We are all raised not to talk to strangers.
Ah, but when you travel solo, the ability to talk to strangers safely is a skill that makes for some of the most interesting travel moments.
At home, I'm not out there starting in-depth conversations with people I don't know. I have friends and family with whom I discuss life, politics and current events.
When I travel solo, however, sharing a chat with a stranger is important. These conversations are a source of practical advice, cultural insight, and political understanding.
Fortunately, the solo traveler is still somewhat exotic and people like to talk to us. Being alone makes us more open to conversations than those traveling with companions. We just need a few conversation starters to get things rolling.
Table of Contents
Solo Travel Safety First
Letting people know that you are traveling alone is fine. But by sharing this information, you also reveal that you are somewhat vulnerable. There are two keys to safety here:
- Choose who you speak with carefully. Most people are safe, but look for the clues that tell you they are.
- Stay in public. When you don't know the people you're talking to it's always safer to stay in a public space – a coffee shop or pub, for instance – rather than a private one.
Five Conversation Starters for Solo Travelers
When you want to share a chat with a stranger, approach people who appear to have the time for a conversation. Remember that they may be wary of your approach. After all, you are a stranger to them. Let them decide how long your chat will last. Once they’ve discovered that you travel solo, an opening question will often start the conversation you want.
- Locals: Open with a question that lets them know that you travel solo such as, “Are there any restaurants with communal tables nearby?”
- Other solo travelers: You’ll notice who is traveling solo by the place settings at a table or a book as a companion. But just because they’re alone, don’t assume that they want company. Open with something easy like a comment about the weather or a question about where their from.
- Other tourists: Chatting with a couple or small group of tourists can be fun too. Look for the person in the group who is the organizer — they'll be carrying a map or leading the pack. Open with a question for them but be sure to engage their gregarious companion (they usually come in pairs). They'll be the one who really chats or even invites you along.
- In a hotel, restaurant or club: Sit at the bar. This is more social than a table. Choose who you want to speak with carefully. Comment on the band and ask about the music scene in town. It will be obvious that you are a tourist, which makes you interesting.
- Anywhere: If you are really, really curious about something, spot a person you’d like to speak with and ask your question. There is nothing better than genuine curiosity to engage people.
Keep the Conversation Going
To keep the conversation going, master the art of the follow-up question. Ask “why” and “how” questions. These are open-ended and allow the conversation to flow. People love talking about their city, themselves, their thoughts and knowledge. After a few follow-ups, hopefully they'll ask you something and you'll share a full conversation.
Every approach you make may not be a success but does that really matter? The important thing is that most will, and, on occasion, you’ll meet up with an exceptional stranger and enjoy amazing conversations as you travel solo.