Omni Traveller

Budget Backpack Travel in Europe

Befriending Locals While Living Abroad

One of the great pleasures of living in a foreign country is making friends with the locals. While you can certainly gain value by making friends with other travellers, other expats, or other people involved in your relocating program, these individuals offer a different social experience than what you’ll receive by befriending locals.

Unfortunately, most backpackers assume it’s a lot easier making friends with other fellow backpackers (of both sexes), especially those from your own country, rather than making friends with locals.

There may be some truth to this rash assumption. Expats often seek out other expats, and expats usually have regular haunts (specific expat bars) where you can conveniently find them quickly, easily. The same holds true for other backpackers, who are even easier to spot than expats in some countries. And if you relocate overseas as part of some sort of work, service, or university program, then your organization and your experience will likely structure themselves around making sure you form bonds with your partners.

All of these factors mean making friends with others like you, will feel a lot less intimidating than making friends with locals.

Well, that will limit your possibilities. So that is only part of what you should do.

All People Like Making Friends

Making friends with locals is fun and it doesn’t need to be intimidating. After all, locals are people too, and people, as a general rule, like making friends with other people. Right? Well, this is arguably more true among young people such as university students. And certainly, there are some cantankerous curmudgeons out there, but you don’t want to make friends with the surly oldies in the first place. (Nice oldies and yoofs only, please.)

Don’t believe me? Think about it for a minute and do a role-reversal in your head.

Let’s say you’re back home in the UK, Canada, the States, or wherever you happen to be from. You’re going about your normal every-day business and you encounter someone who doesn’t seem like they’re from around country. In fact, it’s clear they’re from another country. Maybe you meet them through your social circle, maybe they’re taking a class you’re taking, maybe they just start talking to you as you both sit at opposite tables in a coffee shop. The circumstance itself doesn’t matter, just imagine you meet a foreigner while you’re back at home.

What’s your response to their friendliness? How do you respond to this opportunity to establish social ties with someone from another country? Are you going to be rude to them because they’re foreign? Are you going to scoff at them and push them away? Are you going to ignore them?

Probably not!

If you encountered a foreigner today, you’d probably welcome them with open arms. You’d probably feel excited at the thought of getting to know this person, at getting to learn about their country and their culture firsthand. In fact, you’d probably consider meeting them the highlight of your day and, provided the two of you get along, you’d probably try and make friends with them and invite them along to meet other people. You’d probably want to make sure they have a great time and receive a local’s perspective on your home while ensuring they don’t feel lonely or displaced from being so far away from their own home.

In other words- if you encountered a polite and cool foreigner today you would be delight at the opportunity to make them feel at home and to expand your own social circle and understanding of the world.

Well guess what. That’s exactly how most locals will feel if you reach out to them while you live in their country.


Opportunities for Making Friends with Locals Abroad

Making friends with locals while you are travelling or residing abroad is the same as making friends with fellow backpackers on the road, or meeting people in your home town. It is simply reaching out to other people.

You have a number of potential opportunities at your disposal if you’re living or travelling abroad and you wish to make friends with locals.

  1. You can try and meet locals through companion travellers, expats, a tour guides, or programme-mates you already know. Maybe someone else you know is a little more socially adventurous than you. Use that person as an entry into meeting some locals. If one of your friends knows some locals ask if you can hang out with them and their local friends sometime, or ask them to invite their local friends the next time you’re planning a social occasion. There’s no reason to start cold if you have untapped warm introductions within your existing social sphere.
  2. You can walk up to strangers and just start talking to them. This is very American but it sometimes works outside the States. It’s best to do this in public, social environments like coffee shops, bars, or public parks and squares. You don’t want to actively annoy or bother someone who is clearly busy doing other things or having “personal time” with someone else. Most people are a lot more welcoming to friendly intrusions in these environments than you might think. Please note: it’s easier to overcome stage fright and approach locals in these environments if you have a reason to talk to them, such as asking directions or a restaurant recommendation.
  3. You can “pick up” or otherwise attempt to date locals. Two people will understand and recognize the dynamics of relationships and dating even if they speak different languages or lack the same exact cultural background. This means attempting to meet locals for dating purposes is a great way to create a localized social life in your new home. In fact, I generally find it’s easier to find dates than to make new friends in new English-speaking cities I’ve moved to. Why? More people are actively looking for new people to date than actively looking for new friends. Dating is one of the easiest and most welcome needs you can fulfill, and it represents one of the most obvious types of social value you can provide locals.
  4. You can take educational classes in your new home, such as:
    • Language classes, offer a great opportunity to meet other people, especially if the classes are conducted in both English and your new home’s native tongue. Not only can you meet locals in language schools, language classes give you the opportunity to better learn your new home’s language, which will give you more confidence and greater opportunities to make friends with locals you meet outside of class.
    • Learn a physical skill or two. Physical skills, especially martial arts or dancing, minimize the language component of socializing, offering largely non-verbal means of communicating and getting to know other people.

Making friends with locals when you’re living in another country isn’t hard, but it will take a mindful effort. You will likely fall in with some people by virtue of moving to a new country and making your presence known. But you will also need to actively seek out locals to befriend. Remember- locals tend to be just as worried about embarrassing themselves with you as you feel about embarrassing yourself with them. So, lose the stage fright and extend the invitation.