You’re not alone: Tips for travelling with strangers
It somehow sounds scarier than travelling alone, but travelling with a group of people you’ve only just met can be enormously liberating. With modern technology it isn’t hard to run a quick, if not thorough background check in a few seconds, and if you’re travelling with a tour group you’ll always have the organisers to fall back on. But what makes it better than going it alone or hanging with people you know and love?
First of all, it’s as much a route to self-discovery as travelling alone. Constant introductions and relationships with people outside of your comfort zone force you into defining yourself, and test whatever self-concept you had been working with all this while. People who don’t know if they’re ever going to see you again aren’t likely to tiptoe around your feelings, and they’re more likely to give you an honest reflection of yourself than your close friends. The fifth time you tell someone you’re an avid reader, it may just occur to you that you haven’t really cracked open a book in a while. Most importantly, you get to re-invent yourself, or simply bring out shades you may have kept hidden because it just didn’t fit in with who your family or friends thought you should be.
Now get out there and travel. And if you’re still not ready for it, here are some tips to help you work up the nerve.
The great thing about travelling semi-solo, is that you don’t have to wait on anybody else. If your buddies can’t seem to line up their work leave with yours, or a roommate you intended to see the world with just can’t seem to save up as fast as you, just pack your bags and hit the road. The best art is, when it comes to travelling with strangers, this never ends. If you’ve made some friends in a new city and you’ve been exploring with them for nearly a week, they may start to fray your nerves a bit. Just say your goodbyes and move on. Making lasting connections while travelling doesn’t mean hanging around and being polite when you’d rather just be gone.
Make the first move
As you start your first hesitant introductions, your people skills are getting ready to soar through the roof. It’s not cakewalk starting a conversation, even if you have been forced together by fate, or an overzealous travel company. Soon you’ll be able to gauge body language and facial expressions, even broaden your knowledge of cultural differences in socialising. If nothing else, you may just find out what pick-up line or ice-breaker works best for you, a skill that’s sure to come in handy later on.
Have a little faith
Granted, these are strangers you’re travelling with. But they’re here for much the same reasons as you, and are often in that same delirious state between overjoyed and exhausted. They may not be the people you hung around with in diapers, but you’ve got to trust a little bit and open up if you want some genuine human contact.
Forgive and forget
Did you proudly interrupt the guide to share a fact that they later scathingly proved incorrect? Did you have one too many at the bar crawl and throw up on not one but all three of your shiny new friends? Who cares! What’s past is past and you’re never going to see them again anyway. Lock it away in your secret wild nights and terrible shames box.
Don’t be afraid to shut the door
Unlike your long term friends who’d think nothing of barging in on you for a casual chat at 3 in the morning, or take offence if you change plans without warning, your new friends are still going to maintain some polite boundaries. Head out on the city with just your camera in tow and expect bright smiles and welcoming arms when you make it back for 8 o’clock drinks.
There is safety in numbers
I’m not talking group size, but age. For starters, the body’s capabilities change with age, and you don’t want to be left standing awkwardly off to one side as the 20-somethings jump screaming into the white water rafts. You’re already being thrown into a chaotic world of all new sights and sounds and smells, so it’s good to have someone around who’s processing it at the same pace as you. Opt for age-category specific tours. This isn’t anywhere close to a fast rule though, those who can break it know who they are.
Have something to share
Whether it’s a kickass playlist, home-cooked snacks or riveting stories, it’s good to come to the table prepared with something that can help cement your place in the group. It also acts as an ice-breaker.
Be on time
If you’ve made a plan to be somewhere, stick to it. Your new friends may not be comfortable calling you over and over again to wake you up or otherwise check on you, and you shouldn’t cost them their trip as well. They’re either going to just leave you behind or never invite you anywhere again. Be careful what you sign up for. Since you’re less likely to be seeking approval from your temporary friends, you’re less likely to get peer pressured into any activities you won’t enjoy. If you think you’re going to hold back the group, just say no.
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