Travelling can be a daunting prospect, but it shouldn’t be. It’s easy to say from the warmth and comfort of an armchair, but you’re going to meet loads of people on your gap year. It’s just what happens. It’s also what makes backpacking and travelling such an amazing experience – it’s the people you meet on the road who become life-long friends. Also, they come in handy when travelling the world again as you’ve always got someone to party with!
How to meet people while travelling may seem strange and alien, but it’s easy peasy. I met a guy in Thailand and bumped into him again in Australia. I then bumped into him three other times on my gap year. I could go on with other examples but I’m sure you’ve got the point and I don’t want to bore you. The thing is you’re not the first person to go backpacking, nor will you be the last. In fact, millions of people go backpacking each year, so you’re not short of people to meet!
Travellers naturally come together and befriend each other. Backpackers can easily identify each other (by the backpack!) and you have something in common straight away (the backpack!). You will probably have more trouble getting away from fellow backpackers than meeting up with them. Seriously though, you’re going to be fine… just smile a lot and say “hello.” That usually works.
Before You Go
Talk to your friends and tell them what you’re planning to do and where you’re planning to go. One of my friends said she had wanted to go travelling for a while, but didn’t want to go by herself, so she came along with me. We travelled together for the first six months and another friend decided she was fed up with work and joined me for the remainder of my trip, so from initially planning to go alone because I didn’t think anyone else would be in a position to come, I ended up travelling with friends for nearly the whole time.
When you think about it you’ll probably be surprised by the number of people you and your friends know in other countries. I stayed with two different friends in Sydney, both from Ipswich (where I’m from), and friends of friends in New Zealand. Most ex-pats are only too happy to entertain folks from their homeland and to show them round their new place of residence. Be brave and give them a call.
If you’re travelling on your own, jump on the net and see who’s about doing the same thing you’re doing. Also, jump on the gapyear.com messageboards and post about your trip – you never know who you’ll meet! We’re here to help!
If you’re meeting up with someone you have met on the internet, there are a few precautions you should take. Hopefully they won’t be a mad axe man / woman, but you can’t be too careful!
- Meet up in a public place and stay in a public place; don’t meet up in a public place and then go back to theirs.
- Let someone else know who you are meeting, where and when.
- Maybe take a friend with you. The old safety in numbers thing again and having an extra person may help the conversation along if you’re feeling a bit shy and self-conscious.
While you’re travelling you will continually meet new people, in hostels, on trains, on buses, on tours, in bars, restaurants and even just in the street. It won’t be a problem. Random conversations with people in the street are often prompted by football shirts or the like. I wore my Ipswich Town sweatshirt a lot while I was travelling and this lead to lots of random conversations with other people from East Anglia, people who had been to Ipswich, people who thought that the only Ipswich in the world was in Queensland, Australia, and other football fans.
If you are feeling a bit lonely don’t stay in a dorm room by yourself. Go and hang out in the hostel kitchen or the TV room. There’s normally plenty of people coming and going and it won’t be long before you get into a conversation with someone. Try not to be shy. Introduce yourself to the others in the hostel, ask if anyone is going out and ask if you can tag along.
You’ll find it’s the first two weeks that are the hardest – it takes that amount of time to adjust and build up the courage to speak to strangers on a regular basis. That, and after two weeks you’ll be so bored of your own company that you’ll speak to anyone and everyone!
Five ways to meet people while travelling:
- Chat with the other people in your dormitory.
- Go on a tour or a trek. I met loads of people on various treks and tours on my travels, some of them I’ve stayed in contact with, some of them I continued to travel with after the tour or trek had finished.
- Wear T-shirts that people can comment on – like me and my Ipswich Town sweatshirt.
- Play the damsel in distress / knight in shining armour; I’m hopeless at walking down steep things, mountains and the like. I faff about, trying to figure out my best way down, often causing a bit of a hold up, and nearly every time some random man will step forward, hold my hand and help me down. Result! This can work in any number of settings. One of the guys in the office has a friend who pretends she is afraid of flying and gets to hold hands with random guys on the plane that way!
- Go to a church (a bar) and meet some friendly locals and other travellers. You’ll be surprised by how quickly you can meet someone in a bar on your gap year.
Hints and tips on how to meet people:
- Don’t be shy. Most travellers are friendly, helpful people who enjoy meeting and hanging out with other travellers.
- Remember, friendly people make friends, so smile and say hello.
- Buy people a beer once in a while.
- Carry a pack of cards around you – everyone knows games like ‘Shithead’.
- Phone any contacts you’ve been given. Let people who live in the area know when you will be there. You might be able to meet up or they may even invite you for a meal, or even to stay at their place. Even if you don’t meet up, getting some local knowledge is a good thing.
- Watch what your clothes say. People do read what’s on your T-shirt and you don’t want them getting the wrong idea. If you’re getting fed-up of unwanted attention, stop attracting it.
- Make the most of email and the internet. Keep in contact with other travellers, people you are planning to meet up with, and people back at home. Use the internet to find out about where you are going, if anyone has been there already, or are going to be there when you are there.