How To Meet People While Travelling – Ask Alex – Travel Question Wednesdays

Ask Alex - Travel Question Q and A every Wednesday

This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here. To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.

This week’s travel question is from Eldina J. she asks,

Q. “What’s the best way to meet people while traveling without being creepy?

A. –  I operate with a basic general assumption in place.  If I’m sitting somewhere feeling lonely, by myself, or really wishing someone would start a conversation with me – then other people who look to be in a similar situation are probably having similar thoughts.   This may not always hold true, but I find that in most situations it tends to be fairly spot on.  It is amazing how often two people will sit near each other, both hoping the other person will strike up a conversation but feeling too concerned that they might impose, to be the initiator.  On the flip side…don’t be the Italian guy from the train in Eurotrip.  We can usually tell when people are open to being approached/talked to, it’s just a matter of paying attention and overcoming our own personal and cultural inhibitions.

Remember – you’re a traveler!  Travel is all about amazing stories and cool people.  Travelers are usually social and always have a story to share!

But, that begs the question – how to do it?  It is often as simple as saying hello.  If you’re on your own it is typically easiest to approach other solo travelers or travelers relaxing by themselves.  However, don’t let that stop you from reaching out to people, especially if you’re in a hostel!  Hostels are built specifically to help solo and independent travelers meet and connect while on the road.  But don’t stop there!  Once you have made contact with another traveler (or if you’re traveling with a friend) be inclusive! When you see a lone traveler or small group say hello and invite them to join!   Remember – people WANT to be included.  They just may feel awkward or bad about imposing.  When inviting people to join, I find it is usually best to make more concrete invitations.  Instead of, “you’re welcome to come join us if you would like” shorten it up and get to the point, “Come join us!  Here, pull up a seat!”  As subtle as the difference is I find it often makes a large difference in how people respond.  In one they feel like they might be imposing or that the invitation has been offered out of politeness.  In the second it is much more inclusive and feels more welcoming. Don’t worry they can still say no if they’re busy or have other plans.

If you’re not doing hostels, and don’t feel like striking up random conversations in parks, restaurants, museums and on public transport is the next best option.   To be clear, while billed as a free bed exchange, that’s not what Couchsurfing is really about.  It is about community and connecting with other amazing, well- traveled, wonderful people.  When you are preparing to visit a town set up a profile, join groups connected to that town, and then search for people who are willing to meet up for a cup of coffee or a beer.  You’ll be able to do a bit of research and background on the person to make sure it will be a safe situation, and then you can dive in.  Most major couchsurfing communities also have weekly gatherings which everyone is invited to.

Good luck and happy (social!) travels!

Would you like me to elaborate on an aspect of this response? Let me know!

Have a question of your own? ASK IT! Want to see previous questions? click here.

Preparing for a Trip? Make Sure You Facebook Your Destination!


By now you may be familiar with sites like Couchsurfing, AirBnB, Global Freeloaders, and Hospitality Club.  Those of you who are more aggressive social media users also probably leverage Facebook on a daily basis to help organize and socialize your life. When finding a restaurant our generation often fires off a tweet, pulls up Yelp, or posts a quick Facebook status inquiry.  Most of us have read The Four Hour Work Week and books like Never Eat Alone. We understand and appreciate the value of our social network and regularly interact with our friends and contacts on a local level.

Yet, when it comes time to travel, we often set all of this knowledge aside and revert to making the same basic mistakes. We often have travel questions or needs, and would love opportunities to connect socially with long distance contacts.  As we prepare for our trips we talk and post about them in general terms but, almost never make active inquiries.

If you were looking for a job, you’d leverage your social network.  If you needed a new roommate you’d reach out to your social media contacts.  If you had a nagging question you couldn’t find an answer for, they’d be your logical ‘go to’.  So why not make similar inquiries when preparing for a trip?

A plethora of recent startups revolve around connecting us socially with people nearby.  From Foursquare to Facebook check-ins, it has never been easier to keep in touch once you’re at a destination.  These do little, however, to prepare for the trip to that destination.

So, before you take your next trip, don’t just tell your Facebook and Twitter friends that you’ll be visiting a destination.  Ask them who lives there, who can host you, who is free to show you around, meet for coffee, and perhaps even introduce you to other near-by must see places.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a place you’ve never been to before or a place you’ve visited 100 times.  You have an amazing resource at your finger tips.  Use it!  I guarantee you’ll be surprised by the power of your network. And above all, don’t be afraid to act on the introductions your friends and contacts offer to make.  It’s one of the best ways to enrich and enhance your travel – and who knows, it might even save you a small fortune in travel costs.

