Conversations With Strangers: An Underrated Travel Perk

Traveling has many perks to it. New places, new sights, tastes and experiences. One of the most amazing, for me at least, is meeting people. This is what will make your experience completely unique. No-one else, even if they visit the same places as you at the exact same time, will have spoken to and connected with the same combination of people as you. The human element is one that cannot be captured by postcards.

For some of us, however, this is easier said that done. Not everyone is a chatterbox, and even if you do want to break out of your shell a little while traveling, you might not be sure how to start and who to talk to. And, even if you are the most outgoing of extroverts, you might not always know how to get the most fun out of a brief traveling acquaintance.

So here is a brief, starter’s guide to the kinds of conversations you might find yourself having while traveling, and how you might get the most of them.

Met While (Actually) Traveling

Admittedly, when we talk about “traveling”, we often mean the experiences you have between the actual traveling bits. Those bits tend to be less fun. But meeting someone on a bus or train, or in an airport, can be a fascinating experience. You will almost certainly never meet them again, you’re bound to split up within a matter of minutes or hours, and you’ve been thrown together by a shared experience. These can lead to some of the most deep conversations you have on your trip. Not always, of course. But if you find the right person, it can feel like those friends that you make for a day when you’re six. By the end of a few hours, you know everything about each other and feel as bonded as siblings. You can keep in touch with these people, of course, but part of the joy is in the fact that you’ll never see them again. You can be as deep as the conversation leads you to be with little fear of consequences.

conversations while traveling

Traveling Group

This is specific to an official “group”, one you know you will definitely be spending a set amount of time with. This might be likened to the friendships you make in a dorm, either in college or at camp. Or even the friendships you might make at work. You’re all together for a single reason, for a certain amount of time. In this case, there will be too many people for the group to get uncomfortably intimate, but enough that you will know everyone’s names. You may find yourself dividing up naturally as the time progresses and you get to know one another. This can actually be quite nice, bonding with those you have the most in common with. Be careful not to get “cliquey”, however. Change it up every once in a while – try to have an extended conversation with every person at least once.

Coincidence Buddies

These are the ones who you bump into at a gallery or on the beach and get chatting to, only to bump into them at a different gallery or beach, or even a different country, a week later. People tend to follow patterns while traveling, it just makes sense – but that means that there’s a chance you’ll see certain people again. These are the ones who might broaden your experience even more. Maybe they’ve planned an excursion that they’ll bring you along with. Maybe you’re going to be within a few miles of each other next weekend… how about a day trip on the train to go say hi?

Locals

As well as you might grow to know your surroundings during your travels, you will never experience them in the same way as you do through the eyes of a local. Whether this be someone whom you befriend from your hotel or your favorite restaurant, or simply someone you meet while out and about, take your time and have a real conversation. You might have read about the country you’re visiting, seen news items, learned maps off by heart. But ten minutes of listening to your cab driver’s life story will tell you even more. Ask leading questions where you can, and be attentive to what they say. This is a unique opportunity.

Bar Buddies

This might also be “dance club buddies” or “cooking class buddies”. Anyone you meet for a brief stretch of time and you know you probably won’t see again. A little like the friend you might make on the bus or airplane. You can have some great late-into-the-night conversations here. Topics can range from spice girls lyrics to deep philosophical questions to plumbing, sometimes within the course of a few sentences. Unlike the travel buddy, however, there is less of a guaranteed breaking-off point. Because of this you do have to be a little more careful.

I would never tell anyone to shy away from these experiences, even as I recommend caution. Meeting new people is not something that should be missed out on just because we’re nervous, of course. But then, the best way to avoid getting scared around strangers is to be well-prepared.

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Kate Downes

Kate is a freelance writer and travel blogger. Some people say it's a tough gig, but she has previously taught high school, worked retail, and been a bartender in London, and would take five thousand words on a deadline any day. You can find more of her work at readlongshorts.com and signedkateelizabeth.com.

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