Travel is great for someone who likes to meet people and can start up a conversation with a lamp-post. But what about us, the shy ones? We’re the ones who would rather not be the center of attention or the life of the party. You’ll find us listening rather than talking, maybe even unnerving people with our silence. We’ll smile and laugh at a joke, but we’re not altogether sure we want to participate in every discussion.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. The world would be a better place if more people learned to listen, we think. But being able to easily strike up a conversation can help you in so many ways. Remember those cool tips or local secret spots you heard about from just one chat with a bartender?

Come back home and your business networking is all about being able to share a joke with that entrepreneur. So use this precious time — when you’re on the road and nobody knows you — to shed your inhibitions and defeat the sweaty-palmed, croaky-voiced conversation demon who plagues us all.

Here’s how …

Relaxing on the Ecoventura Letty
© Mike Richard

Pretend to Be a Nosy Reporter

Here’s a brilliant tip my granny once offered me – Act as if there’s nothing more interesting than the life of the person across from you. Tell yourself you have to find out all about their lives, their jobs, their homes, their families. You’ll see them warm up at the mention of one topic, and you have your conversation starter right there.

This has held true all my life, and saves me when I’m standing there, stuck in an awkward silence, casting around desperately in my head for something to say.

Wipe the Slate Clean

Starting up a conversation while I’m travelling is actually far easier than I expected. Maybe it’s because travel makes you more confident, so you feel like people want to hear what you have to say. Maybe it’s because on the road, there’s no baggage and no judgement. You’re like ships in the night, passing each other, usually never to meet again. You find yourself sharing opinions and asking questions fearlessly. And when you see people respond to you, it’s suddenly easier to tell that hilarious joke, you smooth talker you.

Friends Walking Together, India
Walking Together in India © Vinoth Chandar

Be Someone Else

Not in the creepy way of course. When you meet someone for the first time, you don’t have to be the shy one. You can be the garrulous guy or girl from your last job, whom nobody wanted to ask, “Hey, how’s things?” because they’d actually tell you, at length, how things are with them.

You can be the traveler with a hundred stories to tell. It’s liberating to play-act like this, and if it means getting you talking, hey, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Put Yourself in a Spot

Shy people don’t usually get themselves into situations where they have to spend a lot of time with new people. Not voluntarily at least. So we end up spending our social time with people we know, and never signing up for that hobby class or trek group, because it’ll mean talking to so many new people.

That’s why travel is good for us, because it forces us into interactions that we’d never otherwise try. Imagine arguing at the grocery checkout for your change. The guy at the checkout doesn’t know your language and there’s a line of people waiting behind you. You might recoil at the thought, but you really need your cup of coffee, so you make the effort to communicate. It’s hard, but it’s good for you.

Follow Up When You ‘Feel It’

We’ve all been there. Some people are easier to talk to than others, and there are some people whom you just want to walk away from. It depends on the circumstances. Is that person similar to you? Has he or she gone scuba diving at the dive location you’ve been wanting to visit for ages? Do they look like they have an interesting story to tell? Maybe it’s that shy traveler sitting at the edge of the group?

If you meet someone you want to talk to for longer, invite them to join you for a coffee or to explore that new spot together. You could make a valuable friend for life, or at the very least, you’ll get to hang out with someone cool.

Bar Friends in Chicago, Illinois
Bar Friends in Chicago, Illinois © Glenn Harper

Seek Out the Hot Spots

Actively look for the social scenes when you travel, instead of staying in your room reading. Yes, it would’ve sounded horrible at one time, but now you have all those amazing conversational tricks. Put on a clean shirt, brush your hair and go look for an easy-going crowd.

A large group of friends are less likely to be open to talking to a stranger, so for starters, look for a smaller group, maybe a relaxed couple or a lone traveler.

Also, don’t forget to pick a spot where the music isn’t too loud. You won’t be able to do much talking there, unless you’re willing to shout. A small cafe, a local pub, or a restaurant with a friendly vibe – these are all prime territory for a friendly chat.

Use Your Secret Weapons

This is going to sound grandmotherly, but your secret weapons are a smile and a friendly greeting. Truly.

When you travel, you have so much more material to work with than you do back home. You can skip the dreaded weather-traffic-job trinity and head straight to the interesting stuff, like where they’re from, a discussion on travel in their country, a comparison of notes on where you are now, or a few anecdotes from the road.

Make use of these questions, because they’re always easier to build a conversation on. And (this is going to sound grandmotherly) your other secret weapons are a smile and a friendly greeting. Truly. If you look approachable, people will approach.

When you get some practice talking to strangers, it gives you a boost of confidence too. Think of it like the spinach that Popeye swallows – a magic formula that turns you into a superhero. You’ll realize you’re not as bad at the game as you think. You’re not completely unskilled in the art of conversation, and you can tell some pretty good jokes when you want to. And there you go, you’re on your way to being a social butterfly.

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