Still need a conventional resource? Head on over to Amazon and snag a Lonely Planet Guide for your destination.

Post Arizona Travel Tweetup Wrapup

Arizona Tweetup Number 2 Crew
(From Left to Right: Kerri, Toni, Patricia, Alex, Jackie)

We just wrapped up the 2nd Arizona Travel Tweetup and I’m thrilled to say it was an absolute blast.  We added three new faces to the group and spent a couple hours exchanging travel stories, wisdom, and doing more than a little brainstorming.   You can see the original event announcement here.

Who made it (make sure you’re following them!):

Kerri who tweets at @khegre and is a passionate travel micro-blogger.

Jackie who tweets at @bikelady, blogs at Bike With Jackie, Arizona Travel and Adventure and is a professional travel writer and published guide author.

Toni who tweets as @SmithTempe and @VisitTempe, blogs on Visit Tempe and serves as the voice of Tempe travel.

Patricia who tweets as @patriciaelenie, blogs on Patricia Lapadula and is an active independent travel blogger and photographer.

and myself – Alex on twitter as @AlexBerger, blogs here VirtualWayfarer and runs the UltimatePackingList and TravelResourceList.

For those looking to connect with fellow Arizona based travel people please make sure to look over my AZ Travel list on twitter (if you’re not on it post here or shoot me a tweet).

What We Talked About

I was really excited by how much ground we covered over a relatively short period. For those of you who were not able to join us – here’s a taste of what you missed:

Travel stories and photos – No surprise here right? We had some great ones from an amazing long duration sailing trip, to stories about culture shock in Africa, crying babies, and the woes of traveling with young children.  @patriciaelenie brought several stunning photos from her recent SEA Semester program where she sailed for several months around the Caribbean while @BikeLady brought several copies of her recently released Backroads and Byways of Arizona guide.

Twitter – It’s not really a tweetup if you don’t talk about twitter and we did! From general discussions about social media, to more specific discussions about how we use and rely on twitter as a tool we had what i found to be a very informative discussion.

One of my favorite tips came from @khhegre who suggested the creation of small twitter lists consisting of category driven favorites. She’s used this as a creative way to overcome the challenges that go with the forced feed sampling approach which happens as you break 200 follows. The creation of lists still allows you to sample general tweets, while making sure you’re able to filter it category or emphasis when the mood strikes.

We also discussed the ways in which twitter has changed how we follow and consume blog content.  The general consensus was that while many of us previously had favorite blogs/blog feeds which we followed, that our general approach had changed.  Now the emphasis was on people, individual articles and information feeds, over the blog feed itself.  Our new approach has evolved into sampling what looks interesting from our twitter feed which if reflective of general twitter users (Which I believe it is) shows a fundamental shift in how bloggers need to position themselves, distribute their posts, and share with the community.   It looks like you’ll need to be even more social and pro-active in the future if you want to put your content in front of people.

We also discussed a few other basics, things like how we choose who to follow, the impact and importance of your following/follower ratio, and the power of twitter as a tool to build new relationships and friendships. Especially for travelers!  I found @SmithTempe/@VisitTempe’s insights into how Tempe has been pushing into Social Media and really re-defining their relationship with the travel community to be really informative and exciting.

LinkedIn, TBEX, Tripitini – As a community focused event, the question of communities came up.  We talked about three of the largest concentrations of general travel discussion.  LinkedIn was a new one for me, but apparently as a very vibrant travel discussion community.  We discussed Travel Blog Exchange in some depth including a break down on the recent TBEX conference which @khegre had been able to attend as well as Tripitini a more recent community on the scene that is very similar to Tripitini and has an active travel community.

Facebook – We spent some time brainstorming on the way we use and interact with Facebook as well as its potential for improving social interaction, building/maintaining travel contacts/friendships and as a traffic/community building tool.  The consensus?  Facebook has done amazing things for empowering travelers and giving an easy way to meet and stay in contact with friends made on the road. We also looked at how Facebook is increasingly becoming one of the primary traffic drivers for independent bloggers and community sites.  Probably in no-small part due to the same shift we’re seeing in Twitter as people move from individual blog loyalty to a focus on people’s recommendations and individual links.

