How to Make the Most of Your Trip Abroad

It’s no secret that traveling is one of the best ways to learn more about yourself and the world around you. Of course, historical monuments and photographable attractions are interesting for a while but eventually, we all want something more than the average tourist experience. With travel bloggers taking over social media it may feel like there is some specified travel guide you must follow in order to have the best trip. In reality, the best trip is one where you’ve truly experienced a place, not just seen it. Whether you’re getting ready for a  semester in Spain or already planning next summer’s vacation, conversations with locals and other travelers are one sure-fire way you can get more out of your trip than photographic additions to your Instagram profile. 

I traveled around Europe for almost 4 weeks this summer and my most memorable moments were always alongside other travelers or locals who I met along the way. My reason for traveling was to experience as many different ways of life as possible and that is impossible to do in a sea of selfie-sticks. Of course, I was nervous about starting conversations with strangers but, more often than not, the reward for facing my fear was free drinks, interesting discussions from new perspectives, and lasting friendships with people halfway around the world. As much as I learned about the lives of others, the interactions I had with them also taught me a lot about myself. Talking to strangers--and eventually connecting with them on a deeper level--did wonders for my confidence. I had been so worried about what the person I was trying to talk to would think of me and about the awkward silences that could arise. But, through experience, I realized there are so many interesting people searching for a connection brought on by conversation, and awkward silences are much less common than I had originally anticipated (or at the very least, avoidable by a trip to the restroom). The more conversations I had the more confident I became in my ability to speak and connect to other people. Of course, there were a few awkward moments and times when I may have picked the wrong target, but those moments became lessons too. Sometimes a conversation with someone wouldn't go as planned but I began to see those moments as insignificant in the grand scheme of things. I was on the other side of the world, I could walk away and never have to see that person again. I could turn to someone else and have a better conversation. Before traveling I would’ve seen bad conversations as a failure on my part, and something to be embarrassed by. But I learned that those moments held no real weight and that I was still having the best trip of my life despite them--something I hope to apply to my low moments even when I’m not traveling. 

 

If you’re not someone who often starts up conversations with strangers, it can seem like a pretty daunting task. If you find yourself ready to take the leap into engaging with a complete stranger in a new place, I’ve come up with a couple of easy ways to do so.

1.) Use the Internet to Your Advantage.

If you would rather ease yourself into conversing with strangers, the internet is the place to start. This is a tip I stole from Julie Alvin, executive editor for Bustle.com, who recommends using message boards to find local favorites and even get in touch with other travelers who have similar interests. 

2.) Ask a Local 

Your taxi driver, waiter, or Airbnb host is a safe place to start when it comes to connecting with locals. Ask them about life in their city, what they do, or where they like to spend time at. It’s likely they’ll have great recommendations and you may even get some interesting stories. 

3.) Small Talk 

Asking someone where they’re from, why they’re traveling, or what they think of the city/country you’re both in is a great lead-in to a deeper and more interesting conversation. It’s also a great way to relate to the other person and build a connection.

4.) Put the Focus on Them

Ask the person about something they have with them, be it a book, keychain, or the slogan on their t-shirt. Most people are happy to talk about themselves and learning about a person’s interests is a great way to establish a connection right off the bat.

5.) Pay Attention

During the conversation, don’t try to think of something to say next. Instead, focus on what the other person is saying and wait for them to say something that resonates with you. This keeps the conversation from feeling too forced or awkward.

 

You can borrow conversation starters from this list or one of the many others out there, but the most important part of having successful conversations and a successful vacation is pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Even if your push is more of a soft pat on the back. Allowing yourself to enter into a new and maybe uncomfortable situation can open you up to amazing possibilities and improve your entire experience. The most important part of your next trip lies within your control. All you have to do is make the first move.