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 Couchsurfing.org 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.

The Incredible Power of Social Networks Illustrated By Studying, Living and Travelling Abroad

Nyhavn Harbor in Copenhagen


Housing in Copenhagen

When I signed the agreement and notified the University of Copenhagen that I was headed to Denmark I assumed I’d face a lot of challenges upon arrival.  Things like visa issues, language barriers, and a drastic change in weather.  What I didn’t expect was the housing nightmare that greeted me.  I arrived in Copenhagen on July 20th.  Four months later, after aggressively scouring available housing outlets, my search was finally rewarded. On November 29th, I moved into an apartment that should last me for the next 12+ months (and hopefully the remainder of my stay here in Denmark).

It was my well-developed, trans-continental social network that saved me.  Utilizing contacts, new and old, I was able to keep an affordable roof over my head while I undertook an arduous search. Without this  ace in my pocket ,  I would have been camped in hostels and hotels for months, spending an exorbitant amount of money with no room for my luggage. My story illustrates the importance of a social network and what a powerful tool it can be.

United States Based Trip Prep

Between 2004 and 2007 I worked for a commercial real estate company in Phoenix, Arizona.   I worked closely with many brokers and their teams.  In 2007 I left the company to travel Europe for 3 months. When I returned to Arizona, I took a job as an analyst with a business sales, mergers and acquisitions company. I stayed in touch with past colleagues and my social network continued to grow. Fast forward three years.  I informed my boss that I planned to return to school to pursue my Masters and would be moving to Denmark.  While sorry to see me go, he eagerly accessed his mental rolodex for ways to help me with the move.  This is where it starts to get complicated and the obscure beauty and power of a network starts to really come to light.  He recalled that one of the real estate team members who had helped with the purchase of our new building had dated a Danish guy. The head of that team and her boss was an old contact that I happened to also know, independently, through our mutual time spent at my previous job in the commercial real estate company.  In an odd twist of overlapping networks, when the time came to purchase a new building my boss reached out to his friend and contact: the real estate broker from my old company.  Over the course of the purchase and move into our new building, I ended up not only re-connecting with my old real estate contact, but also meeting his team, which included the woman who had dated the Danish guy and I mentioned previously. Whew, confusing right?

Back to my meeting with my boss – on the spot he picked up the phone, called, and made the connection for me.  While no longer dating the Danish guy, she spoke highly of him and because she knew me offered to put me in touch with him.  A few minutes later, I fired off an e-mail with general questions about Denmark, housing, phones, and language barriers.  I continued my trip prep while my new Danish contact responded with great suggestions, and things moved forward.

Copenhagen’s Unexpected Rental Market

After arriving in Copenhagen I realized that not only was it going to take much longer than expected to get my visa, but housing was both more expensive and significantly harder to find than I had assumed.  To be fair, the University had warned that finding housing in Copenhagen was expensive and difficult.  On the flip side, they did just short of nothing to help with the process.

As someone coming from Phoenix, I was met by a whole different world.  In Phoenix we have such a glut of available apartments and housing that you can sign up with an agent for free who will then show you around various apartments.  The agent is compensated by the apartment complex(s) who regularly offer signup bonuses. If that fails there’s more than enough housing from private landlords available.  The search for an apartment seldom lasts more than a week.

In Copenhagen the situation is the exact opposite.  It’s not uncommon for people to search for an apartment for 3-6 months.  Renters sign up on a mixture of free and pay sites to gain access to apartment rental listings.  A listing inside the city proper in the 3,000-4,000 DKK per month ($600-800 USD) rental range typically garners between 80 and 250 e-mails in the first day!  There is also a heavy preference among renters for female and Danish tenants which added an extra layer of difficulty as a male international student.

After my fifth day in the hostel I followed up with the Danish contact I had been introduced to.  Luckily, he had a spare room available for a month before his tenants moved in and he graciously offered to let me use it.  With a huge sigh of relief, I figured I’d be all set. After all, a month is a long time…Right?

As August drew to a close, it became apparent that my visa would not be arriving any time soon and that the one offer which had been made by a “local” dorm, was too far out of town (45 minutes) to justify accepting.