Hostels and Couchsurfing – We had a fun chat with a few comical adventure stories about what hostels are, who they’re right for, their positives and some of their drawbacks. We also discussed Couchsurfing (with a quick introduction to what it is) and different tools for reaching out to travelers as they visit Phoenix/Arizona.

Lots more beyond that, but those are the highlights that jump to mind! Hopefully they serve as good food for thought for those who were not able to join us.  If they’ve sparked a thought or question, don’t hesitate to keep the conversation going in a comment here on this post.

Thank you again to everyone who came out.  I hope to get a 3rd Arizona Travel Tweetup organized for sometime in late September or early October.  I look forward to continuing to build the community and helping put real faces and names to twitter/blogs/websites.

Wandering in Oslo, Norway

Embassy Row - Oslo, Norway

My final day in Oslo was spent meandering the city’s cobblestone streets, wandering through the old harbor, and resting lazily in the park reading my book.   I’d paused at the local rail station during the previous day’s walking tour and picked up a discount reservation for an overnight train from Oslo to Stavanger on Norway’s western coast.  To my disappointment, my Eurail pass only reserved a reclining airplane like seat, but – it would have to do.   The train left late in the evening – 10PM if memory serves and would take just over 8 hours as it wound its way along the southern coast, before hockey-sticking up through the Fjords to Stavanger.

Downtown - Oslo, Norway

The late departure gave me the entire day to explore the city and relax.  Hildur was off work at 4:30 which gave me a sold 4 or 5 hours to explore.   Eager to make sure I hadn’t missed anything, I struck off down towards the old harbor.  My path took me along major streets with old buildings, showcasing an eclectic mixture of architectural styles from all over the world.  Despite the inherent beauty in most of the buildings, one stands out in my memory: the US Embassy. The building stood on the corner of the street which encircles the Palatial Park/Main Palace.  It was an odd building.  Ringed by an imposing 10+ ft tall black fence, the building was all blacks and grays.  About 3 stories, it was square, with an odd architectural design, one which had arrow slit like windows.  The whole thing oozed a sense of…I don’t want to say Evil…but perhaps…unfriendliness is a better word.  It may have just been the color and the architectural era it hailed from.  Either way, it left me feeling disappointed and misrepresented.

The Harbor - Oslo, Norway

Though I’d poked around the main Harbor the day before, I relished the opportunity to continue my exploration.  The harbor is home to some 5-10 “tall ships” which is to say old/classically modeled sailing vessels.  Many have been converted into tour vessels but others are still classic sailing ships.  All offer a beautiful ambiance to the harbor which is ringed by cafes and small kiosks not to mention an incredible view back towards the down town area.

Street Performer - Oslo, Norway

From the harbor I struck back up, re-tracing the previous day’s steps, towards the Parliament building and central greenbelt.  From there it was up and down the main shopping street. Lined with people, the street also provided a wide selection of street performers.   From jugglers, to musicians most of the usual types were in attendance.  Some of the more a-typical ones, however, included a puppeteer playing the piano, and cripple using his two crutches to alternately perform tricks while bouncing a ball with them.  The sights and sounds left me chuckling at times, wincing at others and of course scratching my head in bafflement at yet others.

Flowered Square - Oslo, Norway

The street eventually led me down  towards the main train station, where I headed to the left, and quickly ended up in a picturesque square which was doubling as a flower market.  The market was awash in colors, scents and people as passerby’s paused to relax, pick up flowers, or wound through the square on their way to some errand or meeting.

Children at Play - Oslo, Norway

Eventually my meanderings took me back through the warren of H&M stores and small cafe’s towards the old National Theater.   The boulevard it sits on is split down the middle by a series of small fountains, flowerbeds overflowing with blooming flowers, and of course the usual assortment of relaxing and sunbathing Norwegians.  I paused briefly next to one of the fountains to capture the photo above – two young children at plan.  There’s something about it which just seemed to strike me as being a bit classic.  Boy meets girl.  Boy wears blue. Girl wears red. Both enjoy the innocence of youth, combined with the joys of a youthful, inquisitive nature, while relaxing in front of a gorgeous fountain on a beautiful blue day.

Town Hall - Oslo, Norway

From the fountain I decided to see if I could explore the inside of the city hall.  It was, after all, a rather unique building.  It seemed only natural that the interior would be equally interesting.  The 5 minute walk down to the main structure was quick and enjoyable.  I say walk, but it was more a lazy meandering as I lankily ambled my way along the sidewalk.   The building – a massive red brick creation – served as a picturesque backdrop for various pieces of artwork, often added seemingly at random.  A prime example is the large clock shown above, which I found all the more beautiful due to the relatively basic and plane brick backdrop that it had been set within.

