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Travel is your passion, right? You want to see the world. Being a social butterfly while traveling might not excite you. And you certainly might not like buddying up with friends or travelers you meet along the way who want to visit places you’d rather miss.
But keep an open mind. Being sociable can bring an entirely new perspective to your travel adventure. That doesn’t mean that you have to be the life of the party. You can pick and choose when you want to share your captivating personality and when you prefer to keep it to yourself.
If you are traveling with friends from home or ones you met along the way, you may eventually get tired of socializing with them. This doesn't mean you should leave them behind and find new ones. And while you're together, make an effort not to block out others. If you see a traveler alone, invite that person to join your group for a drink or a chat.
And if you start out traveling alone, you don’t have to stay by yourself all the time. Sometimes, meeting up with other travelers can give your trip that little boost that it needs to stay fresh and exciting.
Share Info Along the Way
Connecting with other travelers can do more than just keep your trip eventful. Meeting up with other groups can give all of you a chance to enjoy an evening of relaxing and trading stories.
Often, your new friends will have gone to places that you have not. Meeting these new people will break the monotony of your trip and probably give you some new ideas about exciting places to visit.
Sharing travel stories and logistical information with travelers that you meet on the road can be a lot of fun and very rewarding. You gain first-hand information which will let you know if a place is worth going to.
You may learn that a situation has changed in a particular location that you planned to visit, and you should take it off your list. Or maybe things in a location you had not planned to visit have suddenly shifted for the better and you should put it on your itinerary. The only way to gain this personal insight is if you chat with other travelers.
So how do you make it easy to connect with other travelers? Here are just a few ways.
Try Couchsurfing or Hostel Dorm Rooms
Sleeping on someone’s couch might not be the most comfortable bed you’ll stay in, but couchsurfing gives you a chance to interact with locals. And that can be priceless.
Think you’re too old to stay in hostel dorm rooms? I’ve done it up into my 60’s. If you’re game to stay in a dorm room, striking up conversations is pretty easy. After all, not chatting with people in such close quarters would be unnatural. A simple question like ‘Where have you been traveling?’ can be the start of a beautiful friendship.
Become a Regular at a Café or Bar
You’ll get very good at being able to identify which people at your favorite restaurant or bar are travelers. If you run into them a few times, you can start up a conversation with them without being perceived as a stalker.
Or you could find a café or bar that caters mainly to locals. Again, after you’ve been there a few times, striking up a conversation can be done very naturally.
Eat with Locals
How about eating with locals in a local chef’s home? The internet has opened up all kinds of businesses that can be accessed internationally. One of those is EatWith, an organization that can sign you up for fantastic eating experiences in many parts of the world.
If you have questions about a destination, who better to answer your questions than locals. That’s when Ask a Stranger steps up with answers.
Just open this app and ask your question. Asking costs 10 cents, but then the app will get answers from knowledgeable locals, who earn points for providing answers. You can even have a private chat with one of the people whose answer intrigued you.
Speak to People on Transportation
When you’re on a 13-hour bus ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai because you wanted to see the scenery along the way, and you’ve seen more than enough palm trees and rice fields, you might find yourself wondering why you thought it’d be a great idea to ride on a bus over bumpy roads for 13 hours.
The solution? Chat with the person sitting next to you. Sure, you might have a language barrier, but that can actually liven up the interaction. Don’t be shy and don’t let lack of language stop you. Soon you’ll both be laughing at the weird gestures you’re both making to get your point across.
Join a Walking Tour
A walking tour will orient you to a new city and give you a chance to talk to others who have recently arrived as well. Engaging in conversation with other members of your walking tour in between listening to the local guide is the most natural thing in the world. Just stick your hand out, say your name, and the other person will likely respond favorably.
Join a Bus Tour Conducted by a Local
As a former tour director, I know the value of having tours conducted by local guides. I could never learn enough about each site where I led tours to do complete justice to the location. Local guides know their destination like an international tour director never could.You can find tours created and led by locals at ToursByLocals, which currently has 3,764 guides in 157 countries. One of those countries will surely be on your travels
Connect with the Local Branch of an Organization You Belong To
Are you a Rotarian? A Lion’s Club member? Toastmasters?
Lots of organizations have branches all over the world. Checkyou’re your organization before you depart on your adventure, and make contact with local members. You could end up with new friends that will delight in helping you see their home town.
Sign Up for a Conference/Seminar/Course
How about a painting class in the south of France? Yoga in Bali? Or maybe a photography course or a cooking class taught by a local expert? Not only will you learn something new about your hobby, but you’ll have the opportunity to socialize with other travelers who have similar interests.
Stay in Touch
Whether you have an iPhone or an Android, SpeakingPhoto is an app that provides a wonderful way to make a travelogue about your adventure for friends and family back home.
Just open the app, take a photo, add a bit of narration about the image, and share on Facebook or Twitter. Or if you prefer, share by email or text message. Your friends will be thrilled to know you haven’t forgotten them.
Volunteering in a foreign destination sets you up for an experience that can reward you with good feelings about helping others less fortunate than you.
Sign up at a site like Workaway for a membership that can offer thousands of opportunities to help with horses in Antalya, Turkey, to work on environmental projects in India, and more. Volunteers generally work a certain number of hours per day in exchange for free accommodation and meals. Free time, then, can be used for sightseeing with fellow volunteers who have probably come from countries all over the world.
Find Free Wi-Fi
Everyone needs access to wi-fi these days, so hang out at places that offer free access, such as McDonald’s or a local fast food spot. You’re certain to run into other travelers. Take the opportunity to start a conversation.
The Internet Can Help
Take advantage of websites that put you in touch with other travelers and/or locals. Touristlink provides a way for you to meet up with locals or find travel companions.
As I write this, you can connect with more than 25,000 local guides and 75,000 travelers worldwide. You can gather first-hand information from fellow travelers about places you’re thinking about visiting and find out if there are hidden entry fees to be aware of or if the site doesn't have bathroom facilities. And Touristlink will allow you to speak with other members for free.
You can record your current location, say where you're going to be in the future, and show off the places that you have been. You can search a location to see if another group is planning to be there soon, and arrange to be there on the same day. If you feel like you need a guide for an area, you can find people who are locals using this site as well.
What If You’re an Introvert?
You may be an introvert who decided to travel solo simply because you like being on your own. But even introverts benefit from interacting with others on occasion.
Strike up conversations with strangers may be difficult at first, but focusing on local culture and discovering countries from the inside will make the effort worthwhile. Give it a try.
The Bottom Line
Don’t be shy, but be clever. People are often more open to talking to strangers when they’re traveling, but you can't just walk up to people and start talking to them without some kind of hook. People are usually wary of strangers who do that – even while traveling.
If you see something unusual about someone on a bus or in a restaurant, make a comment, especially if it’s a compliment. For example, if someone is reading a book that you’re interested in, ask their opinion.
You’ll probably make friendships that can be rewarding for years – lifelong friends in other countries, thereby providing an excuse for overseas travel for years to come.
Remember to put all of this in your travel journal. Instead of struggling to remember the names of hotels, campgrounds, or restaurants, you simply have to flip through your journal until you find the information you wrote down while you were there.
Mix with locals, get off the beaten track, find gems that others never see. Yes, you have to see the Eiffel Tower if you’re in Paris, but stay in down-home accommodation and have a more authentic experience.