I am an introvert. I travel alone (most of the time). Now, how the heck do I make friends in a new country with people who may/may not speak English? HAAALP!
I’m pretty active on social media which may give an image of Valerie Lai as being an extrovert and extremely social. It may come as a surprise to you but striking up a conversation with strangers and meeting new people is not something that comes easily or naturally for me.
Now this is a story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside down…
In 2007, I started my undergrad studying business at a Western University in London, Ontario and it was my first time away from home. Here I was, sitting in a room full of extremely smart, like-minded individuals. Guaranteed I was able to fit in somewhere… But as weeks passed, I watched people slowly forming their groups. When a big group of people from all kinds of places get together, people usually gravitate towards others who have something in common with – like, if you’re from the same hometown or like the same music. I tried that. I made a conscious effort to connect with some girls from Vancouver, but we just didn’t have same interests. Not forcing myself to hang out with people I didn’t vibe with, I hung out with myself and sometimes with new people.
Few weeks in, the now fully-formed tribes were going strong. Super smart people sat together in the front. The cool and smart fashionitas sat over on the lower left bowl. The jocks sat in the back. And somehow, it seemed they all liked each other (or it appeared like they did). But what about me? I’m smart too! I like similar music to you and have similar interests. Where do I fit in? No clue.
Fast forward to 2015, I am completely different person from the lonely self-conscious undergrad studying in Ontario…
…and am happy to say that I’m 100% crushing it.
Constantly meeting new people and being in a new environment can be fucking difficult. To rehash the same story of who you are, what you’re about and what you’re looking for on your wonderful, romantic globe-trotting journey around the world can be boring in your mind but others will find you fascinating. Don’t get into that state of mind where everything you’re doing at the moment is just: meh. But also, don’t be the Valerie Lai of 2007 trying to force her way into tribes/groups. If it’s not a good fit, it’s not a good fit.
What you CAN do is:
- Channel your Inner Confidence from Erlich Bachman (the guy below).
Erlich can be a dickhead but he’s confident AF. Be confident in who you are. The people you meet, the hostel worker or your Airbnb host is interested in who the fuck YOU are. You are an interesting human being with loads of experiences and stories that others have not and may not experience.
Share your stories. Express yourself (in a respectful way). Listen. Laugh.
2. Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself if You Don’t Feel Like Talking
While others like to blab away, you can listen. Don’t do anything you don’t feel like doing. It’s okay to be quiet. It isn’t “weird” and you aren’t considered a “weird person” for not speaking.
If you find that others are wondering why you aren’t piping up in a group conversation, just say that you’re more of an introvert and enjoy listening. Good travellers respect boundaries and understand.
If you feel more comfortable in a small setting at the hostel, take this baby step and introduce yourself to your bunkmates in your room. Your core group of 4 or 6 will most likely gravitate towards each other when in a larger setting (ex: pub crawl, hostel group events).
3. Plan Your Trip According to How You Feel
When you’re on a trip, it’s easy to overlook scheduling some “me” time.
Some days, your itinerary will look like this:
7 am: Wake up
8 am: Head out. Take metro to Museum
11 am: Grab lunch before the rush
12 pm: Check out next museum
4 pm: Climb Eiffel Tower
6 pm: Dinner
7 pm: Relax a bit
8 pm – 4 am: Hang out with hostel people and party all night long.
The biggest thing I’ve learnt is to do thing at your own pace. I’ve felt like death sooo many times from a night of drinking and forced myself to sludge through another museum with my sunglasses on. Your body will tell you to take it slower. If your feet hurt or your back hurts or your head hurts, your body’s trying to tell you something. Don’t rush everything on your ‘checklist’ and take your time to fully explore each space.
If you have never introduced yourself to a new person ever in your life, here are some conversation starters to be used on strangers:
- Hi I’m [name]. How are you doing?
- Where are you from?
- How long are you travelling for?
- I heard that [x event/monument/place] is great! Have you seen it yet?
- If you haven’t been there before, this is a great potential to have someone go check it out with you.
I also find sharing things to be a good ice breaker. For example, if someone needed to borrow a voltage converter/ macbook power adaptor, I could lend it to them for the moment (as long as they give it back!) Or like, if someone needed hand sanitizer or a pen to use. These are great ways to start conversations!
Have fun! Stay safe! I believe that you too, can crush it.