Town Hall - Oslo, Norway

The building’s main entrance was equally interesting.  Though not completed until 1950 due to the War, the building was started in 1931 which is reflected in its general feel and appearance. Parts of the design left me thinking of a simpler, less ornate version of the Chrysler Building in New York.  Interestingly, the City Hall is also the site of the award ceremony each year where Nobel Peace Prizes are awarded.

Town Hall - Oslo, Norway

The building’s immediate interior is a massive open room.  The room has a variety of different murals – all done in a similar style – decorating each of the walls.  The murals reflect the nation’s history and toils, while conveying a very propaganda-esq artistic style. One which, at least in the US, we’ve often come to associate with former Soviet and more Socialist governments. The murals focus on the people, their labors, culture and wars.  Not surprising given the building’s history and completion in the immediate aftermath of World War II.

The Palace - Oslo, Norway

After leaving the City Hall, I found my way back up past the Royal Palace before connecting with Hildur, who had just gotten off work.  After a quick nap, we decided to pick up some Sushi to go (which to my surprise was only slightly more expensive than fast food), before heading to the park to enjoy the weather.  We ate, chatted, and enjoyed the weather before saying our goodbyes. It was time to head to the rail station and to continue my exploration of Norway’s culture and natural beauty.

My stay in Oslo was incredible.  Made that much more delightful by my incredible hosts, who truly went out of their way to share their city, culture and local cuisine with me.  I owe them a huge debt of gratitude and will always have very fond memories of Oslo, in no small part, due to their hospitality.

Oslo Continued – Local Food and Playing in the Park

The Harbor - Oslo, Norway

When I last left you, Sten and I had just finished exploring a large portion of Oslo.  It was a fantastic insight into the city, Norse history and local culture. But, I wasn’t done.  In fact, my hosts still had  a few surprises left up their sleeves.

After a quick hello, and then a far longer nap (dare I cry jetlag?)  I eventually stumbled out of bed and wandered into the living room.  A bit groggy but generally feeling refreshed I settled into a stool and joined the others.  As it turned out, we’d all crashed for longer than anticipated. When the sun never sets, a nap here or there quickly turns into a great idea.

Local Food - Oslo, Norway

To my delight Hildur had picked up some pre-cooked whole shrimp on her way home from work, and had set to preparing a classic regional dish.  The ingredients were simple.  Boiled and well salted shrimp, sliced bread, mayo, sliced green onions and lemon.  Combine it all as pictured in the image above, and then enjoy.  It was delicious, and a meal I hope to replicate sometime in the near future.  The shrimp in particular caught my attention – the Norwegian shrimp are a different species than the ones I’m familiar with in the US. They’re a deeper orange-almost red when cooked, slightly smaller and have a saltier/stronger shrimp taste. Stuffed, we decided to enjoy the weather and set out towards the park.  Hildur grabbed a bag of blocks – which I later learned was a fun game to play in the park.

The 3 minute walk to the park was pleasant.  The weather perfect – riding that fine line between cool and warm.  The sun had started its ever so gradual descent leaving everything with the slight suggestion of Sunset despite the reality that it was still hours off.  As seems to be the case with most Scandinavian parks in summer, despite the late hour (it was perhaps 10PM), there were still lots of people out and about.  BBQing, lounging, drinking, chatting, and playing an assortment of park games.

For our part we set up shop next to one of the small ponds, then found a flat area to play our game.  To my surprise, it was one I’d never seen before.   Each team set up a series of rectangular blocks standing on end.  The blocks were spaced about a foot apart in a long line, parallel to your opposition’s blocks. Each team had 6 or 8.   Located in the middle – about 10 feet from either side – was a larger, taller rectangular block.

The goal?  Each individual used three foot long round, wooden, stakes which were lobbed straight at the opposing bricks.  The goal?  Knock as many down as you could, before eventually going after the central block.  The catch?  Distance, aim, and a few additional challenges which went with each block which you managed to knock down.

All in all the game was one of the more entertaining park games I’ve played in a long time (afraid I’m not a huge fan of Frisbee).  The company was great, and the setting…well…how often can you claim to have spent a relaxing evening playing in the park in the shadow of Norway’s Royal Palace?