When you’re backpacking and staying in hostels and meeting new people all the time, there are certain conversations that happen over and over and over again. I think it mostly boils down to the following four questions:
- Where are you from?
- How long have you been traveling?
- Where have you been so far?
- Where are you going next?
And if you’re lucky:
- What’s your name?
These are important conversations to have, but sometimes the repetition can wear on you. One of my favorite things about traveling is getting to know other people beyond a superficial level, and these questions don’t really connect people in any sort of deeper way.
Sometimes, connections form quickly. Sometimes it takes a little bit more help. Here, I’m going to try to make some suggestions for new conversation starters that dig a little below the surface level. You can try these out, or maybe it will help you think of some of your own ideas. Either way, the goal is to get people to connect and develop better relationships with new friends and travel buddies.
What’s real life like for you?
The most basic starter question is to ask about what a person has back home to go back to. Everybody came from somewhere.
Sometimes people are homesick and want to talk about their friends and family and where they came from. Sometimes people are dreading going back to jobs they hate. Sometimes people have been traveling for so long that they don’t even really have anything to go back to and travel has become their life.
I’ve found this is a good way to point out the differences between “normal” life and “travel” life, and it always reminds me how fortunate I am. For fuck’s sake, I’m writing this from a cafe in Koh Samui, Thailand, a ridiculously beautiful tropical island. Gratitude is important, and an easy thing to connect over.
Why did you start traveling?
It’s tempting to brush off this question because there’s an assumption that everyone travels simply because they enjoy it, and while that is somewhat true, there’s often some unseen spark to the origin story.
For me, it was an emotionally devastating breakup (a tragically common story). For other people, it’s getting fired. Or it might be that a person has slaved away at a job they didn’t want to be in and saved every penny for a dream trip around the world, and now they finally have the funds to do it.
This can also lead to conversations about why you like traveling and what your personal goals are for the trip. These are all a lot bigger topics than “Where are you from?”
Share your favorite travel stories
People who love travel also love the stories that come with them: crazy coincidences, strokes of impossible luck, love interests that slipped away. Personally, I love to hear people’s ridiculous travel stories. I can only hope people feel the same way when I open my mouth.
There are a lot of ways you can go with this to try to narrow it down.
- What’s the dumbest thing you’ve done while traveling?
- What’s the craziest coincidence you’ve experienced while traveling?
- What’s the coolest place you’ve been?
- Who’s the coolest person you’ve met while traveling (present company excluded)?
Take turns, don’t interrupt, and enjoy story time!
Non-travel related story prompts
Obviously, when you’re meeting other backpackers and travelers, travel is a common bond. But there are other things we all share, too.
One of my favorite story time conversations recently got started with the question, “What was the happiest moment of your life?” It’s a deceptively difficult question, because all the myriad of happiest moments of your life come flooding into your mind. I think this is actually a good way to get (or keep) people in a good mood.
You want to avoid questions that get people thinking negative thoughts. For example, “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done to someone else?” is a terrible question. Story time shouldn’t be confession time.
Another good one for mixed company is to have everyone tell the story of their first kiss. You’re bound to get some funny, cute, light-hearted tales of awkward young romance.
Lastly, I’ll just remind you that saying something is better than saying nothing. If you want to connect, you have to open up. You have to be just a little bit vulnerable to get into a deeper conversation with someone new. Don’t let walls creep up around you.
Get out there, open your mouth, and make some new friends.
If you have any other good ideas of conversations that foster connection with travel friends you’ve just met, please let me know!