A Warm English Welcome: How Meeting Locals Can Enhance Your Travels

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I knew exactly what kind of city Hull was as soon as I got in to my hotel room.

There, sitting on the desk in my room at the Royal Hotel, was a letter welcoming me to both the hotel and the city, written by the hotel's general manager.

It was just a printed letter – standard, I thought, until I actually started reading it.

After the usual “we're so happy to have you” message and info on the hotel's restaurant and how to reach the front desk, the letter went on to promote events happening that week as part of Hull's UK City of Culture celebration, and also included some suggestions on must-dos.

For example:

If you want to see the very best of our city I would highly recommend tour guide Paul Schofield who runs walking tours Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from the City Hall tourist office at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. These cost £4 per person – no need to book just turn up.

We are also very proud of our linen porter Bax who is the lead singer of Bud Sugar, a high octane reggae band. Please check them out on YouTube.

I had to read the section about Bax and Bud Sugar twice. It was just so… cool and supportive. And it immediately gave me an impression about Hull in general.

Queen Victoria Square in Hull, England

That impression was confirmed the next morning, when I was being shown around a rainy Hull by none other than the highly-recommended Paul Schofield, along with local Hull blogger Courtney. We went to their favorite tea shop (where Paul picked up the tab), visited the oldest pub in the city, got an overview of Hull's best museums, and ended at Paul's favorite pub (which he simply referred to as “my office”).

Their love and passion for Hull was palpable, and it definitely set the tone for the rest of my time in the city.

Lion & Key pub in Hull, England
Paul's “office”
Street art in Hull
Courtney's favorite street

After a few days of seeing Hull through local eyes, I was reminded of a lesson I learn over and over again on my travels: meeting locals almost always enhances the travel experience.

It's happened to me countless times on my travels: like the time I was invited into a random woman's home in rural Bulgaria to eat fresh cheese and watermelon despite the fact that we didn't speak the same language; or the time in Latvia when a local tour guide threw the itinerary out the window and took me to all her favorite spots in Riga instead.

In Hull, my local guides shared so many things I would have missed if I had just visited on my own.

Joke shop in Hull, England
Like this cool joke shop
Art in Hull
Moths dedicated to Amy Johnson
Bar in Hull, England
Cool pubs

Without Paul and Courtney, I would have never found the “smallest window in the world,” or learned why the phone boxes in Hull aren't red. I wouldn't have known about Amy Johnson (Hull's own version of Amelia Earhart), or learned where to find the best milkshakes in the city. And I'm fairly certain that, without Courtney's suggestion, I probably wouldn't have visited the adorable nearby town of Beverley.

RELATED: 6 Reasons You Should Consider Visiting Hull, England

And, even though my “local” experience in Hull was planned as part of the #WelcomeToEngland campaign, there are plenty of ways to have similar experiences on your own travels.

Hepworth Arcade in Hull

How to meet locals when you travel

So how exactly do you meet locals and have those local experiences when you travel? Here are my top tips:

Go on local tours

There are companies out there that actually exist to match travelers up with local guides (like ToursByLocals), and you can also look for walking and city tours that are owned/operated by local people. People who start up tour companies where they live are usually really passionate about their hometowns and eager to share them with visitors.

View out over Hull, England
Courtney took us to this awesome rooftop view that I would have totally missed otherwise.

Stay local

Staying with locals in a city has never been easier. There are sites like Couchsurfing that will help you find locals to stay with for free, as well as sites like Homestay where you can book a room with a local family. Even Airbnb can be useful – just do a search for private rooms instead of full homes/apartments, and make sure to let your host know that you'd be interested in hanging out.

Have a local meal

Similar to taking tours with locals, how about having a meal with locals? Find out where the locals love to eat, or have a guaranteed local experience by booking a meal with a site like EatWith or WithLocals. Not only will you meet locals this way, but you'll also get a taste of local dishes and specialties.

