Navigating a completely new environment can be daunting, and sometimes even more so for introverted travelers. As much as we may love (and need!) our personal space to recharge our batteries and fully take in our surroundings, we do desire human connection but are, at times, at a bit of a loss as to how to make friends while we’re on the road. Here are a few tips that will hopefully help the next time you find yourself in a similar situation.
The Power of Hello
Isn’t it amazing how most friendships blossom from that one word? Simply smiling and greeting someone else is a great way to open up the possibility of further conversation. Have a short list of icebreaker-type questions that you can ask someone you’re meeting for the first time – let your own curiosity about their travels, norms and cultures guide you, and you’ll be amazed at the different stories you’ll hear.
Introverts also tend to be a little more observant by nature, and this strength is something that can definitely be used to your advantage. Observe the person you’re talking to – does their attire give away any of their interests? Maybe they slipped in a quirky catch-phrase from a movie or television show during conversation, or they used slang that you recognized or completely befuddled you. Either way, commenting or asking questions allows you to learn more about the other person’s interests, and makes it easier to relate and find common ground.
Sharing is Caring
As vital as it is to ask questions and be inquisitive, it’s also easy to get caught up in it and fall into a trap of a one-way conversation. Remember that it’s equally as important for you to share small bits and pieces of your life and interests with others so they too can get to know you a little better.
That’s not the only thing you can share, and I’ll let you in on a little secret that helped me when I was backpacking. You see, I really like snacking, and I usually have some kind of food with me, whether it’s candy or cookies or the odd bowl of spinach (I can’t be the only one who does that, right?). When I found myself in a dorm room with new roommates, I would pull out my Tim Tam supply and offer to share. More often than not, that simple gesture served as a perfect way to break the awkward silence and has led to the formation of some pretty great friendships.
While we’re on this subject, why not share knowledge as well? An Italian traveler once stopped in his tracks when he witnessed my friend and I break our pasta before throwing it in a pot, which then led to him educating us on the proper way to cook our spaghetti. I’m pleased to report that my spaghetti strands have been long and satisfyingly twirl-worthy since then.
Keep an eye out for ways to meet and connect with people. Consider your accommodation choices – maybe that means choosing a bed and breakfast or a small hostel over a private Airbnb or hotel, or scour Airbnb reviews to look for hosts who are keen on sharing a bit of their local knowledge with you. Even if you choose to stay in a private hostel room, take advantage of the common areas or lounges where travelers tend to mingle. There are also many tours and classes you can take when you’re traveling in a new place, and it’s a great opportunity to learn and get to know people, who, chances are, already share a similar interest with you. Keep an eye out for any upcoming events or activities that are organized for travelers, and explore and participate at your own pace.
Most importantly, give yourself time and space and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Enjoy the experience of getting to know people while on the road – even if you hit a few bumps along the way, you’ll discover a little more about yourself and what you’re capable of in the process, and learn what to do (or not to do!) the next time round.