Being social while traveling has never been difficult for me. I don’t have a hard time making friends. I like talking to new people. I like to feel a connection with strangers. I like to let other travelers know that they are not alone. I know, too, that I’m never alone, wherever I go. In the words of one of my favorite bands growing up, Death Cab for Cutie (yes, I went through a phase of emo music in high school), “Cause all you see, is where else you could be, when you’re at home. Out on the street, are so many possibilities, to not be alone.”
I wasn’t always this way, however. Growing up, I was a rather shy kid, from early grade school on up to early high school. Why? I don’t know. Maybe genetics, the way I was raised, Catholic guilt, the feelings accompanied at being at the bottom of the litter (my parents had 12 kids, together). I could go into the psychology of why this may be, the way I was perhaps nurtured and the environment in which I was raised, but I’d rather explain why I decided to change this, and how being a more skillfully social person has benefited my life. Especially, when it comes to travel.
I am usually asked if I ever get lonely. Or, how do I feel, going alone, to all of these places? Especially, how do I do it without knowing anybody within thousands of miles of my location? To be honest, I have never really questioned it since I started traveling. I realized that being social made me a happier person, as I enjoyed being able to connect to people on a different level who had completely opposing views on a range of topics. In my past travels, I decided that I wanted to go somewhere, and just did it. Even recently, when I “decided” to come down to St. Thomas, I simply pointed on a map of the Caribbean, and chose wherever my finger landed. The Chicago winter was too cold, for too long, and I wanted to go somewhere warm. I had nothing keeping me from staying in one place. I have now been here for three and a half months, and have not only enjoyed every single day here, but I have made many new friends. The majority, I feel I will continue to keep in contact with for a very long time. But how did I make good friends so quickly? How have I grown to be able to interact with complete strangers?
Recently, I was on a trip to a local island with several acquaintances, who wanted to start exploring and traveling more often. They had never been outside of their immediate place in the world, and wanted to go on a little road trip to get away from things of the norm, with me alongside as an experienced travel buddy. Being one always game for a new adventure, I immediately booked a cheap ticket and made my way over for 5 days of new sights, new ideas, good conversation with the locals, and new foods & drinks. This is just the way I have always looked at new places – I always want to experience, in depth, as much as possible about the local population and how they live their lives, no matter how long or short the stay. Knowing people to help bridge the gap from tourist to local is a great jump-start to the the adventure. I listen intensely, ask them personal questions, find what makes them happy and what makes them tick, and ask for their perspectives on a whole range of topics, both locally and internationally.
However, I learned, not everybody is programmed this way. Not everyone is interested in the same ideas, or doing the same activities, listening to other people about new topics, or interested in the building blocks of life in the same way. I quickly discovered that I was going to spend the next few days with individuals who were glued to their smart-phones, engaged in little-to-no conversation, and had more interest in what their friends were doing via Facebook than what was going on within their immediate vicinity. Very little was shared about their everyday activities. There was little depth to conversation. No questions were asked about my own lifestyle, even after being asked about their own and listening to their countless problems at home. I spent an hour talking to a man from Saint Martin Taxis about his life, while my travel buddies played Angry Birds. Learning how to travel is very difficult for people like this, as there is very little social interaction, and very little rapport being built. At least they always have their camera phone on them, in order to snap some good photos…
But, to each their own. I decided to make the best of it, and met many other cool people in the process. I have learned, through the years, that if you train yourself to be a social person, you can build rapport with anyone, and make a friend for life. Through experience, you can turn a bad scenario into a good one, ultimately making connections and pleasurable memories that will last a lifetime.
I have found this to be true while traveling more than anywhere else. As stated above, I have never really thought about how I feel before I go to a new place, in regards to meeting new people. There is always a world of people outside of your door. It’s important to make an attempt to connect to people outside of your usual environment, especially if you are on your own, in a new place. Being a social person allows you to build a connection, a friendship, or a relationship. Traveling would be extremely boring if you were to never talk to any other people, especially those who have different ideas about how the world works, or have different values & morals, or live a different pace of life. I have found that I can learn so much from talking to new individuals. If I were to stay isolated, in my hotel room or apartment, afraid to talk to a single soul, I would never grow as a person. I would never embrace the human experience. I would never feel that connection that is so unique and fulfilling only to those who are willing to go forth and find it.
It is very easy to stay home and watch life pass you by. If you are okay with that, then go ahead. No one should tell you to do otherwise. But if you are wanting to travel, you should learn to open up and talk to everyone that crosses your path. Being social makes you a better traveler. It makes you a more worldly person. It opens you up to new people. It opens you up to new interaction. It allows you to embrace new characteristics about yourself when working with others. It allows new experiences, in perhaps uncomfortable situations. It creates new relationships. It bridges the gap from traveling solo, to traveling with other like-minded people. It also, I think Death Cab for Cutie would agree, opens you up to new possibilities, to not be alone.