Truly getting to know places when traveling

There’s little doubt that there’s no more effective way to understand the placemaking of a city other than simply being there, experiencing the streets, squares, parks, buildings and pedestrians firsthand. Photos and videos don’t do it justice. However, just the same, simply being there is only half the story itself. If you truly want to experience the places of a city, you’ll need to experience the culture, and that means connecting with the people who live there. It’s the only way I was able to find the ideal third place in Paris.

However, we’re often intimidated by the idea of getting to know locals when traveling, choosing to connect with fellow travelers and expats instead, and missing out on the local authenticity of place and culture. Melissa Foss, fellow creative and one who has lived in Paris, provides an enlightening perspective…

“I think that there are few things as empowering as traveling to another land and discovering just how well you can connect with the place and the people there. We build so many mental barriers for ourselves when it comes to other places. The idea of “otherness” and all things different and “exotic” have fascinated people forever, but have also created the most interesting paradox. We are fascinated by the differences, and yet because of our fascination we magnify these differences until they are even more stunning than they ever would be in reality! We end up creating a beast that is part reality and part imagination and we sometimes allow it to intimidate us before we even dare experience it and see the truth of it for ourselves!

It is so exciting and so powerful to put these self-constructed perceptions aside and see for ourselves. To find that so much of the “otherness” is imagined. So much of it is superficial. The beauty of the differences is still there, of course, but the intimidation need not be. We are the same in the most important ways!”

So, if you’re ready to try connecting, check out the previous entry, How to experience the hidden community.

  • Bruce Henry Lambert

    Hej Neil

    It seems you had good experiences in Paris. I’m glad of that.

    You raise the point in this and other recent CoolTownStudios essays about connecting with local people… but of course it helps if these are people on somewhat the same wavelength. Local homeless & beggars, or peddlers, can be easy to meet, but may not be interested to provide the assistance we hope to tap, or camaraderie. The label of “creatives” or a “creative class” is useful shorthand, but “we” are a disparate rabble, low cohesiveness, loosely-coupled amongst each other, if at all. People might come together, meet & discuss around a catalyst: a debate, a visiting lecturer, an art exhibit, … but otherwise these are a global group of individuals who, if we’re out at all, perhaps sit quietly sipping latte or chai while reading… What catalyst(s) can be introduced to bring people together more effectively? Mutual networks of personal connections can be helpful, impromptu socializing at bars or other ‘drop-in spots’ is possible, but if in a strange city or your own home town, what better mechanisms can help one find likable (in Swedish, ‘sympatisk’) people and generate camaraderie? I think this question is fundamental to what you’re doing at and I hope we can discover or create appropriate mechanisms…


  • Thanks for helping me accomplish that Bruce!

    One of the best ways to connect with locals is via CouchSurfing, which lets you stay with others, ideally in return for welcoming visitors to your place. Over time, we’re working on setting up more collaborative exchanges among visiting creatives via social networks, such as through CreativesDC.

  • Bruce Henry Lambert

    There is also the Hospitality Club

    I’m working on a network of places that will attract locals & travelers for easy drop-in and to meet others. In coming weeks I’ll let you know of progress.