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!

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Destinations For First Timers – 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 Andy M. he asks,

Q. “What are good destinations for first timers?

A. – I’ll answer this question from a North American perspective. However, given the international nature of my readership – please custom tailor this advice to your own native language, and cities/countries that may be a good fit for you personally.

When taking your first international trip there are a few key factors to keep in mind that will take what can be a relatively terrifying experience, and make it more manageable.

1. Language Barrier – If you are an American going abroad for the first time, consider countries that are native English speakers as launching points for your trip.  Even if you are semi-fluent in French or Spanish, cities like Madrid may not be ideal for your first time out of the country.  Instead, I suggest countries like England and Ireland which will be exotic, different, but also far easier to navigate.  While the language barrier really isn’t something to worry about, your first major trip can be stressful and most of your experiences will be new and novel. This includes everything from ordering a sandwich to navigating the metro and asking for directions when you get lost.

2. Public Transportation – A great first time city is a city with fantastic public transportation. If you can avoid it, don’t plan on renting a car right away.  Focus instead on countries and cities that have well established public transportation systems that are reliable, easy to navigate, and which are simple to figure out and use.  London is a prime example of a city that has an extensive public transportation system that is ideal for most first-time travelers.

3. Passion – Ask yourself what history and culture is most interesting to you.  Most people have a certain period of history, or cultural region they are more interested in than others.  While there can be a lot of pressure to visit certain places right off the bat, I always suggest launching your travel career in the region or area you are most curious and passionate about.  While this may conflict with tip #1, it is important to go where you want even if that means an American might take their first trip to somewhere like Tokyo, where you’ll find English to be fairly common but not spoken as the native language.

4. Use a Program – If you are looking at your first trip abroad and uncomfortable doing it yourself, consider using existing tour programs. For younger people there are a wealth of fantastic options which range from semester, or summer abroad programs to Contiki, Intrepid and GAdventures style organized trips. While these are not destinations per-say, they are beneficial tools for exploring areas fresh out the door which might otherwise be too intimidating or challenging to tackle on your own.

5. Security – I suggest starting in a safe city.  While your safety and general experience will vary largely based on your own behavior in a given city, it’s usually advisable for first time travelers to avoid cities that have extremely high mugging, kidnapping or violent crime rates. This is another reason I tend to suggest cities like Dublin, Edinburgh and London for first time travelers.  While they have their issues, and dodgy areas all three tend to be relatively safe and well policed. Bribery also tends not to be a major issue, which helps first time travelers avoid uncomfortable situations.

So, what specific cities would I suggest? For an English Speaker from the US or Canada I would suggest launching your travel career in the British Isles.  While London and Dublin are far from my favorite cities, they will offer you a wonderful starting point for your trip. They are easy to reach, and have fantastic rail and bus systems (metro as well in London).   Trips out into the surrounding country side are easy, and for those eager to also explore places like Paris and Rome – trips as part of the second leg of your visit are easy.  Other cities in Europe that are extremely visitor friendly are Amsterdam where the language barrier will be nearly non-existent, Paris, Rome (I would avoid Naples initially) and Madrid which regularly handle massive numbers of foreign tourists, many of whom are novice travelers.  Other prime candidates include Sydney and Auckland in the Oceania region.  If looking for countries in Asia consider Seoul in South Korea and Tokyo in Japan.

Ultimately, where you start is up to you and your sense of adventure.  Remember that your personal mentality and approach to the experience will be what defines and shapes if it is positive, negative, or just a neutral experience.  Chose to chase your passion and pick your initial destination based on what your comfort level is. You know yourself better than anyone, though hopefully your first trip abroad will help you learn about and strengthen parts of who you are.

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.