Why Locals Make Travel Special

Zamami Island is 40 km from Okinawa in the East China Sea. With a population of only 500, it is a secluded home to crystalline waters, colorful coral beds, and island tranquility.

What stands out the most, however, when I consider Zamami, is Kazu’s family.

My husband and I visited Zamami a few months ago, and we randomly chose the Patio Reef Guesthouse upon arrival at the ferry port. At the guesthouse, we were greeted by a rowdy group.

“Today is my birthday!” Kazu announced, “Please join us!”

Flattered by the invitation to spend time with them, we sat down and shared celebratory glasses of awamori, the local rice wine. The rest of the night full of laughing, conversation, and revelry passed in a flash.

We teased Kazu about his love life and gave him advice for finding Miss Right. The family told us the legend of a dog who swam weekly from a nearby island to Zamami to rendezvous with its canine “girlfriend.” And at one special moment, the group spontaneously broke out in traditional song as one member played the sanshin.

When they brought out the birthday cake, Kazu said to us, “Your timing is very lucky. Now we eat cake.”

I can’t agree more… we were lucky that night.

The next morning, Kazu’s entire family drove us to the ferry terminal. Waving and smiling, they bid us farewell.

What happened on Zamami Island with Kazu and his family is exactly why I love travel.

This post has been entered in the Grantourismo HomeAway Holiday travel blogging competition.

Where have you found locals to be wonderful and unforgettable? Do you have any special memories of time spent with locals during your travels? Do share!

30 thoughts on “Why Locals Make Travel Special

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  2. As one of those locals myself (when I still lived in Cuba), I always found it a fulfilling experience to show my country off to visitors. But more from a personal perspective, as opposed to the standard tour. I loved this post and the photo you included. They all point at respect from both parties and that’s key in dealing with locals. I find Spanish and Malay people very welcoming. I’ve been to Spain four times and twice in Malaysia and always have had a good time.

    Great post.

    Greetings from London.

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Cuban,
      I always loved showing off my hometown to visitors from abroad too! I’ve never been to Spain or Malysia, so I think it’s about time, don’t you? Thanks for your appreciation for this post!

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  4. That sounds like such a memorable experiece. Connecting with locals is always the best part of travel to me. I swear, everywhere I’ve traveled the people have been open and friendly. The most memorable was probably in Brazil, when I was invited to watch traditional creremonies and a priestess gave me her necklace. Will never forget that.

    • maryrichardson

      Fly Girl,
      That sounds amazing! Do you ever wear the necklace out on the town, or is it too special to risk damaging? I love stories like that!

  5. The post title grabbed me right away – I think interactions with the locals really make a travel experience a life experience! What a wonderful tribute and way to remember a lovely local family – thanks Mary!

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Jude,
      Hawaiian locals are especially nice, aren’t they? I had some good experiences in Maui too! You’re right though that meeting locals and really bonding with them takes the travel to a life encounter…

  6. It’s stories like this that make travel extraordinary. Connecting with the locals is always a priority for me. The people I meet when I travel always make good traveling experiences into great ones.

    One time in Vietnam, I ducked into a restaurant to get out of a rainstorm. I was later told that I was the only westerner that had set foot in there before. Everyone eating there came and talked to me, I met the owners and they told me about their lives. It was so much fun and I got to know the local people a lot in that short time span.

  7. I love this story, Mary! It’s such a reminder of how important attitude is in breaking down the barriers that exist between us. I think it’s much easier to have this happen when traveling – kind of why people on boats always wave to each other. You wouldn’t necessarily want your next door neighbors to have such open boundaries all the time, but when we know time together is by definition going to be brief, we allow ourselves to be moved wherever the spirit takes us.

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Margo,
      You have an excellent point- I always wonder if I’m the person who’s a little more open and receptive to new things and people away from home. I love what you said about boats… I’ve often thought about that too!

  8. Hi Mary, i’m very thankful that i found your lovely blog,
    your posts makes me wanna drop everything i have here and go travelling all around the world.

    i’m from malaysia,i tried to go travelling at least once a year,and went to bali last year and set my mind to try surfing for the first time, if you must know Bali is one of the best surfing vacation in the world, met some local boys who offered me and my friends a beginner surfing lesson for an affordable fees, without hesitant we took it. they’r so friendly and very good at surfing, but we were struggling to even stand on the board, our instructor was so patient with us and kept encouraging us to try even harder to make sure we stand on the board and surf properly (i was really hard for firsttimer) finally after numerous falls we managed to stand on the board.it’s nothing to brag about but we were gald that we met the local boys, we chatted and changed many wonderful stories. i still keep intouch with them on facebook and deffinately will go back there when i have a chance.

  9. Lovely story. Twenty years ago, while backpacking Europe with a friend, we met an Italian woman on the train to Rome. Her boyfriend was picking her up at the train station and she had him take all of us on an hours long tour of Rome by car. It was awesome and she was so kind.

    • maryrichardson

      Wow! Such generosity of time and spirit! It makes you feel great to encounter someone like that, doesn’t it? It makes me want to be a better person in that way in my own life.

  10. winxrocker

    I’ve always loved meeting with people from different parts of the world and getting to know them, whether they live in my own country, or whether I meet them when I travel. I guess that comes from the fact that I’m an Italian American. It’s always a great experience, and when you come back from your trip, the memories are freshly imprinted in your mind.
    For me, Canadians have always been amazingly nice. They’re very welcoming. And so are the French. I think the only problem that you encounter when you try to communicate with the locals of the place that you visit, is language.
    Even so, many people in many countries do speak English today, and it’s nice to get to know about them, their cultures, and basically their way of living.
    Always proves to be a great experience. Nice post, Mary! Are you still in touch with them?

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Ashley,
      I love Canadians and French too! I know what you mean about language… I speak some Spanish and French and Japanese, but I sometimes feel ashamed when I can’t communicate better in other countries!

      We’re planning another trip to Zamami to visit Kazu’s family soon…

  11. Mary – I was traveling in Sikkim, north east India when I met up with a friend of a friend of a friend – one of those extremely tenuous, but worthwhile connections! My travel partner and I had recently been feeling a bit isolated, and we ended up having a rowdy night at a local restaurant with a group of Indian teenagers who made so much effort to make us feel at home.

    These days I’m doing some writing for a company that is actually called ToursByLocals; it’s all about fostering these sorts of genuine connections between travelers and locals.

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Sara,
      What a great experience! I love when things happen spontaneously and it becomes something you’ll remember forever!

      Your writing gig sounds fantastic! Too often, I think people travel with the focus on place and sights rather than people…

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