"Meeting The Locals, and sometimes how to avoid the locals as you travel.
However if you wish to learn about culture, understand the lives, homes, culture, customs of the world, you will need to meet the locals.
There is often a huge difference between meeting a taxi driver or a person working in the tourist industry, please help other travelers to explore by explaining your opinions and comments on how to meet the locals.
Real people with real lives, working at normal jobs, and not really trying to meet you."
Please submit your opinion and/or experience, especially those who have traveled in developing areas such as Latin America or S.E. Asia with extensive 'gringo trails' where young travelers with backpacks and guidebooks tend to 'stick together'
I'm curious, as a long term Ex Pat, who never "backpacked" nor liked hopping from country to country and am integrated into society where I reside.
To me, when I traveled, people were far more important than any "destination", "wonder of the world" or "beach".
Also, if a first time world traveler, do you do your research before departure, web and reading (guidebooks) in advance, language study (now sites exist with free tutorials from native speakers, you trade with tutorials in your native language) and are any of you members of the worldwide hospitality portals online, where one is able to make valuable contacts with locals before arrival.
"To be humble is to be teachable"
Its definitely the people that makes a place AMAZING....
I don't get impressed by the sites of so called WORLD HERITAGE theme parks, as much as I do get amazed on how I can so much in common with a Swiss German traveller or a Chinese college student who never heard of BRITNEY SPEARS or ate at Burger King.
I have been in Thailand for the 3rd month, I havent really encountered the locals. Except for that guy who bought me 7 shirts and just vanish into thin air. Expats told me, they do such act.
THE INTEREST ON MEETING THE LOCALS
Why? You need to have the right reason. I do find it very annoying to see how some creatures who play PHOTOGRAPHER with their new DIGITAL CAMERA, taking infinite shots of everything, as if they are employed by the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHICS magazine. TAKING PHOTOS of people praying in temples, as if they are watching ORANGUTANS in their feeding time.
BE DISCRETE, if you are a high school drop out from the 1st world, who wants to play CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGIST, even if you never read a book on world history in your entire life. DON'T BE TOO INVASIVE of people's privacy. You have a right to your DELLUSIONS of grandeur, but they have a right to privacy.
CULTURES die when they are treated like THEATER by paying tourist, who want to see the so called exotic and tell themselves that they are so priviledge to see this freaky cultural exhibit, which is actually life to these people.
We all want this so called authentic experience. But for what??? What are you going to make out this immersion?
I am guilty, I have my masters in Asian Studies. But when I venture to areas where no foreigners thread, I don't try to document what I see. I just try to live in moment. That is why I dont keep a journal.
keep it real. The academe has to many hypocrites, sociologist and anthropologist, who go out and live with the locals so they can publish an article in some journal that NOBODY cares to read, but their colleagues, who share a version of ENGLISH that none of the so called NATIVE SPEAKERS of the ESL industry in Asia can comprehend.
I have more respect to backpackers than some Ph.d holder who spends 12 months in some rural area to study how some people live and then presents it to university. The data they collect for 12 months took 4 minutes for a backpacker to assume and its ussually not even profound.
I have a Chinese friend who should really be declared a walking UNESCO HERITAGE SITE for his amazing mind and heart. Not to mention a look that makes every other Chinese boy look so ordinary.
I want to meet his Thai counterpart. I met locals in Malaysia, really fast. I can say the same thing with Laos and Cambodia. But Thai, how do I make friends as a tourist?
Are the decent Thai boys and girls ultra defensive with their dealings with foreigners??? I mean if you intend to meet friends in bars and clubs. Those that approach the foreigners are WORKING... you know what I mean? I look local, so I am a bit uncomfortable, after one local boy told me that guys who talk to foreigners are most of the time looking for customers. I can't tell the difference, but my friend said that locals know the species.
But I am not giving up. Two days spent going out with three students I met in a club, taught me a lot about thailand.
I would recommend couchsurfing.com for meeting locals. You don't have to couchsurf with them you can meet for a coffee / drink or whatever. They'll show you around and you'll get to do things most tourists don't do.
At least 2 cities in Vietnam have non-professional guides (mostly college kids) who guide tourists free of charge in exchange for English practice. In this way, I have been able to connect with the local Vietnamese, and I found this contact to be the highlight of my recent trip. I too find the museums and sights interesting, but compared to the people, they are not my main reason for foreign travel. I urge everyone headed for SE Asia to connect with www.hanoikidsclub.org (Saigonhotpot in HCMC). I have found that the non-professional guides are just as interested in my culture as I was in theirs.
In the popular travel destinations, many of the locals make their living working in the hospitality Industry, I used to be a working ex pat resident in such places in my region. I preferred residing in the big capital city for years until driving and daily life there became too stressful. Often in a 'destination' the traveler becomes just another blank face spending Dollars or Euros, the same barflies ply the same tourist bars trying to pick up and seduce women traveling alone, the same hustlers on the beaches selling ---------- etc.
I resided and worked in a small Hotel where we kept services as personal as possible, but after all day on the road with the travelers asking questions, did not wish to socialize with them in the evening, stuck with my native friends
I do advise those who travel abroad from their home country to join one of the Hospitality Portals on line such as couchsurfing, bewelcome or hospitality club, you can easily Google them up and go onto to the websites.
Really excellent replies to this thread, as an expat, integrated into society the where I reside have a different perspective. Always learning.