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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?