Luckily, here again my network made a huge leap forward. My host reached out to a friend of his who also doubled as his house cleaner.  She was willing to host me for a month or two, but was hesitant as the apartment didn’t have doors for about half the rooms.  A long time hosteler, I mentioned it wasn’t an issue for me. It turned out that she and I got along well.  She was a gracious host and between our busy schedules the shortage of doors in the apartment wasn’t an issue.  I can’t stress how wonderful she was to allow me to invade her apartment like that.  Especially when one considers just how obscure my connection to her was.

Eventually, my visa came through as my hunt for an apartment continued.  I was hampered by my class schedule and the need to use public sources of internet to endlessly scan, and then pounce on room postings.  While I looked at several, nothing came through until I finally had an offer for a room on Amager near campus.  It looked great.  It was a guy and his two dogs.  He smoked but that didn’t seem like it would be an issue.  He was extremely friendly, nice, and happy to help with things.

After a week I was able to move in and started to get settled.  Everything seemed to be going well until it became obvious that we had two extremely different lifestyles that were not compatible. I moved out the next day.  Luckily, the female Danish friend I had been staying with came to me rescue and welcomed me back without so much as a grumble.  We had a good laugh about the mis-adventure and my search began once again with renewed vigor.  Contacts and my emerging network in Copenhagen shared several opportunities with me, but none panned out.  Desperate to be able to unpack/get settled and with the semester coming to a close, I took a new approach. I started offering more than asking rent. It turns out that money trumped being male, and an international. Within a week and a half I had a lead on a place.  It took another two weeks to finalize things before I was able to move in.

Now, I finally have what I hope will be a semi-permanent home for the remainder of my time here in Copenhagen.

It has been an adventure, and to be fair, I could have found a place much quicker had I been willing to live 45+ minutes outside of the city.  As an international student, and someone who has experienced the incredible power of networks, I felt it was extremely important for my immersion, social activity, and overall experience here in Copenhagen to be in or near the University. The cost of commuting was also a key factor. Ultimately the need to be somewhat centrally located has made things more difficult and somewhat more expensive.  In the long run though, it has also been well worth it.

It’s important to note that I only had the opportunity to make that choice, however, because of the incredible help offered to me through my network of friends and contacts.  I owe a lot of these individuals a huge debt of gratitude and their open, helpful, and friendly nature has really inspired me to pay-it-forward and to be mindful of how I can help my friends, contacts, and their extended network.

At the end of the day, I hope this helps you all remember to never, ever, ever, underestimate the power, capability and influence your network can bring to bear.

To all those that helped along the way.  Thank you.

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

Colorado-8927

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.

Two New Salsa Videos

Howdy all! As a quick sidetrack from my Spain blogs this post includes two freshly recorded videos from this past weekend. What of? Why social Salsa dancing of course!

While each Salsa club is completely different the following videos were recorded at Paragon Dance Studio’s Sunday Night Salsa Function in Tempe, Arizona which trades the conventional restaurant/night club backdrop for plenty of space and a top notch dance floor. Make sure to select the HQ option when viewing both videos & remember – I love your questions! Have one? Post it in a comment response to this post and I’ll get back to you promptly!

Elektra & I Dancing:

Debbie & I Dancing:

Don’t forget you can now sign in to comment/share this post seamlessly using your Facebook account through Facebook Connect!

New Salsa/Rumba Videos

Howdy all,

I decided to take my camera out with me this weekend to two dance events and recorded some quick video. These videos are significantly different than the footage you may have seen from December/May a year ago.

The first is a Rumba filmed at the Shall We Dance studio during Devil Dance Sport’s Spring Magic Themed dance on 4/5/08. The second and third are Salsa’s filmed Sunday 4/6/08 at Shall We Dance during the Sunday night Salsa function and represent typical dances during the weekly social.

Rumba w/ Chelsea:

Salsa w/ Ashley:

Salsa w/ Michiko:

This footage is all of just fun, social, spontaneous dance. Nothing choreographed or planned out.