Authored by Rebecca Crawford
Even if you like traveling alone, or you’re already with a group, that doesn’t exclude the possibility of meeting new people as you’re making your way around the globe.
Travel is all about getting to know a different culture, or different mindsets to enrich your own way of seeing things. That’s why we’ll give you our top tips on how to make new friends wherever you go.
This is the most important tip, even before you meet someone new. When your eyes meet, you know if that person is interested in starting a conversation or not. So it’s good to smile at least slightly, and maintain eye contact for a few seconds.
Studies show that people who use a rich nonverbal communication, with lots of significant gestures, can make friends more easily. It’s also easier for them to maintain these friendships, thanks to the mirror neurons.
The theory is simple: we like to form friendships with people we perceive as similar. So if someone mirrors our behavior, e.g. smiles when we smile, we’ll tend to like them more.
Key Gestures to Use
➡ Large gestures.
➡ Open palms.
➡ A suggestive mimic that gives an effective nonverbal feedback.
➡ Eye contact, but only for a few seconds so it’s not creepy.
There’s an art with small talk, and it’s good to know the ropes if you’re to make new friends. It can all start with a simple, but funny remark on their outfit, or with a witty pun about the weather. Or a simple “Hello” can always be a great start.
Either way, try to include the context and visible mutual interests into the small talk. You can also focus on the people you’re trying to make friends with, get them talking about themselves.
For instance, ask them about what cool things you can do there, or find out where they’re heading next – did they just book a holiday to Jersey? Ask them!
Say you’re camping and you have a portable oven or a camping coffee maker. If other people in the camp don’t have these things, you can invite them over so they can use yours.
After that, you can ask them how long they’re planning to stay, if they prefer coffee or tea, what they like to eat and so forth. You can even suggest an impromptu dinner party, a barbecue, or maybe a hike together.
If you see someone struggling to set up their tent or to fix their car, you can easily make friends by saying “Hi, mate, can I give you a hand there?” If you don’t know how to help them, it can still be a funny start to offer your assistance.
Just make sure not to give any unsolicited advice that would seem like you’re barging into their personal life. So don’t tell them they should be using more eco-friendly products, or try your vegan lifestyle.
Also, some people prefer not to be helped. Just read the nonverbal cues. That’s the case with photographers who prefer to pack their own tools, for instance. You’ll recognize these people by how focused they are when doing a certain thing, so it’s best not to interrupt these.
If someone is complaining, don’t offer new potential solutions from the first. That might go against your instinct, but you should just listen, nod, and say “I get you, man”.
Only after the person has done talking, you can ask them: “May I offer you some advice?” And try to look at things from their own point of view, not yours.
Talk About Your Shared Interests
There’s nothing like a “hey, I’m into swimming/ trekking/ archaeology too!” to spark up a conversation. But ask them about what they like about that common ground too. So if you’re into the same sports, like biking, you can ask them what mountain bike grips they prefer.
Don’t make things about yourself, and don’t keep the conversation too neutral either. We know it’s hard, but you can feel your way around things by asking the other person things about themselves.
Develop New Interests
Even if you can’t find a visible common denominator to discuss, you can always learn new things. For instance, if you see someone sky diving, you can simply start by saying: “Hey, I always wanted to do that” or “How does it feel doing that?”.
After that, you might get invited to do sky diving with them. Which means you might even discover you like doing that, so it’s a win-win.
Learn New Things
One of the best things you could do is learn new skills and abilities at home. If you’re going to Italy, you can brush off some of that old history knowledge and give other tourists trivia tidbits. Or you can learn a few words in the local language in case you want to make friends with the locals.
But the key here is not to show-off, at least not too much. You want to seem interesting to other people, but you also want to seem approachable. Otherwise, they’ll just tell you to get off your high horse, and that will be the end of your history lesson.
Keep Your Promises
Say you’re hiking in a remote location and you see someone else there. Their phone battery just died, so they’re asking you to take a photo of them, and send it to them after.
If you do that, chances are you might meet again, maybe do a hike together or socialize around camp. But if you keep neglecting to do what you promised, you’ll certainly mess it up from the get-go.
This sounds like a cliche, but it’s only been repeated so frequently because it’s true. You can focus on others, be witty, learn new things and follow all our advice so far, but still keeping true to yourself.
That said, what do you feel is more important about making new friends? What methods did you try so far? Were they useful? What backfired? Leave us a comment and tell us all about your experiences.
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Photo credits: Group of travelers by Tourism PEI / Stephen Harris.