Last updated on April 23rd, 2022
Featured image: A seagull catches a ride on the back of a swimming pig in the Bahamas / Photo by Lisa Larsen on Pixabay
How to protect your energy and be social while travelling
By Diana Eden, Contributing Writer, JourneyWoman
I confess, I actually LIKE traveling by myself, especially on planes and trains. I really don’t WANT to talk to anyone until I get where I’m going! I don’t want to listen to a “chatterer,” nor look at photos of grandchildren I know nothing about on their iPhone. Call me cranky, but there it is.
Truthfully, I am quite an introvert. Talking to a stranger takes energy, and making conversation with a stranger is a considerable amount of work. I need to save every bit of strength to survive the ordeal of a two-hour wait at the gate, then an eight-plus hour flight, followed by the exhausting walk to the long line-up for Customs and Immigration.
So, I withdraw into myself, play another round of FreeCell on my iPad, and read until I get sleepy. Then repeat as necessary until I am blessedly in my new location.
Sooner or later, I know I am going to get lonely. It will usually be in the evening when it is drinks and dinner time. I want to savour all that I have experienced during the day, and I want to share those feelings with someone over a good meal at a table with a beautiful view.
How to find that person to dine with? My charming, handsome, and funny, late husband could merely look at the next table and instantly be lifelong friends with its occupants. He often offered a blanket invitation to visit us in Las Vegas – “Diana, give them one of your cards.” I always expected a group of people to show up on our doorstep some months later with faces and names we had long since forgotten. Such easy connections are much harder for me.
Here is what NOT to do:
Don’t expect the following people or groups to be interested in connecting with you:
- Families with young children. They are far too busy wiping ketchup off their faces or controlling their offspring’s urges to get up and run around.
- Young lovers or honeymooners. Need I say more?
- Really old couples who even look bored with each other. If they can’t even converse with each other, why would they want to converse with you?
Interior of the famed Chat n’ Chill Beach Bar in Exuma where Diana met some lovely people from North Carolina after drumming up the courage to approach them.
So what to do?
I was taught many years ago a little exercise to help me overcome my fear of talking to strangers. List to yourself three reasons why THEY might want to speak to YOU right now.
- They, too, are looking to make connections while abroad. They don’t speak the local language, are feeling isolated, and would LOVE to talk to a fellow North American
- They also need help deciding where to go or what to do, and they are also introverts and were too shy to ask you!
- They were sitting there wondering who you were and why you were alone. You seem interesting. What is your story, they wonder to themselves.
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Diana getting friendly with a pig in Exuma
Finding the right “stranger”
Look for other similarly aged individuals, solo perhaps, but not necessarily. As a woman, look for a pair of traveling girlfriends, or maybe a mother and daughter taking a trip together. Always start with a smile, the biggest one you can produce, shy as you may be.
Pay a compliment: “I can’t help noticing how beautiful that dress/necklace/scarf is. Did you buy it here?” Cross your fingers that they didn’t buy it at a Value Village or Ross near their home and that there is a story attached.
Ask for advice: “Hello, so sorry to interrupt, but I am wondering if you have taken the day trip to…and whether you considered it worth it? Did you book it yourself or through a travel agent? I’d love your thoughts on this if you don’t mind.”
Offer them a dessert or drink: “I am about to order a cognac. Can I buy a couple for you two? You look like you’re having fun. Did you have a good day?”
Take a day tour: Especially a tasting tour. Eating food with people is already a social activity, and you will probably sit with others at a table. Wine tasting tours work the same way with the added advantage of alcohol.
Eavesdrop: Wait for a clue – I once was in Rome alone, and there was a group (yes, a whole group!) of men near me who were complaining that they had just been in Tunisia for six weeks working on a film and couldn’t face eating one more tuna fish. I was able to tell them about a charming restaurant nearby that was all about pasta and tomatoes, and we ended up all going together. I still can’t believe I pulled that off!
