Getting around as a solo traveler is hard enough, but on long trips it can be especially hard to “break the ice” with others around you. Of course, alone time is great but sometimes human interaction is a necessity for sanity and personal wellness. Sometimes, when I’m traveling alone, I go a little crazy if I go too long without talking to other people, but it can also be intimidating to approach someone cold and strike up a successful, non-awkward conversation. I’ve learned through trial and error that it’s usually okay to be a little awkward, but that there are also patterns on how to strike up a discussion with someone you’ve just met on the road.
Though it can be difficult sometimes to gather up the courage and talk to others outright, these typical approaches can help you get a conversation going with just about anyone you meet:
1. “Where are you from?”
There’s nothing easier than talking about where you’re from – after all, you are an expert! It’s a perfect starter question and it’s almost never too awkward if you approach someone with a smile and this question. Asking people where they’ve come from is a simple, non-committal way to start a conversation. Bonus points if you have a funny story or personal fact to add about the place they’re from. (Example: “Oh, you’re from Brazil? I lived there a few years ago!”)
Best case, you all will get to talking and realize you have a lot in common. Worst case, the person isn’t your type and you can have a short and sweet discussion and leave it at that. Either way, this easy question is a great conversation starter, especially if you know the person is a foreigner.
2. “I was thinking of grabbing something to eat. Do you want to come?”
Bonding over a conversation and a good meal is the best way to get to know someone. Sure, it can be nice to eat alone sometimes, but it’s great when you’re traveling solo and you can link up with other travelers in your hostel to explore the town and grab dinner. Instead of feeling awkward about finding a meal companion, try approaching someone who is hanging around at the hostel by themselves and ask them if they’d like to join you for dinner or a drink.
At a lot of hostels where I spend a few days, I’ll often find a “dinner crew.” During the day, we all do our own thing but at night we reconnect and find some great, cheap eats out on the town. These have resulted in some of my favorite conversations and memories while traveling. It all starts with this exact conversation starter, which almost never fails.
3. “How long have you been traveling?”
Everyone loves to talk about themselves, and when you’re traveling people are quick to chat about how long they’ve been on the road. Usually this works best as a follow-up question to “Where are you from?” However, in the right contexts you can just ask people how long their travels have lasted, and you’ll hear some fascinating stories in return.
4. “Is anyone sitting here? Can I join you?”
This is my personal favorite – when I’m traveling alone and I see another traveler who is also alone, it’s super easy to make friends just by sitting nearby. Solo travelers are often trying to link up with other people, and this conversation starter is perfect for that. Meeting other solo travelers this way, I’ve found travel companions and dinner mates, as well as meeting people I ended up running into again and again.
Another fantastic situation to use this is on transportation, when there are no assigned seats. It doesn’t matter if they’re a local or a foreigner, it’s a great “in” to striking up a conversation, and requires almost no effort.
5. “Wow, I really like your ___!”
Compliments work wonders whether you’re traveling or not, and everyone likes a bit of flattery here and there. Starting a conversation like this immediately sets a strong positive vibe and gives off the impression that you’re a nice and genuine person. If the receiving person wants to chat, they’ll usually respond with “Thanks so much! I got it at ___.” It’s easy to see how a conversation could evolve from here.
In a world where long-term travelers have often been on the road for days at a time without a proper shower or decent sleep, a simple but sincere compliment can go a long way. Some of my greatest travel friends (who I still stay in contact with to this day!) were people who simply complimented my backpack, or my outfit, or something else when I wasn’t expecting it.
6. “Where are you going? Do you mind if I tag along?”
For better or for worse, using this question almost always works. This one is a very particular conversation starter, but it works well when there are groups of people congregating at a hotel or hostel and making plans to do something fun, like dinner or drinks or a tour of a landmark. Usually, people won’t say no to this question out of politeness, but it’s important to make sure you get a feel for the group and whether they’re open enough to join. It’s best if the group is composed of many single travelers who are organizing something casual, like a trip to the market. Then you can branch off if necessary once you get there.
You’ve got to be careful with this one because you don’t want to impose yourself on anyone, but if used correctly this can be a powerful tool to helping you get in with groups of travelers. Plus, being confident can win you big points with almost everyone.
7. Eye Contact and a Smile
Sometimes it doesn’t take words to start a conversation – all it requires is a cheerful demeanor and the courage to look someone in the eye. Think of it as “friendship flirting”: you see someone sitting alone across the room, look at them square in the face and flash them a polite, toothy grin. If they’re the kind of person you want to hang out with, they’ll respond with a smile back. Even if nothing happens for a while, it’s quite likely that later on that person will initiate a conversation with you, or at the very least will respond favorably when you approach them to chat. If you’re feeling lonely, smile at everyone you see and you’ll find someone to hang out with in no time!