Born and raised in a small town in a remote province in the Philippines, being in a huge circle did not become part of my childhood. Having no brothers and sisters while growing up, I was forced to play all by myself at home while Mom and Dad worked. Watching TV became a habit, which obviously didn’t help, rather made it worse.
I have friends of course, from my school days and at work. Interacting with them is easy. What’s grueling for me is to strike a conversation with someone I have never met before, maintain that conversation and probably be friends with them.
It was early last year when I started traveling and I must admit that I didn’t meet anyone nor engage in a long conversation when I traveled. It’s a shame to say that I was traveling alone and didn’t meet anyone.
It was only this year when I recognize what I lack, interaction. So before I prepped my things, I packed some courage and accepted the challenge, meet and interact with people along the way. And guess what? I did it. But how did an introvert manage to succeed considering the weaknesses she has? Let me tell you the things I discovered to be essential to start a conversation with a total stranger.
- Be willing. Nothing is impossible if you will something. No matter how hard you think it is, you can always find a way. Meeting new people is about being open to share a part of you and accepting a part of them. It’s not always just about similarities of people. You can always connect with a totally different human being. Just be willing to approach and respond.
- Be confident. Shyness is the manifestation of low self esteem which results to poor social interaction. A shy person always has negative thoughts towards others or towards him. Stop overthinking about what other people would say or that you will incur mistakes during the conversation or you’ll be lost for words in case of language barriers.
- Read a lot. You might think it’s useless to read random books, magazines and web articles but this will help you a lot to create and maintain a conversation with people of different interests and professions. This will also boost your confidence since you are packed with bits and pieces of information and stories you could share. I just realized it a little too late when I met a smart, well traveled woman from Europe. Some parts of the conversation were a disaster for me when all I could say was ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I have no idea’. But we got along really well.
- Share a seat, win a friend. When dining out or commuting, inviting someone to sit next to you is always a guaranteed opportunity to meet someone, as the saying goes, “Share a seat, win a friend.” People like to be accommodated and treated well so it’s a good move when you travel alone. Who knows where it might lead you both?
- Listen and Respect. Travelers come from different countries, with different cultures. Try to respect them as they are. Listen to what they have to say sincerely. When you approach or try to talk to someone, be respectful. When they talk, you listen. It’s important not to interfere. Look them in the eye to show that you’re listening intently.
- Ask open-ended questions. Most conversations die early because people only ask closed-ended questions which makes the answer short and simple and gives awkward silence after answering. Try to ask questions that need further explanation like “How was your experience in Paris?” or “Tell me. Is it really beautiful there?”
- Don’t be too inquisitive at first. You don’t want someone you just met to be asking too many questions about your personal life, right? Do not try to be pushy and ask all the questions in your head. So what are you going to talk about? You may ask a fellow traveler about his country, his travels and other matters. When I met a lawyer, I didn’t know her job until we parted. I didn’t ask the scientist about his job. I let him do it on his own. A Parisian guy and I talked about Paris, Laos and Myanmar. An old Mexican guy and I talked about the Philippines. I never bothered to ask his age.
- Book a Joined Group Tours. You will be joining different groups of people for a day or two while seeing different places or doing different activities together. This is a good opportunity to meet different people.
- Stay in a Dorm Type Guesthouses/Hostels. You will surely meet a lot of backpackers here while going cheap. It’s two birds in one slingshot! There’s no escape in talking to someone because most of them are there for the same reason as you do.
- Don’t be afraid. As Shirley MacLaine quoted, ‘Fear makes strangers of people who should be friends.’ I totally agree. Our fear of everything is the main reason why we don’t take actions at all. It’s difficult to get out of our comfort zones. It’s even harder to reach out sometimes. So I strongly suggest letting go of your fears and inhibitions.
It is easier to meet different people when you’re a solo traveler. For introverted solo travelers like me, it won’t hurt to practice some courage and confidence to approach people and start a conversation with them. Traveling is not just about destinations anyway. It’s the journey that matters.