Making Friends Abroad When You Are An Awkward Turtle

If you’re awkward and you know it, clap your hands!  As much as I would like to be that outgoing person that walks into the hostel and immediately reaches out to other travelers, I am not.  While I’ve managed to develop some sort of posse at almost every hostel I’ve stayed at, it’s taken time for me to get comfortable with initiating conversation with random (albeit wonderful) strangers.  I always hope that when I do initiate conversation, I appear to be calm, cool and collected because my internal dialogue sounds something like this:

“Okay…okay be cool…you made eye contact and you weren’t weird about it.  Sweet.  Now say something normal…Like okay NOT THAT!  Okay they laughed.  Are they laughing with me or at me?  Okay…now say something a normal human being would say…WHY DID I JUST SAY THAT?  WHAT NONSENSE JUST CAME OUT OF MY MOUTH!  YOU HAD ONE JOB, BRAIN!  Okay, they’re still here!  Phew!  Well they survived all that weirdness, so we must be friends now, right?”

Despite the small amount of anxiety that I experience when I meet new people, I’ve been able to spend time with some incredible people throughout this journey.  While meeting new people is a different experience each time, I’ve managed to make it pretty far with the following openers:

  1. “So…where are you traveling from?”  Despite this being the typical small talk at a hostel, this sentence has gotten me from meeting a random stranger in the hostel kitchen to getting a ride around the Otago Peninsula looking for great beaches.  I’ve had entire conservations with people based on this one sentence before I even learned their names!  Yes, you are bound to hear this question a lot in the hostel, but it’s a great first step in learning about someone else’s journey.
  2. “What are you making?”  If I am very very lucky, and sometimes I am, I can find someone who is knitting.  No, they are not always old enough to be my grandmother.  And even if they are, they are knitting, and that is still awesome.  One of my more successful methods for making friends is to find someone who is knitting and ask them what they’re making (you fell for it Aimée!  Now you’re stuck with me :P!).  I crochet myself, so even if I have trouble inserting myself into a conversation sometimes, the attraction to all things crafty helps me get over the mild anxiety I get from approaching new people.

I was trying to think of a third one…but that’s really it!  That’s how I’ve initiated most of my hostel conversations!  I’m not sure if that’s sad or impressive….There are plenty of other times when the forces of the universe just seem to work in your favor.  When I landed on Stewart Island back in March, the first person I met was a girl who had been on the same stomach-churning ferry ride as me and happened to be staying at my hostel.  We ended up searching for our hostel together and spent the next few hours looking for a smoked salmon shop and making pancakes!

There have definitely been times when I have sat at the dinner table with a group of other expats and never worked up the courage to actually talk to anyone.  To be honest, sometimes I’m too exhausted to even want a conversation.  Meeting new people on a regular basis has shown me that, on the whole, people are fantastic!  Sometimes though, the introvert inside of me just wants to curl up with a book and hide under the covers before anyone takes notice of me.

All in all, meeting new people on a regular basis has been an adventure in and of itself.  Everyone has their own story for why they are traveling and how they ended up in the same hostel as you.   Simply hearing about other travelers’ journeys can help bring insight into your own journey and make you see things differently.  So even if meeting new people can stress me out, it is worth it every time.

In summary, traveling alone does not mean spending all your time alone, even if you are a bit awkward around the edges!  As I get older, I’ve learned to embrace my awkwardness and accept that it is a screening process for meeting awesome people.  Besides, why would I want to hang out with people that aren’t as weird as I am?  So if you feel as awkward as I do most of the time, don’t worry!  Just get out there and ask someone if that really is a Hufflepuff scarf they are knitting.  You won’t regret it!

Photo Credit: Rhian Taylor and Beth Thoms

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