We raced down narrow alleyways and streets illuminated only by the dull glow of occasional lamp posts. Twisting and turning, the four of us eventually made it out of the crowded market district—stopping along the way to pick up another batch of local specialties—and back to the hostel. As we reunited with the rest of the group, I couldn’t help but feel that sense of authenticity that I had craved ever since I started planning out my trip to Taiwan: scootering around town with newfound friends from Taiwan and Hong Kong on a hot summer’s night had given me a glimpse into local life.
Several months ago I had the pleasure of traveling around Taiwan. It was my first time traveling alone internationally so I took my time planning things out and contacting just about everyone I knew with connections on the island. More than anything, however, I was looking for referrals to local contacts. I had been to Mainland China several times in the past and was eager to get Taiwanese people’s perspective on cross-strait relations, modern Chinese history, and life generally (all the while getting some much needed Mandarin practice).
What I found, however, was that staying on the hostel circuit gave me an amazingly international experience, rather than a specifically Taiwanese one. That is, I was consistently meeting wonderful people from around the world also traveling in Taiwan—some of whom I am still in contact with six months later—but I wasn’t able to consistently or easily meet locals.
The story I opened this post with above was one of my lucky exceptions: while staying in an island town, the only other hostel goers happened to be locals (along with a group of fun girls from Hong Kong). But this seemed to be the problem. The kind of encounters I had craved having with locals usually depending on a bit of luck—whether it be staying in the right hostel or running into the right person on the street.
When all was said and done, I was still able to have an ample number of extraordinary and often eye opening encounters with locals and other travelers. But I couldn’t help but feel that there ought to be less luck-based ways to connect locals and travelers. I recalled numerous Chinese friends over the years telling me about the difficulties they were facing trying to meet foreign friends, and so came to the conclusion that there was an unmet need here. Namely, there was a demand for community of locals and travelers interested in exchanging with others while doing fun activities together.
And so for the last couple of months I have been putting together just such a community: Travel Pals. Sign up to our mailing list to get more information about the site, and be sure to enter our $50 Hostelworld.com giftcard giveaway contest which will be running for the next several weeks! I look forward to connecting with you there.