Traveling to faraway destinations can be a daunting experience for any traveler – and this unnerving feeling is magnified in the case of a first-time traveler going on an adventure solo.
But before you reassess your travel plans, it’s important to remember that these feelings are totally normal. Why? It’s because people tend to be creatures of habit and traveling is one of the best examples of an activity that forces you to be out of your comfort zone. There are going to be times that you get lost and overwhelmed with culture shock, days when you feel homesick or lonely, and moments when you wonder… Why the heck did I decide to do this?
While some people may find it easy to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger, it’s not always easy to do, especially in a foreign setting. The good news is that you’re not the first – and certainly not the last – person who will feel this way. Everywhere you go you’re going to meet people traveling alone, and funnily enough, they’re just like you. They’re also looking for new friends, new experiences, and new adventures. That’s why travelers generally get along so well – because they understand each other. We’re all away from home. We all miss our friends and family. We all have no one to hang out with. But now we do.
Here are a few quick tips on how to get a conversation started while traveling:
Whether it’s the long plane from Australia to South East Asia, a jolty bus ride through South America, or stuck waiting in transit in Europe, there’s an opportunity to look around and chat to fellow travelers. All you need to do is strike up a conversation and see where it goes. An initial question about the bus timetable, recommendations on what to do in a particular city or jokes about travel delays are a quick way to break the ice and get to know other people better.
Hostels are perfect for travelers on a budget – they are inexpensive and located in most cities around the world. They are also the best type of accommodation to meet and talk to other travelers, particularly as some dorm rooms can accommodate up to 20 beds. It’d be harder not to chat with someone in this environment. While some people may see the lack of privacy as a downside, if you do your research you can find hostels that have smaller rooms – some hostels even have rooms with only two beds.
If you’re intimidated to say hi to your fellow hostel compadres, just ask them a few basic questions about whether the hostel does laundry, what the Wi-Fi password is, where a good shop is to get some food to make breakfast, etc. From there, it’s a natural progression to ask about the person – their name, where they’re from, where they’ve traveled and where they’re going next. Hostels also have a lot of great places to chill out – you could easily take the conversation further in one of the common rooms or at a nearby bar or pub that evening.
Another great way to start chatting with someone is by asking about a particular item – or showing one off. When meeting like-minded travelers, one of the top questions is about one’s home country – where you’re from, whether that person has been there or plans to go there, what interesting sights and activities can be done in your hometown.
Flag patches, or country badges as some people call them, are a simple, cheap, and effective way to indicate to others where you’re from or even all the countries that you have been to. Backpackflags offer flags that are the same size (6.5 x 4cm) and are made of polyester. They can be safely washed in a washing machine and sewn onto your backpack, bag, jacket, or clothing (check out the instructions here).
An extra bonus is that it makes your items easy to identify (especially after that 24-hour bus ride where you barely had any sleep and also were nursing a hangover), and also is a great memento of all the countries you’ve traveled to.
If you’re still biting your nails at the thought of taking the plunge to talk to someone, just consider – what do you have to lose? A simple smile and hello can go a long way. While not everyone you speak to will become your friend, striking up a conversation is definitely a much better alternative to being solo for your entire amazing travel adventure.
Now it’s your turn. What methods do you use to initiate conversations and make new friends on the road?
Disclaimer: This article was kindly sponsored by Backpackflags.com, a product we now happily use. All views presented above are from our Backpacker Travel contributor.