Think about a recent trip you took. It could have been across town, across the country, or across the ocean. When you returned from your trip, did you come home with the contact information of new friends? Did you create memories that go beyond places you visited? Did you connect with people on your trip on an emotional or even spiritual level?
For most people, the answer to all those questions is "no." While they may have taken a day trip to a nearby location or a month-long retreat to a foreign land, they usually interacted with the locals on a superficial level ("Where is the museum?' "Do you know when the next bus arrives?"), and they took from their trip more than they gave.
What a shame. One of the true joys of traveling, especially to a foreign land, is to bring home memories and relationships that last a lifetime. While seeing the sites and buying souvenirs are great, you also want your travels to enhance your personal and spiritual growth. You want to get more from your travels than just a few nice photos you can hang on your wall--you also want photos you can hang on your heart. Only then can you experience the inner rewards that travel has to offer.
Most people don't travel with memories or friendships in mind because of one simple word: fear. They fear that the people they reach out to won't like or accept them. They fear that they don't have good enough social skills. They fear that if they reach out to a stranger, they may get laughed at or taken advantage of. But realize that any fear rests only in your head. The majority of people you'll meet (95% or more of them) will be eager to make a new friend as well. Someone simply has to make the first step. Why not you?
If you're ready to get more from your travels and create new memories and friendships, remember the following tips:
• Attitude is everything.
Leave the past behind and live like the locals do. Wear clothes in their style, learn some key words of their language, and keep a smile and positive attitude at all times. Remember that you want more than just souvenirs of your travels; you want memories that will transport you back to that place. Open up to people and they will be receptive to you.
• Look at odd moments as a way to connect with people.
When you travel, "things" happen. You bump into people on the street, you spill your soup on a waiter, or you nearly get run over by an out of control camel. Whatever happens, use the situation as an ideal opportunity to meet new people. For example, suppose you're on a bumpy bus ride. The bus is full, so you're standing and holding onto a bar for support. When the bus hits a very large bump, you slip and fall right into someone's lap. Most people would feel embarrassed, pick themselves up as quickly as possible, and apologize for the "faux pas" without making eye contact with the other person.
But what if you rested in the person's lap for a moment, gave him or her a big smile, and shared a good laugh together? Even if you can't verbally communicate with the person, smiles and laughter transcend all languages and cultures and are a great way to create a connection. These are the moments that define a trip and that you'll talk about for years to come.
• Be curious of others.
Be respectful and find out what people are doing. Don't just go someplace and be a taker. Ask people about their life, about their family, and about their culture. People love talking about themselves and talking about their homeland. They also love giving travel advice while you're in their country. So don't be arrogant, abrupt, or rude when you interact with people. Use the old standbys of common courtesy ("please" and "thank you"), and be respectful at all times. A little curiosity goes a long way to getting people to interact with you.
• Allow your travels to take you on an adventure.
Too many people try to control their trips. They plan to see certain things and to spend a precise amount of time at each location. Don't have your travels all scheduled out like that. In everyday life we all have appointments that we must keep, and we often feel that life is too stressful because of it. Therefore, when you're traveling, loosen up. Yes, you want to see it all. But it's better to see two good museums rather than six in a rushed way. Take the time to just sit and relax and people watch. You never know where one conversation with a stranger may lead you.
• Get involved while you're there.
During your travels, take on a job or get involved in a cause in your new location, such as working in a school or volunteering in an orphanage. Before you travel, look up some place where you could volunteer. Or, ask your hotel concierge if there are any schools or orphanages in the area (or any other causes that could use some help). Volunteer with the locals for a day to get a deeper understanding of the culture. People are always grateful to expose themselves and their children to someone from a different country.
• Use technology to your benefit.
When you meet people by using the various approaches presented, don't just walk away when the encounter is over. Get the person's name, address, email, and any other information you can. With today's technology, you can easily keep in touch with people no matter where they live. You can send a fax or an email, connect on Facebook, talk with instant messenger, or even send twitters. And even in the most remote of places, people do have access to these technological tools. If they don't have it in their home, they can go to a café or a friend's home to access technology.
Endless Opportunities Await
Ultimately, it doesn't matter if your trip away is for one day or one month - it only takes five minutes to develop a relationship with someone. If you want to get more from your travels in terms of memories and relationships, then you need to reach out to others and travel in a whole new way. Always remember that home is where the heart is; however, it's up to you to open the door and invite others in.