Close to a decade ago, I set out to travel the world and study what causes some to lead exciting and fulfilling lives. After 10 years, I have visited all seven continents, participated in crazy events like Running of the Bulls, met some of my closest friends and even chronicled the experiences in my book The 2 AM Principle: Discover the Science of Adventure.
When you are traveling alone, it can be intimidating to approach a group or person that you find interesting. However, it is often worth it. These are some of the tips and tricks that have helped me make friends while traveling.
I’ve noticed that people who stay at hostels tend to have a strong desire to explore. Although I mostly stay at Airbnb’s or with friends, I will sometimes visit hostels just to meet people. They may not be the most glamorous accommodations, but hostel guests and visitors are often engaging, easy to chat with and more open to making new friends.
Tourist locations may not be your scene, but by going to them, you surround yourself with others that are open to connecting with strangers and making friends. In general, the further you are from home, the more you’ll want to connect with people. If you are in your city or hometown, you’re probably less likely to chat with a random stranger that starts a conversation. But when you are traveling, your brain responds by trying to understand the environment and explore. This makes you more open to speaking to strangers. How do you strike up a conversation?
Most of us are hesitant to approach strangers. But, I’ve found a few techniques that make it significantly easier. First, look for common ground. The more similar a person is to you, the more likely you are to engage. If you are in China and somebody is speaking English, that familiarity can connect you.
But what should you say to them? There are two approaches that I like to use:
- “I couldn’t help but notice…” Use a conversation starter. You could continue by mentioning something you overheard in conversation, clothes that they are wearing or millions of other observations. However, make sure to follow it up with an insight that will keep the conversation going. For example, you could follow a comment about their clothes by asking about where they bought it or who inspires their style.
- The Ben Franklin effect - Ben Franklin realized that if somebody did him a favor, the person would like him more. This may seem odd, but we care about things that we’ve invested effort into. I often like to get strangers to do me a small favor. I’ll ask them for directions, suggestions about the area, or to take a photo. Remember to stack favors from small to large, so that people provide progressively more support.
Approaching strangers can seem intimidating at first, but you can approach people with almost anything. I have even said to people, “You seem like the most interesting group in this bar, I’d love to know if I’m right.” If you are speaking to the right group or person, the rest should flow naturally.
Sometimes looks can be deceiving, so how do you test your compatibility with a complete stranger? Use litmus tests or short questions that provide insights. If you want to know how wild they are, ask: “What’s the craziest thing you’ve done on this trip or on your last one?” Their response will give you a sense of how far they are willing to push boundaries and if you will be comfortable.
When trying to make friends while traveling, remember that it is not a big deal if you screw up. You will probably never meet these people again anyway. There were times when I failed to click with people or embarrassed myself in conversation. However, I continue to throw myself into it, because I have met many of my closest friends on trips. Find more of my travel tips and stories in The 2 AM Principle: Discover the Science of Adventure.