Before discussing conversation starters, I think one of the most irritating conversation styles is people who always bring the conversation back to themselves. They never show interest in the other person. You already know everything about yourself – why not find out about the person you are talking to? Pursue their interests, travel experiences and segue from what they say. Even though I am in my 60s, I don’t often talk to people over 50 as many have this self-centered way of interacting (please talk to me though – I’m different).
Getting around as a solo traveler is hard enough, but on long trips it can be especially hard to “break the ice” with others around you. Of course, alone time is great but human interaction is a necessity for sanity and personal wellness. It can also be intimidating to approach someone cold and strike up a successful, non-awkward conversation. It’s usually okay to be a little awkward, but gather up the courage and talk to others outright. These typical approaches can help you get a conversation going with just about anyone you meet:
1. “Where are you from?”
There’s nothing easier than talking about where you’re from. It’s a perfect starter question and almost never too awkward if you approach someone with a smile. It’s is a simple, non-committal way to start a conversation. Bonus points if you have a funny story or personal fact to add about the place they’re from. It’s best if you have a lot in common. Worst case, the person isn’t your type and you can have a short and sweet discussion and leave it at that.
2. “I was thinking of grabbing something to eat. Do you want to come?”
Bonding over a conversation and a good meal is the best way to get to know someone, explore the town and grab dinner. Try approaching someone who is hanging around at the hostel by themselves and ask them if they’d like to join you for dinner or a drink. At hostels where you spend a few days, you’ll often find a “dinner crew.” Do your own thing during the day, but at night, reconnect and find some great, cheap eats out on the town. This almost never fails.
3. “How long have you been traveling?”
Everyone loves to talk about themselves, and quick to chat about how long they’ve been on the road. Usually this works best as a follow-up question to “Where are you from?” Almost everyone has fascinating stories.
4. “Is anyone sitting here? Can I join you?”
This is my personal favorite – when traveling alone and see another traveler who is also alone, it’s super easy to make friends just by sitting nearby. Solo travelers are often trying to link up with other people. On transportation when there are no assigned seats. It doesn’t matter if they’re a local or a foreigner, it’s a great “in” to striking up a conversation, and requires almost no effort.
5. “Wow, I really like your ___!”
Compliments work wonders whether you’re traveling or not. This immediately sets a strong positive vibe and gives off the impression that you’re a nice and genuine person. If the receiving person wants to chat, they’ll usually respond with “Thanks so much! I got it at ___.” It’s easy to see how a conversation could evolve from here. A simple but sincere compliment can go a long way.
6. “Where are you going? Do you mind if I tag along?”
For better or for worse, using this question almost always works. It works well when there are groups of people congregating at a hotel or hostel and making plans to do something fun, like dinner or drinks or a tour of a landmark. Usually, people won’t say no to this question out of politeness, but it’s important to make sure you get a feel for the group and whether they’re open enough to join. It’s best if the group is composed of many single travelers who are organizing something casual, like a trip to the market. Then you can branch off if necessary once you get there.
You’ve got to be careful with this one because you don’t want to impose yourself on anyone, but if used correctly this can be a powerful tool to helping you get in with groups of travelers. Plus, being confident can win you big points with almost everyone.
7. Eye Contact and a Smile
Sometimes it doesn’t take words to start a conversation – all it requires is a cheerful demeanor and the courage to look someone in the eye. Think of it as “friendship flirting”: you see someone sitting alone across the room, look at them square in the face and flash them a polite, toothy grin. If they’re the kind of person you want to hang out with, they’ll respond with a smile back. Even if nothing happens for a while, it’s quite likely that later on that person will initiate a conversation with you, or at the very least will respond favorably when you approach them to chat. If you’re feeling lonely, smile at everyone you see and you’ll find someone to hang out with in no time!