Most of what we call “solo travel” takes place in a sea of friends that we haven’t met yet.
And there lies the challenge.
How do we turn strangers into friends or at least acquaintances?
It starts with conversation.
“Fear makes strangers of people who would be friends.” ~Shirley Maclaine
From birth to the moment you are reading this article, your life has been an adventure of triumphs, failures, sunshine and rain. We are filled with knowledge, opinions and outlooks.
The commonalities in our backgrounds connect us in a human experience.
All it takes is a bit of engagement to pull these stories out of us and to build a sense of belonging.
If you can start and maintain conversations with strangers, you’ll find that you never truly travel alone.
How To Start A Conversation With A Stranger
Take all the guesswork out of making new friends by using these proven tips to engage strangers.
Twenty Seconds of Courage
Pump yourself up and imagine how great the interaction will be. It may be scary but you only need 20 seconds of courage to push through your fears and start a conversation.
Have a few conversation starters ready like a question about the restaurant you’re in or a timeless favorite – the weather.
People are generally friendly and welcome engagement. A smile breaks the ice. Don’t plaster a huge, fake smile on your face. Looking like the Joker is scary!
Saying hello is a perfect start. In a foreign country, speaking a few words in the native language will earn smiles from the locals.
You may meet someone who’s bubbly and willing to share their life’s story; you may get rejected. Be okay with those outcomes and anything in between. Don’t take rejection personally – people have many reasons for declining conversation.
If the person looks bothered, uninterested or disengaged, end the conversation politely and move on. There are plenty of others who want to talk to you!
Initially, people will wonder why a stranger is talking to them. Tell them right off. Are you trying to find an answer to a question? Are you practicing the language?
Once a person knows why you need their attention, they let their guard down enough to reply.
Make a Connection
What drew you to that particular person? Is there something you’re curious about like a puzzle they are working on or the book they are reading?
People enjoy talking about themselves. Ask open ended questions that allow them to talk freely.
Open-ended questions include: What’s your favorite dish here? What’s the best place to see local art? What’s the story behind that statue in the park?
The more they talk, the easier it will be for you to find something to relate too. Once you’re able to mention that connection, natural conversation starts.
Take the backseat and don’t talk about yourself too much. You should listen at least twice as much as you are speaking.
Your statements should end with a question or comment that cues your new acquaintance to continue the conversation.
Another simple way to build rapport is to notice something unique or special about a person and compliment them on it.
Perfect Your Body Language
People can tell if you’re distracted or uninterested. Make eye contact, lean into the conversation, nod occasionally, and smile.
Don’t think of what to say next. If nothing comes to mind once they stop talking, ask a related question. Keep them talking and the exchange continues.
And be careful to not interrupt!
Tell Stories and Anecdotes
Everyone loves a good story, so sharing a personal anecdote is a great tool of engagement.
I go into details about superb storytelling here, but I’ll offer a quick recap: loosen up and use great descriptions. It also helps to imagine that the person is already your friend.
Do you have anything you can show the person? Visuals help a story to come alive!
The more you try, the better you’ll get at starting and maintaining conversations. Don’t critique yourself during the conversation because it will make you more nervous.
Practice until talking with new people comes naturally.
Remember that you both want the same thing – to be heard and respected.
If you use these tips to converse with strangers, you’ll find friends waiting for you at every travel destination.
In May, I’m traveling to Abu Dhabi. I don’t know anyone there, but I will enter a city full of people just waiting to meet me. I’ve joined online groups who snagged that Christmas Miracle flight deal and I expect to make lots of friends by the time I leave Abu Dhabi! If you haven’t already, connect with me on Twitter to follow my travels this year!
Photo © by Luca Napoli