Whenever the topic of making friends on your gap year comes up, it’s an eternal worry for those yet to hit the road...
Yet talk to anyone who’s travelled and they’ll give you the one-line response of "don’t stress, you’ll meet loads of people". This will then most likely be followed by a ‘that one time on my gap year’ story.
It’s a daunting prospect to head off on your own and have to make friends along the way. The last time you probably had to make friends was at least two years ago if not longer. But don’t panic it is true you’ll meet lots of people on your travels but I’ve also compiled a list of tips for starting up those conversations.
Just remember friendly people are a lot more approachable, so if you take nothing else away remember to smile!
Before You Go
It may seem like an odd concept but there a couple of things you can do before you’ve left home to ensure that you have people to meet on your travels when you touch down in a far flung corner of the world.
Talk to Friends and Family – The World Is Smaller Than You Think
You may be in a position where none of your friends want to travel at the same time as you, or they want to do something completely different. However, this doesn’t mean they can’t help you out.
You’ll be surprised how often someone will know someone that lives or is travelling near where you’re headed. You can then get in touch with them and organise to meet up. This will help you to meet new people and also if they’ve been in the area longer than you have they are bound to have great recommendations of where to visit and what to do.
Similarly, as the smallbigchange.com life coach reminds us, family is a great contact resource.
The best thing about family friends is they tend to be a little older and more likely to be able to offer a bit of free accommodation as well as a friendly face. During my trip around America, I was able to stop off with a number of family friends who offered up a spare room and even offered to put on a wash – a much appreciated gesture when you’ve been on the road a couple of months.
Having pre-arranged contacts will ensure to put your mind at ease and make that all important friendship building a little easier.
Book a Structured Program
A program is designed to bring together like-minded people, similar in age to yourself and allow you to bond over the activities you participate in. A recipe for being able to easily make friends. You won’t have to go out by yourself and try and break into pre-formed friendship groups.
You can meet your group at the airport and then spend a long flight chatting about your upcoming adventure. After being thrown together with people for a length of time you’re bound to bond and from our experience lasting friendships are formed.
Thinking about your travel program? Take a look at our ten week programs, for example 10 Weeks in Madagascar exploring the islands, forestry conservation and teaching alongside other volunteers.
So you're all set, you’ve planned your trip, you've said your goodbyes and suddenly it’s now time to jet off.
How are you going to start those conversations and meet all those friendly people supposedly hanging around the travel trails?
Whilst You're Travelling
There are a number of different techniques people use to strike up conversation and most of them are a lot easier than you might expect…
Stay in Hostels – They Are Traveller Hotspots
Whilst you might have looked into hostels to stretch your budget as far as possible, they can also go a long way to helping you make friends.
Hostels are a hotspot for travellers, all wanting to save money and meet friendly people. Their set up and layout also facilitate people-meeting. Shared rooms of anything from 3 people in a room up to 18 or 20. This will allow you to be making up your bed and instantly have five or six people around to talk to.
Here are my top tips for making friends in your hostel:
- 1. Don't be afraid to ask questions; you could ask how long they’ve been here, how do they rate the hostel, where are they travelling to next?
- 2. Don't just stay in your room - head to the communal spaces; the kitchen, tv room, games room or bar.
- 3. If the idea of walking into a room full of people scares you, start with the kitchen! As soon as you start cooking someone is bound to walk up and ask you about what you’re making.
- 4. Head down to a specific nightly event. Most hostels will put on events like quiz nights and karaoke for the exact reason to get people talking and interacting.
Just ensure that you choose the best type of hostel for you, check out my article on hostels for lots of advice.
Have an Interesting Item of Clothing
This might sound difficult, but remember what’s normal to you could be interesting to others.
A football shirt of your favourite club can lead to people commenting on your attire and from there you’ve got your in.
If you are travelling, collecting bracelets can be a nice memento for you and allow others to start the conversation.
Once you’ve chatted to another solo traveller for five minutes about your bracelets, t-shirt, jumper etc. you are bound to fall in to conversation about what you’re each doing. Voila! You’ve got a travel buddy.
Pack a Deck of Cards
And have a few easy games up your sleeve, check out last month's article to refresh your memory.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, there are always going to be quieter moments on your travels where everyone is a little stuck for something to do.
If you always have a pack of cards, you can easily make conversation with those strangers in the lounge or on the bus. Just take out your pack and ask if anyone wants to play.
I will guarantee you’ll then be surrounded by people all up for a good card game who you can chat to and share ideas on your plans over the coming few days or where they suggest visiting.
The Common Theme: Smile
So whilst there isn’t a scientific formula to making friends, I have given you a number of fun and easy ways to meet people and start that all important conversation. As you’ll have noticed the common theme is once you’ve used one of these techniques, you need to start talking.
Try not to be shy, everyone is in a similar position to you. Or they will have been in your position not so long ago. So take a deep breath, smile and talk to everyone they’ll be lovely.
Put some of these into action and let us know how you get on. Or if you’ve got a tried and tested method let us and your fellow travellers know in the comments below.
Image: Lisa James via Facebook & London Metropolitan University
on 26 / 04 / 2016