At The Bar: How To Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone And Into The Travel Zone
My palms are sweating.
I think my tongue might be swelling up.
Maybe I should just head back upstairs to the giant double bed that awaits me in my perfect little AirBnB room. Yes, yes that sounds like a great idea.
Wait, no. No it doesn’t.
I have been alone on the plane all the way here, alone on the metro trying to find my way to the 16th arrondissement, alone while I was unpacking and getting my bearings with a walk to the Eiffel Tower this afternoon.
No. It’s time to pony up to the bar and have a conversation with a person. A real human being. And this corner bar and cafe is exactly where I’m going to do it. I’m going to order my gin and tonic and then get to getting.
But how to begin?
I can admit that sometimes when I travel, I get those first time jitters again. It’s true, I’m not perfect, and even for someone as experienced as I am with discovering new things on my own, reaching out and making friends can still be difficult.
With every new place I travel, the rules are a little bit different. Maybe it’s a cultural faux pas to smile too much, or to point directly at someone, or even to eat with utensils. Maybe they won’t have my favorite blackberry mojito with a splash of lemon and a side of cucumber. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
To be honest, there will always be a lot of maybe’s and a lot of excuses that you can make for yourself about why you shouldn’t go sit down at the bar instead of taking a corner booth alone. But you didn’t travel thousands of miles to talk to yourself so keep these three tips in mind (I certainly do) when you’re in a new place and just take a deep breath—it’s going to be a great adventure.
1. Whenever possible, greet people in their native language.
It seems like a no-brainer, right? Even though this is basic travel tip 101, it seems to stump people when they go somewhere and don’t even try to speak the native language and get the cold shoulder. Many times I’ve heard discouraged people say, “What gives?” without even thinking about the fact that they thrust English onto some poor, unsuspecting person who was hoping for a little ingenuity.
Before I left for Paris, many people warned me that the Parisians can be rude. You know what I discovered? The Parisians are delightful. I didn’t have one bad experience while I was in Paris, not even one little hiccup. And I entirely base it on the fact that, even though my French is far from perfect, in every situation I spoke to them first in French and then in English if I couldn’t keep up. The key is to be respectful of whatever culture you’re visiting and make an attempt to meet them on their level. The effort is always appreciated.
2. Ask interesting questions.
There’s nothing worse than hearing this question: “So, what do you do?”
Ditto for this one: “Crappy weather, eh?”
It’s not that your career couldn’t be the singularly most interesting part about you or that the weather is particularly gruesome. It’s that it takes no effort to ask those questions and the key to starting a good conversation is asking the good questions right from the start.
What are some good go-to’s for any situation? Ask someone what they’re drinking. It’s really easy and allows you to get their opinion quickly. Most people love talking about their signature drink, and sometimes you just might find someone who’s a bit of connoisseur on bourbon and you could learn something.
It’s also a really good indicator of what kind of person they are or gives you something to comment on. Do they like domestic beer? Tell them a story about how this one time in college you had one too many PBR’s at a tailgating party and was drunk before noon. Do they like Jack? Joke about how your Grandad used to sneak some into your Coke when you were 8—even if he didn’t. When they ask if it’s true, you can tell them no way, but you wish it was. You’ll probably get a laugh, and by that point you’re already on your way.
3. Admit to being a traveller.
The easiest way to get started with a conversation in any place is to admit that you’re a traveller. Overhear someone talking about their own trips? Be attentive to what they’re discussing and then just jump right in there. Travel is the new “books and movies”; it’s much easier to find commonalities based on where you like to visit, or dream you could visit than trying to get to the bottom of what exactly Gatsby was in such turmoil. It’s also a much lighter conversation, trust me.
Another tip: I never like to play the “What would you recommend” card right off the bat with the locals (something it can be irritating if they think you only want a recommendation and not an actual conversation) so talk about how you’ve done your research and heard that this was a great place to eat, or that was a great place to visit. If they agree, then you have a confirmation. But more often than not, they will have an opposite opinion, and then you’re going to get the really good stuff. Maybe they’d even like to go with you, which definitely means you aced the conversation game.
Whether you’re first time travelling on your own or this is the millionth time you’ve packed your bag and headed out of town, sometimes getting friendly with strangers never gets easier. But the key is to remember that confidence is contagious and even the most unfriendly looking people out there are just looking for someone to connect and talk with. I mean, isn’t meeting new people the reason you started travelling in the first place?
So take a chance. Even if you regret it, at least you’ll have a funny story to tell to the next person you meet at the bar.