You’re about to set sail into unknown lands where life will change so dramatically that it’s incomprehensible. You’re on that ledge looking into the horizon but the view is misty, your new life is just out of sight. How can you possibly know what lies ahead and where will you find your travel tribe?
For what feels like the hundredth time you hoist the brand-spanking new (and insanely heavy) backpack onto your back… just to test. It’s filled with unfamiliar objects for all the unfamiliar places. Those shiny new hiking boots, that you probably should have worn-in but haven’t had time and some bamboo travel socks that you were persuaded to buy two pairs of.
Normal life is about to change forever and although the thrill of what lies ahead is consuming, there are some doubts snaking around your brain.
‘What if I don’t cope?’ ‘What if life on the road isn’t for me?’ ‘How on earth will I communicate with people in languages I don’t speak?’
And perhaps the biggest fear… ‘What happens if I speak to no one at all?’
Making meaningful connections whilst you travel feels so rewarding. Perhaps it’s because you’re the most vulnerable version of you. No friendship armour, no familiar coffee shops, local haunts, and a brand-new language to contend with. When you make a connection it’s genuinely all because of you in your rawest form!
Travel could, in theory, be the loneliest path to take because you’re always moving and unable to make long-term connections. But that isn’t true, travel connections are strong connections.
Interesting people are behind every doorway, in every cafe, on every beach and climbing every mountain. Smile, be open, listen, observe, ask questions. It doesn’t matter whether you’re tucked up in your dorm bed or urging your body to conquer The Inca Trail – interesting people are everywhere.
And guess what, you are interesting too! Even if you’ve lived life in a city, town or village no one on the road has ever heard of. Maybe school, college, uni or work has consumed your life so far. It doesn’t matter!
Plonk yourself in a far-away land and you instantly become ‘exotic’, an unfamiliar face with your own unique story. What you once believed was mundane is an extraordinary way of life to someone else.
And as you travel your bank of stories, anecdotes and experiences will grow into a colourful tapestry. As you evolve you’ll become more and more open to sharing, learning, sharing and learning. It’s a cycle of gratitude, one that you’ll take with you for the rest of your life.
Don’t underestimate what a necessary and beautiful experience losing yourself is.
Travel gives you the opportunity to shed your polluted layers. Your past, your problems, difficult relationships and any embarrassing situations you’ve clung on to, will start feeling less important.
You’ll no longer be ruled by people’s perceptions, the baggage you lug around with you in day-to-day life will vanish as you roam anonymously.
Away from your community, your clique, your historical friends – you will find you.
At first you may feel a little lost, perhaps you’ll find yourself shyly observing from the sidelines. Or you’ll dive straight in with the nearest crowd that resembles friends back home. Then as your confidence grows you’ll gravitate towards the unfamiliar.
Allow yourself time to let go of everything you thought you were, keep shedding until you’re just the very core of yourself.
Then find yourself (over and over again)
Once you have time and I mean endless beautiful time, you’ll explore what makes you tick. At first it may be just flashes of inspiration, books that sparked your imagination, films that made your mind whir.
For me it was my love of writing, photography, nature, spirituality and the ocean. All things I’d almost lost in the hum-drum of daily life.
I’d always been a water lover, but travel enabled me to take this to new levels as I learned to dive, surf and sail, taking these skills with me around the world.
Sure, you’ll do things you don’t want to do at first and that’s how you learn who ‘you’ are too. Maybe those pre-adolescent dance skills will remerge as you take a Flamenco class in Guatemala. Or the landscapes and light in New Zealand will encourage you to seek out a sketchbook.
Now you’ve lost yourself and found yourself again, focus on what you love. For this is where like-minded travellers will be. Your travel tribe are doing all the things you love to do and they’re just waiting for you!
Perhaps you’re an art lover, well the world is a vast and beautiful canvas just waiting for you to unravel it. Your tribe are in the galleries – big and small, they’re exploring the street-art and taking classes in far-flung lands.
If history is your passion, your travel tribe are in the museums, at the monuments, chatting to the locals who are keen to share their tales.
Once upon a time you enjoyed cooking, or maybe the travelling you wants to give it a go. Cooking classes are offered throughout the world. Bond in a steamy Thai kitchen over-looking the mountains in Chiang Mai as you taste test the Pad Thai you made.
Surfers are surfing, dancers are dancing and yogis are yoga-ing!
Once you’re travelling, the opportunities to do what you love are endless and therefore find the people you will connect with too.
If all else fails, they’re in the hostel bar!
The fact that you’ve got knee-deep into this blog post tells me you’re not the waltz over and introduce yourself to a group of people kind of person. Or maybe you are, lucky you, you’re good to go! I’m not and I truly believe it’s not necessary to do so.
Smile freely, warmly and genuinely
A huge smile instantly makes you approachable, to any human! If you’re used to averting eye-contact after too many years in city life, unlearn it! Smiles break down language barriers and are the gateway to integrating quickly and genuinely with strangers (soon to be besties!)
