by Samuel P.N. Cook
Just like anything in life, being a good traveler takes practice. Most of us started our traveling with our families when we were younger. This means we had our social group taken care of for us. After all, the main purpose of a family vacation is to bond as a family. When you take your first trip outside of family travel, however, the dynamics change drastically. Whether you are taking a backpacking trip across Europe, or going on a spring break trip to Mexico, you quickly discover that the measure of fun you have while traveling is measured by the people you meet, and what adventures you end up on with them.
So how do you travel socially? There are many parts of a trip, ranging from the mundane part of traveling there, to the accommodations, to the actually activities you participate in when you arrive at your destination. There is a magic to travel that puts all of us in a much more adventuresome and open state of mind. I have found that meeting people while traveling is easier, and quite a bit more fun than in everyday life. This is because when we travel, we are all on this mission together, going to a destination, to find that special story we can tell people when we return.
While traveling at first seems to be a mundane fact of traveling, I have found that it can actually be the most interesting part of the journey. This is because everyone traveling is preparing themselves for a new adventure, and they are anxious to get started. So when traveling, avoid taking your own car simply because you are isolated. The best form of transportation to meet people and have interesting conversations is by train. When I traveled in Europe, I used to take the train everywhere, even if it meant a longer travel time than a flight, simply because I was able to read, roam freely into the dining car, and sit generally where I pleased. If I saw someone interesting, I would sit by them and strike up a conversation. You can also meet people traveling by plane, but you are more constrained by seating assignments. Also, a cruise ship is an excellent way to travel and do so very socially.
When you plan your trip, choose your accommodations to be social. If you want to stay in a nice hotel, research the hotels online and find out which ones have nice lounges or restaurants in the lobby. Lets face it, we do not travel half way around the world to stay in our hotel room. Personally, I am not usually concerned with the comfort of a hotel room, and instead I try to stay in either a bed and breakfast, or a youth hostel. When I was researching some battlefields in Europe, I came across some of the most wonderful little family owned bed and breakfasts, because that is the only place in town to stay. At bed and breakfast, the rooms are private, but the real treat is the home cooked meals, and they are usually always at a communal kitchen with the family and the other guests. When you are on a real budget, youth hostels are also a great way to meet other people. They typically have a nice common area for socializing, simply because the rooms are made only for sleeping and are not a great place to hang out. For young people, the youth hostel is the best way to meet like minded, adventuresome travelers.
Finally, there is the all important sightseeing. We don’t travel for the flight, nor do we travel for the hotel, as nice as it may be. We are really there to see the city, and that is where we get the stories we are after. When you actually get to the business of seeing the city or the town you are visiting, you are usually confronted with an overwhelming array of choices. Typically, the best tour experiences will not be readily presented to you at your hotel or your hostel. These take a little bit of research. Consider ways to see the sights you have to see in a more social way. Instead of seeing the Empire state building, go there with some friends, or perhaps join a tour of the building that is already running. Instead of going out to the local bar, see if there is an evening tour with other travelers in the area.
Seek out the social tours that give you the chance to meet other travelers. Many of the best, most popular tours can be found on the internet through simple searches, or through online review sites like tripadvisor.com Being a social traveler at the destination takes a lot of effort. You have to avoid the simple tours that are deemed obligatory, and branch out to force yourself to be more social. There are many ways to do this, and I will explore them in more detail, using examples from my own travels, in future blogs.