.

    2. Sit With Someone

    children on the bus

    Photo via Flickr/Nicolas Alejandro

    When taking a bus or train, don't grab the window seat, slap your backpack on the seat next to you and tune out with your earphones. Instead, be intentional and sit next to someone who looks interesting. Ask them how they are. Ask them where they're going. Intentionally try to get to know them and see where the conversation leads.

    Sure, not everyone will want to talk back, especially if you don’t speak the local language. However, it never hurts to try — and you could be surprised at the results.

    3. Engage The Conversation

    Visit Vietnam Girl on a Bike

    I once met a woman on the train who simply asked me for the time. I could have told her the time and turned back to the window to space out for the rest of the ride, but instead, I chose to use the opportunity for conversation.

    I began by commenting on the length of the ride and asking how long she'd been on the train. Before I knew it, she had invited me to her bench and began showing me pictures of her children. By the end of the journey, we were embracing each other in tears over connections we didn't even know we shared.

    While this sort of friendship isn't typical, you truly never know what will happen when you are intentional about going out of your way to show interest in others. Even small talk can turn into meaningful connections when you're willing to ask and listen.

    4. Get Off Your Phone

    Visit Vietnam BBQ Picnic

    It’s almost instinctive to reach for your phone in moments of awkward silence, yet these exact moments are the ones in which the most meaningful of friendships can be made. If you're sitting by someone who's glued to their phone, you're initial thought is that they're just not interested in talking.

    Even worse is that moment when you begin to let the conversation shift from casual to meaningful, and then the phone is produced while you’re in mid-sentence. What is your response? To keep things surface level.

    It's the same way when you're trying to make friends with locals. Instead of reaching for your phone to avoid feeling awkward or bored, turn to the person next to you and strike up a conversation. Putting down our phone and turning our full attention to those around us is a key way to be ready to seize the moment for memorable encounters.

    5. Talk To The Shopkeepers, Waiters and Taxi Drivers

    Friendly Residents in Vidigal

    It’s amazing how even those of us with experience in food or retail service can be rather cold to our shopkeepers and waiters. Some of my most valued relationships have actually been born out of getting to know those working in the public sector.

    Not only does it feel great to have the baristas at the local coffee shop know your name and favorite order, but also this sort of networking creates a greater sense of community. Whether you're just passing through a city, or have lived there for years, getting to know the workers in the city is an easy way to make friends with locals and get a greater feel for the larger, connected community.

    Note: For all of the five tips above, it is important to always be aware of cultural customs and norms. In some cultures, it would not be appropriate for a man to sit next to a woman on a bus and start making small talk. Always do your research and respect the local culture of wherever you are headed.

    As you can see, these five easy tips to start making friends as you travel are built around intentionality. See people, stop for people, get to know people. It's amazing how easily these steps will transform your relationships with locals as you travel.


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A Cruising Couple A Cruising Couple's Column

A Cruising Couple Dan and Casey are the two lovebirds, world travelers and adventurers extraordinaire behind the popular travel blog A Cruising Couple - adventure travel with a dash of class. Their stories and photographs feature that special place where experiential and stylish travel meet. Find out how you can spend less money, live more adventurously and travel more luxuriously on their blog,
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