Help a starving student: This is made easier if you’ve signed up for a cooking or language course in your destination. While many young students don’t want to go to lunch with someone four times their age, if you can hook them with the idea of a free meal in exchange for some interesting conversations about their life goals, give it a try. I’ve never actually done so, but I’m willing. I love young people and talking to them helps keep me young.
Seek out an exhibit: Look for events where people with similar interests to yours are attending – a flamenco dance show, a costume exhibit, an art show, and see if similar interests can spark a conversation. Again, that first approach is challenging for an introvert, so you need to practice.
Taking a day tour is a great way for an introvert to meet new people. Guides have a way of drawing even the shyest of people out
Check Out Hotel Bars: What?? This, for an introvert like me, seems like the worst possible suggestion. You might as well ask me to do stand-up comedy in a room full of cadavers! People always seem to be in couples or in groups and already having a fabulous time. If they are alone (and of the opposite gender), the fear is an invitation to a conversation may look like an invitation to something entirely else. But I have managed to initiate a chat successfully once or twice. In Exuma, I went to a bar mid-day, expecting a larger group of people, but there was just a couple having a drink while their teenage children splashed in the pool. We had a lovely talk. They told me about the hotel’s Friday night barbecue for guests and locals with music and dancing by the pool. I went and had a great time.
Most importantly, PLAN AHEAD: Rather than wait until you are on your trip and suddenly in a flood of tears during a wave of loneliness, plan ahead. Thanks to the internet and social media, travel forums and related websites are abundant. Search for like-minded women and seek out some that might be locals in the cities and towns you might be visiting. Set up a meet and greet – morning coffee in a cafe near their residence, perhaps. The internet has so many travel sites where you can meet like-minded travellers, and of course, the JourneyWoman Community Forum is one of the best! And safe too.
Before long, you’ll end up with so many new friends you’ll be wishing for just ONE night to yourself!
About Diana Eden
Diana Eden is a Contributing Writer for JourneyWoman magazine, focused on travel for women over 85. She was born in England, raised in Toronto, lived and worked in New York, Los Angeles, and now Las Vegas. She is a former dancer, actress, Emmy-nominated costume designer, and now author. She recently published her memoir, Stars in Their Underwear: My Unpredictable journey from Broadway dancer to costume designer for some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
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Twenty years ago I did a solo trip to Cairo. I started by going on an AOL travel chat room and met expats that gave me tips and offered to help me get around. I too am an introvert and have to make myself overcome anxiety in order to experience amazing travel. I had a fantastic trip and met interesting people. Solo travel is great.
Thank you so much for your comments. Finding expats is a great idea!
Great advice with actionable ideas that are beneficial!
Thanks so much. I love your words “actionable ideas”. On my recent trip to New York, I actually initiated two conversations with friendly women while I was dining alone. I thought I must practice what I preach!
Diana, This was really practical and helpful–thank you!
Thank you Stephanie. I’m glad this was helpful.
Thanks from a fellow introvert (and Nevadan). People assume that those of us who hop on a plane and fly to destinations (particularly international) solo where we know no one, are extroverted. Nope. 🙂
Meg, my fellow Nevadan, thanks for your comments. I’m glad you enjoyed my article.
Very helpful tips. Also inspiring, giving courage to we introverts
Thank you Deb.
Really great tips; I will try some. But I take issue with the comment about “really old folks” (although I don’t consider myself one.). We retired couples spend a LOT of time together and don’t talk every minute. We are probably much more interesting than you think!
Point taken. I am actually a “really old folk” but don’t think of myself that way either.
I really enjoyed this useful article. The little list activity is awesome and such a great reminder – I completely resonated. I have not yet done any solo travel (beyond work-related travel) but am gearing up for it. This helped!
Thanks for this article. Great tips. When I travel alone, I stay in hostels. I can afford my own room now, but the opportunity to chat with other travellers is much better than when staying in a hotel. Also, I can make a few of my own meals, which offers another opportunity to meet people and share food!
Thanks I am curious and wanting to take a solo trip. So just getting ideas right now