Locals I’ve met: Real life examples of why I love meeting the locals when I travel

Meeting the locals when I travel is one of the aspects of being out there that I love the most. I think it’s partly because I’m insanely curious about people in general (it’s a genetic trait!) and partly because over the years, meeting local people on my travels has led me on all kinds of interesting adventures and taught me about things I never would have found out about on the regular tourist trail.

Meeting the locals in Russia, Latvia, Japan and South Korea

I’ve made some amazing friends when I’ve lived in foreign countries for an extended time – my (missing!) friend Yuko in Japan for one, and my beautiful friend Z in Slovakia, too.

But it’s not just the deeper friendships with locals that I love. Often it’s just fleeting moments of connection with a local that still make the memories that stick around for ages.

Inspired by a fun post at Crazzzy Travel about some of the people they’d met, I thought I’d mention a few of the locals that have stuck in my memory from my travels over the years. I’d love to hear about yours, too.

Meeting two local Latvians

Oh, I wish I knew who these guys were. I was in Ventspils, a port town in Latvia, a surprisingly pretty place for a port town. It was full of decorative touches like huge fountains, and I was taking a picture of a particularly unusual-looking fountain with spaghetti-like streams of water shooting out at various angles. I heard two men behind me chatting, and although I couldn’t speak more than three words of Latvian, I did hear something like “digitala kamera” and figured out they were talking about me.

Meeting the locals in Ventspils, Latvia

Two locals I met in Ventspils, Latvia, back in 2003

This was back in 2003, so digital cameras weren’t quite as commonplace as they are now, and it could well be that grey-haired men in Latvia were even more behind in adopting this new technology. I turned around to see the men, though, and we started chatting. They spoke pretty decent English (luckily for me) and one of them told me that his friend didn’t understand digital cameras, and he was trying to explain.

I showed them the photo I’d just taken of the fountain, but to be fair, it was a pretty average picture and didn’t excite them, so I had a better idea. I asked if I could take their photo, and I did – as you can see, above. I turned the screen around to show them and the one who hadn’t really heard about digital cameras was beside himself. “Splendid!” he kept saying, “splendid!”

We chatted further – they found out I was Australian, they pretended to hop like a kangaroo since our famous fauna seem to take precedence over anything else people could know about Australia – and they gave me some tips of other nice parts of Ventspils to explore. I never saw them again, but they cemented my memory of Ventspils to this day.

Meeting Russian kids on the Trans-Siberian

Being stuck on a train for a couple of days at a time is a great way to meet some locals and when I crossed Russia from Vladivostok to Moscow on the Trans-Siberian railway, I got the chance to meet quite a few Russians. There were no foreign tourists in our car at all, so there were plenty of chances (even with my very limited Russian skills – my little Lonely Planet phrasebook was a great help!), but the most memorable locals I met were a bunch of young boys.

Meeting the local kids on the Trans-Siberian in Russia

Meeting the local kids on the Trans-Siberian in Russia

They were strangers from various holidaying families who’d all become friends on their week-long train journey and at some stage their curiosity got the better of them and they wanted to practice a few English words. We ended up playing card games like Snap (not too much complex language required there!) and checkers and with mimes and dictionaries we managed to communicate some basic facts about our lives and their holiday. I wonder where these kids are now?

Staying with locals in St Petersburg, Russia

Russia’s been a particularly successful place for me to meet locals and on both trips there I’ve stayed in homestays. Most memorable was the time my mother and I went to St Petersburg and we stayed with a gorgeous host named Valentina.

Meeting the locals in St Petersburg, Russia

Meeting the locals in St Petersburg, Russia – our homestay host Valentina and my mother

It was a bonus, perhaps, that Valentina had only recently opened her home to homestay guests so it was still a huge novelty for her and we were the first Australians to be there – I say this because some of the other hosts I stayed with were less interactive (not all of them, but some) – and she was fabulous at giving us tips to enjoy our stay in St Petersburg even more. (My mother and I often wish we could head back to this particular cafe she recommended – telling us that it’s for locals not tourists – which was so delicious we ended up eating there three times!)

Japan and South Korea: the lands of helpful local strangers

There is another entire category of locals I’ve met on my travels who were only with me for a short time, but made a lasting impression. I didn’t learn their names or take photographs of them, but I have told stories of them often as examples of lovely people who helped me out or were kind to me when it was much more than they needed to do.

There was the lady with the mandarin on a Japanese train in Osaka … we spoke just a couple of sentences in half-Japanese and half-English but then, as she got off the train, she gave me a gift of a mandarin she had in her bag. (Fruit can be pretty pricey in Japan, remember.) And another lovely Japanese woman in Kyoto, who saw I was having difficulty getting the right change together to buy a bus ticket, so simply gave me a ticket she had.

In Seoul, South Korea, I was asking directions at a newspaper kiosk to find the tiny budget hotel I’d booked in to – I had reached the right intersection but it was massive and all of the Korean signs were starting to look the same to me. A passerby overheard my question, said she’d help me, took me by the arm and shared her umbrella (it was raining), and took me down through two underpasses and round little corners and right to the door of the hotel.

Those people may not remember me, but I have remembered them a decade on, and they also gave me a feeling for a typical Japanese person or a typical Korean person. A very positive feeling, that is.

Your turn: What memorable locals have you met on your travels?

Over to you: do you remember some interesting local people you’ve met on your travels? I’d love to hear about them (and give you the opportunity to reminisce about them!).

Comments

  1. Lovely idea to share these memories. It’s moments and experiences like these that are at the core of our love of travel. We’ve met so many wonderful people on the road. Some we stay in touch with to this day, while with many others we only shared a brief moment. Lately, we’ve met up with people again who we met during our travels: we just stayed a few days at the home of a guy from Brussels who we met in Laos, for example. It was so nice to have the opportunity to see each other again, and have him share his city with us. When we last were together, it was spending the night in a treehouse in northern Laos!

    • Thanks Tamara! I love your example of the guy from Brussels/met in Laos, these are those gems of moments of travelling that really enhance what we get out of it – I have a few friends who I’ve ended up meeting up with again in very varying corners of the globe and it’s fabulous. And yes – even the people you only meet for a brief moment can leave a lasting impression.

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