Mix with locals
Some of my most treasured travel friendships and deepest connections are not with travellers at all. Valuable lessons and life-changing conversations are all there waiting to happen and more-often-than not they’re with the treasure chest of locals you’ll meet.
What’s your nation’s stereotype? Now have a think about whether you’d like to be perceived in that way. Is it even true of you? Travel is all about letting go of any judgements you’ve formed through a lifetime of media bias. Forget how you think people should be and experience how they really are. Face everyone without any preconceptions and you’ll get the best version of those you meet.
Listen and be interested
Everyone has an interesting story to tell. Being kind, interested and taking the time to really listen to someone will give them the space to share what sets their soul on fire. If you’re quick to interrupt because you’re itching to share your own experiences and opinions you may well miss something valuable. When people share it’s a gift, so soak it all up and you’ll learn.
Learn some language (or cheat!)
There are ways to communicate with very little language but it obviously takes your relationship to a deeper level if you can speak in the same tongue. Learning the local language, even a few words goes a long way in breaking down communication barriers.
Learning a whole new language for every country you visit isn’t always possible. Don’t panic! Technology to the rescue with the new Hostelworld app you’ll be able to converse like a near native in languages you’ve not had the chance to learn. Stash it in your travel app folder and when you’re trying to get to know someone (or just survive!) it’s there, ready to open up a new world of opportunities.
Hostel dorms and common rooms
I’m guessing you already know just how incredible hostels are for adding the sociable element into your adventures. If you want to meet other travellers choose a dorm, or if you prefer a private room check the info to see if there’s a common room/area/bar for travellers to hang-out.
The reviews usually give a good indication of the hostel vibe. Perhaps you want a lively party hostel, or maybe a more zen yoga/surf hostel. But in realty there are no rules, a hostel doesn’t need to be fancy to attract interesting people.
Trips, walking tours, classes
Sometimes you just need that shared experience to start talking. Getting involved in trips, tours and classes means you’ll immediately have the opportunity to meet a whole group of like-minded people. Conversation flows when you’re all learning or experiencing something new. It’s also a good opportunity to get some local knowledge. I’m often the geek sat in the front of the car having a chat to the driver and by doing that I’ve learnt so much about my new surroundings.
The people you meet when you travel will shock you with just how different they are, compared to how you initially thought they may be. Even that gobby guy, filled with booze by midday, may surprise you with his insights. Age becomes irrelevant and people will surprise you time and time again. You’ll quickly learn that everyone has something to offer, if you’re in the right environment.
If you just don’t click with anyone and a place isn’t for you. Don’t stress as your tribe may well be waiting for you just around the corner – in the next city, the next hostel, or the next island.
You’ll find people are so open with their lives and are ready to share their innermost feelings, dreams, aspirations and things they’d be hesitant to speak about in ‘real-life.’ It’s a chance not to burden others with your problems and fears but to talk openly, hear about their experiences and opinions, to listen and learn.
Travel highs, like finding THE best coffee shop, watching the perfect sunset, learning a new skill, giggling for hours around a late-night beach fire are all things you’ll never forget and what makes them so special is often the people you share them with.
Tough situations like mountain hikes, searching for food in a dusty ghost town, facing blockades, long sleeper train nights, are all life-bonding experiences too.
Travel will redefine your concept of friendship and an abundance of interesting people will flow into your life. For life on the road is filled with people who’ve stepped out of their comfort zones to experience a different reality.
Your travel tribe is out there, no matter how introverted or downright weird you believe you are. The beauty of travel is you’re no longer constrained to spreading your friendship net in such a small area. You have the whole wide world to explore, so buckle up and get ready to meet a world full of fascinating people.
As I write I can’t help but think of my connections. There was John in South Africa, who welcomed me into the hostel he worked in, taught me how to make ‘Bunny Chow’ (curry in bread!) and took me kayaking in his free time.
To the group of Fijian people who I spent an entire day chatting to about religion, sharing our polar opposite views and then hugging as we parted.
Robert in San Jose who finished his shift on a hostel reception and took me on a tour of all his favourite places in the city, including tasting the best ice-cream I’ve ever had.
Harold, who I met on The Inca Trail and with a lifetime of adventures under his belt he’s taught me so much.
To the cool face-tattooed Maori guy that I hung out with in Rotorua’s hot springs. He taught me about his people’s history and gang-culture and then winked at me and said ‘I know what you’re up to Johanna, you’re going to write about this, but you cannot’ (I didn’t).
The stylish Tibetan ladies who’s faces were etched with pain yet they still cracked the most genuine, mischievous smiles.
My Filipino friends who sat and shared their food with me in a Malaysian hostel and convinced me to stay a whole week longer because we had so much fun together.
And to the hundreds of others I’ve met and made connections with.
Now it’s you turn…
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*Disclaimer: This article was written for the awesome Hostelworld blog (but still from the heart) and is available there in multi-languages.