Head of Steam in Hull, England

Hull chocolate shop
Plus, eating local means you get to support independently-owned businesses, too!

Go to local events

Lastly, try hanging out at local events like markets or festivals. When I was in Hull, the city was celebrating being named the UK City of Culture in 2017, and there were locals everywhere enjoying the art installations, performances, and new exhibits.

Weeping Window at the Hull Maritime Museum
Tons of locals stopped to watch these poppies be installed.

My goal is to get to know at least one local person wherever I travel. They don't have to become my new best friend (though I've definitely met people on my travels that I'm still in touch with!), but I've learned that even the smallest local insight can enhance the travel experience.

What's your take? Is meeting locals something you do on YOUR travels? Have these encounters made your trips better?

 

How meeting locals can enhance your travels

 

Note: This post was brought to you as a result of the #WelcomeToEngland campaign, created and managed by iambassador in partnership with Visit Britain. As always, all opinions are 100% my own.

 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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17 Comments on “A Warm English Welcome: How Meeting Locals Can Enhance Your Travels

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  1. Meeting locals really helps you get under the skin of a country or town. You don’t just get to find some extra special places, but also get an understanding of the culture, how people think and what’s important to them. That can be the most fascinating thing of all!

      Definitely! And it also helps you understand how others look at YOUR country, too! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked about politics and healthcare with people in Europe. 😉

    Why is it always raining in Hull? I’ve been there 5 times & it’s always grey & grim. I like your advice on how to get to meet the locals though, and maybe that makes all the difference…. I find a good experience overcomes any weather issues, this is probably what I need to put a positive spin on my travels to less exotic places!

      Lucky for me, it only rained that one morning in Hull – the rest of my time there was windy and chilly, but mostly sunny!

    Great post! 🙂 Meeting locals is definitely one of my favourite things about travel and often gives me the best memories or helps me find my favourite places that I’d never have found. While I’m home, we’re actually hosting couchsurfers which has been really interesting because we’ve been learning about their lives as well, and I hope I’m giving them a good experience and unique insight into my home town (island) too!

      Getting a local perspective almost always makes me look at a destination differently.

    People do indeed make the place. Thanks for all the tips on how to include more locals in one’s travels!

      I’m sure there are other tips and tricks for meeting locals – and sometimes you have to make it happen when it doesn’t happen naturally. But I’ve certainly never regretted it.

    Meting locals is definitely one of the best parts of travel! I mean, if you’re gonna go to Hull or some other city, I would imagine the idea is to actually get to know Hull 😛 Thanks for reminding me of those eating with locals sites, that’s a great option that I always forget about! You get to meet locals plus sample the local cuisine, so it’s a win win

      Yes! I love the concept of those eating with locals sites!

    What a wonderful post! I love the idea of hanging out with locals and getting insiders’ perspectives on a place, but don’t find it happens to me in real life as often as I’d like. Definitely checking out Tours by Locals in the future! 🙂

      I think it’s definitely easier in certain parts of the world – and sometimes you do have to go out of your way to meet people. But I find that it’s always worth it!

    I always love experiencing a new place with locals – you get a really authentic experience and tend to avoid those typical tourist traps or paying too much for things. It seems like you’ve seen a side of Hull that even I as a Brit haven’t had the privilege of seeing!

      I don’t mind “typical tourist traps” some of the time – after all, some places are touristy for good reason! But hanging out with someone who knows a place really well definitely helps balance things out.

    Yes, meeting locals definitely enhances your travel experience. I like talking to people on my travels – whether locals or my fellow travelers. I have been given the best sightseeing advice by the locals. So yes, going local is cool 🙂

      I’ve certainly seen lots of places I wouldn’t have seen after getting tips from locals, or at least people who know a place a lot better than me! (And walking tours led by locals are some of the best in my opinion!)

    Great pictures! I went to the Deep in Hul back in April and was awesome!

    Adam

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