Traveling does something to people. Having already committed to experiencing a new place, those on the road tend to be more willing to also experience new people, their culture, and their life stories. A time-passing conversation can sometimes transform a stranger into a traveling companion, and if you’re lucky, a sustained friendship. Here’s how:
1. Take a Class
Classmates share an instant bond: foreigners with a common interest. Classes meeting several days in a row provide ample opportunities to overcome initial shyness and engage in conversation.
While taking a scuba class, David and I met a couple who we later had lunch with, and dinner on another day. A year later we visited them at their home in Switzerland. A year after that, we were invited to their wedding in Sweden.
Taking an ecology class in Costa Rica led me to take another class with the same instructor in Peru. A few months later, I tagged along as a field assistant for the instructor in Trinidad. Every step of the way I met new people with fascinating life stories, many of which continue to stay in touch.
2. Get Bored; And Talk About It:
Waiting in line, waiting for the bus, waiting for the plane to take off, why complain alone? Grumble about something mundane as a lead in to learning more.
David and I met another couple while waiting for a bus in Belize City. The bus was late; we were standing in the same spot and decided to whine together. This simple conversation turned us into travel companions for the rest of our time in Guatemala. We also visited this couple in Switzerland.
3. Sit Down:
Find an open seat at the airport, a meal table, or on the bus. Especially in Central America, large tables are often shared between multiple parties at a restaurant.
Striking up conversation at an airport led David and I to meet an owner of a restaurant at our destination. A week later, we dined at said restaurant for free.
4. Know a Guy:
Have a friend who has a friend in the country you are visiting? Make arrangements to meet them when you arrive, even if only for a drink. You already have a friend in common, and they likely can provide great recommendations
A college friend of my husband’s had been living in Germany for several years when we visited the country. Not only was he an incredibly fun addition to the trip, but he led us to great places we would have overlooked, spoke the language fluently, and encouraged us to try many new dishes we may not have attempted alone.
What to Do After the Trip:
Connect: Email and swap pictures. When that dies out, follow on Twitter and Facebook. Write at least annually to each other.
Take Them Up On Offers: “Come visit us if you are ever in ___”. Make sure they are serious, and then actually DO it.
Travel: Plan another trip and suggest they come along.