This week I’ll be answering a series of questions I received during my months away. Monday – Friday will each be centered around a different theme, so be sure to check back daily for your question! I’ll also link the entire series together into one page, available at the end of the week.
“A journey is best measured in friends, not in miles. ”
I’m curious about the people you met and how you met them.
There are two types of people you meet when you’re traveling:
- Local people
- Other travelers
For meeting locals:
Some countries are friendlier than others. Some are notoriously not friendly. Others have language barriers that seem near impossible to crack.
The good news is: English is more widely spoken in the world than we think (but always respect the local language first and foremost.) Nonverbal communication (such as gesturing) can get you places!
Here are a few suggestions that have helped me meet locals (one of the best things about traveling!):
- Learn a few basic words of the local language. The most basic being “hello,” and “thank you.” It also helps to learn “do you speak English?”
- Smile. It’s simple but it’s huge. (In my experience this works everywhere except Paris. Don’t smile in Paris, and you’ll have an easier time making friends. Seriously.)
- Bond over things that transcend cultural barriers, like FOOD (my go-to) and photos of your home, family, and/or travels.
- Share your favorite discoveries about their country or culture. Everyone likes to see their home positively through new and different eyes.
- Ask questions. Most people love to share their home with visitors and enrich your experience.
- Keep in touch! With nearly anyone and everyone having email and/or Facebook these days, it’s not just possible but likely you can continue the friendship after you leave. (Beautiful!)
As for meeting other travelers, it’s really, really simple:
- Stay in hostels.
I could stop there, but here are a few more tips:
- If you overhear a language or accent you know, especially from your own country (sadly quite rare if you’re an American, so that’s an instant bond) speak up and ask them about where they’re from.
- Just as mentioned above, everyone likes to hear positive things about their home from an outside perspective. If you meet another traveler, and you happen to have been to their home country…share what you loved about it.
- Ask them the obligatory long-term question: “how long are you traveling?” as well as a short one: “what are you doing today?” Since that’s all we travelers tend to know, it’s easy to then share experiences and perhaps even make plans together.
- Strike up a conversation with any solo traveler. It may turn out to be a person who hasn’t conversed with a native English speaker in days or weeks. You may even make someone’s day!
Travelers are notoriously friendly and open-minded. Not only are we all in the same boat, facing the same challenges and hopefully sharing the sense of natural curiosity about the world and about others…but any traveler worth their salt knows: it’s the people, not even the places, that make the experience.
I met more people in the weeks I traveled solo than in the months I traveled with one other person. That is the beautiful bonus of traveling alone. So…get to it!
How do you approach taking pictures of people? Do you ask permission?
Once again, there are two scenarios you’ll encounter while taking portraits on the road.
- They don’t know you’re taking their picture.
- They know you’re taking their picture.
If you have a really awesome zoom lens (I don’t) or could pass for a sneaky paparazzi in your next life, you will find yourself getting away with the former.
For the rest of us, we really should approach taking someone’s photograph with the golden rule. That is: how would you feel if someone came up to you on the street or in your home and started taking your photo?
When I was first traveling, I used to snap away. Everyone else was doing it! It wasn’t until I traveled to a country where people were taking my photo without my permission, or even once I said no, that I realized the importance of asking first.
Why should you ask permission when taking someone’s photo? Most people will say yes. If they say no, you’ll be glad you asked and didn’t invade their privacy.
In the case of a language barrier (and it’s often there), I will usually point to my camera and ask “ok?” It seems to get the message across, and I usually get a smile in the process. In some countries, especially with the children, I make it a point to then show them their photo (bonus: more smiles.)
My number one method of getting pictures of or with people: when they take your photo or ask for one, you reply “yes, but I get to take yours, too!” This kind of exchange usually results in my favorite photos of people.
There’s also the tactic of taking pictures of people while in a moving vehicle. It’s challenging, but almost guaranteed you won’t be getting in anyone’s way.
And again, if you never knew that someone took your photo in the first place…no harm done. But good luck with that one.
What makes a successful lone traveler?
Hint: there is no such thing as a successful lone traveler! Aside from having the courage to travel by yourself, I suppose the real win is learning to enjoy it.
Sure, talk to anyone who has traveled extensively on their own and they have stories of bouts of loneliness or homesickness. I’m willing to bet they have many more stories about the people they met along the way than a person who traveled with someone else.
Like anything, traveling alone vs. traveling with someone has its trade-offs. If you find yourself in the position to travel solo, embrace it! The most “successful” thing about it to me was learning to love being by myself. I never thought I could have the confidence to eat out alone, or could enjoy a place without someone to share the experience with. Traveling alone has given me that, and it’s something I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.
Bottom line: you open yourself up to meeting more new people when you’re traveling solo. If you’re not meeting anyone, you’ll learn to enjoy your own company. You can’t lose.
How do you connect with others while traveling? Have you found that it helps you better form or maintain relationships at home?
Up next: On Places