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How to start conversations with strangers when you’re travelling alone

Written by Anna Brech

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How to make new friends when you’re travelling

Meeting new people is one of the great delights of solo travel. But how do you go about starting a conversation to begin with? For some travellers, this can be a point of mystery. If you’ve never travelled alone before, it might seem a bit awkward to simply talk to strangers in a bar. Sure, the confident cats among us could do it – but what about those who feel a bit more… self-conscious, or people with the odd bit of social anxiety? Does this mean shy people just don’t make friends abroad?

Read more: The life-changing magic of meeting new people

Luckily not. In fact, anyone who’s ever travelled alone will tell you that it’s remarkably easy to start a conversation – whether you’re in a bus headed to Ho Chi Minh or a bar in downtown Rio. Normal codes of conduct (say, the don’t-speak-to-anyone-ever that rules London underground) simply don’t apply. Those flying solo are usually super-keen to meet fellow go-it-aloners. You quickly feel less like you’re trying to somehow pick someone up – without the residue romance – and more like this is the way we should all be: friendly, curious, with good manners and open to meeting others.

Make new friends while you travel on your own

But, just in case you still need a little conviction that you won’t languish alone looking for mates on your next foray abroad, we’re rounded up a few tips from the Flashpacker crowd on how to get a conversation started. These guys are fluent in the language of travelling alone, so listen up and take heed if you want to meet new people with minimum fuss:

How to start a conversation with good ice breakers

You could use a typically British hook to get the chit-chat rolling, suggests Flashpacker Claire. “Talk about where you are – nice view, great food, etc… the weather!” This is a pretty much fail-safe option: anyone at all can talk about the weather – and who doesn’t like to chew the fat about food? Great noodles, bad milkshakes, how much you miss a humble jacket potato and cheese. The possibilities here are endless – all good conversation starters should feel natural, and not require too much overthinking.

Read more: The Kondo effect – using travel to de-clutter the mind

Don’t ask what people do

A lot of travellers are getting away from what they do back home – they’re looking for an escape, which is perhaps why Helen says, “Don’t ask people what they do for a living as an opener”. Of course, you might get around to this topic; but it’s a textbook dinner party question; not one for a remote beach in Colombia or a tiny Peruvian restaurant. Social etiquette for travellers is a bit more easygoing, and much more flexible.  

How to make friends when travelling solo

Acknowledge the awkwardness

Chatting someone up (without actually, you know, chatting them up), can feel unnatural – a bit like a blind date, but with (potential) friends. So, why not put the elephant in the room right out there, and have a joke about it? “Embrace the awkward laugh at yourself, that will get friends,” says Kerry-Alia. There’s no fixed way to meet new people – just go with whatever feels comfortable.

Get involved with the group chat

If you’re solo, you might tend to veer away from groups – and instead single other solos to approach. But more often than not, groups abroad are a mish-mash of solo travellers anyway. These are people who’ve been in your shoes, so they’ll likely be very receptive and welcoming.

Read more: Avoid this common mistake to make the most of your travels

“When I was on a Flash Pack trip to Myanmar earlier this year, literally everybody in our group went round a bar in Yangon saying hello to everybody that spoke English and inviting them to join us,” says Victoria. “A group wide effort made it seem less difficult. And we found some people who had been travelling for months who were over the moon to talk to new people. If nothing else, you have folk to take nice photos for you.” Ditch the Whatsapp group chat and talk to new people in the real world.

Having drinks with friends on holiday

The final word on how to talk to strangers

When all’s said and done, you just need to pluck up the courage and make the move. What’s the worst that could happen?

“Just do it, and don’t focus on the awkwardness,” advises Erika. “Ask how they are doing and what brings them to that particular place.” In the unlikely event you don’t get a good response or your opening gambit is a conversation killer, don’t take it personally. It’s all in the practice, and the more you do it, the more confident you’ll get.


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