Meeting new people is one of our favorite parts of living abroad and travelling often.

People are always coming or going, or we’re coming and going, so there is a constant rotation of new friends, work colleagues, and even people we don’t particularly get along with (but love to remember later with a laugh). This is very different from our life at home, where finding new friends as we got older was rare.

You meet some amazing people when traveling!

But – while most fellow travelers have interesting stories and perspectives to share with us, it seems nearly every conversation with a new person begins the exact same way. After a combined 7 years abroad between us, we are definitely 100% over “traveler small talk.”

Before we can get to the nitty gritty and discover someone’s best stories and general personality, we all just ask each other the same questions and generally supply similar, if not identical, answers. Here’s a few examples (and some alternatives):

Where are you from?

Without fail, someone will ask this question within 2 minutes of a conversation. Sometimes even before we get around to sharing our names!

While it’s a common icebreaker, hometowns are often the least interesting thing about a traveller. We aren’t exploring the world to keep our minds lingering on the place where we’ve already spent years – I think we are all far more interested in where we are right now, in that moment, rather than somewhere we’ve already spent a ton of time and words on in the past.

The desire for travel often comes from our desire to experience new things – so having this conversation countless times is just not very interesting to any of us.

But this question does help us all to identify each other in some way. We understand why it’s asked. It is unavoidable, but there might be a more interesting way to approach it.

Here are some ideas:

  • How is [the current country you’re in] the same or different to your home?
  • What do you miss most from home?
  • What are you glad to have escaped?
  • If I was visiting your hometown, what should I see or do? What should I eat? Where should I go for a drink?

Open-ended questions are always more fun to explore! Let’s give each other something more to think about.

How long have you been travelling?

What does this honestly tell about a person?

It doesn’t provide a story. The answer is just a number – no details about where the person has been, why they were there, how much they’ve seen, what they’ve loved, what they’ve hated, or what they’ve experienced.

When this is asked – especially without any follow up questions – it hints at a meaningless competition about who is the more serious traveler.

Get better stories and ask about someone’s travel history in a new way. Our ideas:

  • How did you come to choose this lifestyle?
  • What motivates you to travel?
  • Have you ever hated a city immediately upon arrival?
  • What’s the best thing that’s happened to you while traveling?
  • What culture do you think is the most fun?
How long have you been here?

This is another question that ends the conversation as quickly as it began. There is rarely going to be an interesting answer here to inspire a story or friendship. Prepare yourself for an awkward pause afterward while neither of you know what to comment on next.

Want to know about someone’s time in this specific region? Try these questions instead:

  • Are you happy with the hotel you chose?
  • What has surprised you most since you’ve arrived?
  • Could you see yourself living here?
  • Do you think the [local tourist attraction] is worth it?
  • Have you had any great nights out?
  • Would you come back?
Where are you going next?

Discussing future plans can also be a dead end. Why? Because we haven’t been there yet! We don’t have any stories or experience to share. The only response you’ll get is the location and maybe an “I’m really excited!”

To get a better idea about what someone has planned for the future, ask them:

  • What kind of adventures do you still want to have?
  • How do you choose the places you visit?
  • Where do you never want to go?
  • If you stopped traveling now, what would you regret not seeing?
Where were you last?

Asking about our last stop is a little better, but it’s not always likely to pull out the good stories without further prodding.  You don’t want the response “I was in the Philippines – it was beautiful.” You want “I jumped off a cliff and got stung by a jellyfish,” or “I got so drunk I pissed all over my backpack and clothes in the middle of the night.”

Here’s how you can get those stories instead

  • What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you abroad?
  • Have you had any embarrassing moments when you weren’t familiar with the culture?
  • Have you ever stumbled upon something totally unexpected and interesting while traveling?
  • What’s your best drunk-abroad travel story?

Lets not get bored before we get to each other.

Then there are the questions that are just so boring, we both know that neither of us is interested in the answer.

  • What do you think of the food here? “It’s good.” Glad we covered that!
  • What airport did you fly from? Never going to be interesting.
  • Who did you fly with? Still snoozing!
  • How did you get from the airport to your accommodations? It’s actually surprising how often this question is asked.
  • Have you been in the pool/sea? Yes, but I don’t really have anything to say about it. Do you?
  • What time did you get here? 3:00pm. Where is this conversation going?

Small talk is never going to completely die out – we do accept this. But the type of small talk so common among travelers needs a complete makeover in our opinion. Tell us something that gives us an idea about who you really are!

” I’m excited to go sky-diving this week – would you ever give it a try?”

“I’m just looking forward to spending the next few days on the beach with a beer.”

Be random. Surprise people. And most importantly – ask questions that encourage stories and thoughtful opinions. If you can answer something with one word, rephrase it!

We skipped the small talk and went straight to the drunk

Do you find small talk difficult, boring or painful? Or are we just being too grumpy? If we are, tell us! If you like our suggestions for new questions, give us a few ideas of your own.

 

TRAVELERS OFTEN GET ASKED HOW WE’RE ABLE TO FIND THE MONEY, TIME, OR COURAGE TO GO ABROAD.

WANT TO KNOW HOW WE DO IT?

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  • Stephanie Norwell Montague

    Good suggestions! I’m not a fan of small talk myself, but I find that conversations with other travelers get interesting pretty quickly. What I like best is when I realize that I have hung out with new people for several hours (or days) and no one has asked “So what do you do?”