Traveling is one of the best opportunities to meet new people. Wandering from place to place, constantly relying on those around you for directions, advice, or a helping hand, there is ample opportunity to strike a friendship with everyone you encounter. (By the way, thank you to all of the friendly people around the world who have stopped to help me get a piece of luggage onto the train, into the overhead compartment, or up a seemingly endless flight of stairs). That said, there are certain items that seem to inspire conversation and expedite the process of making friends. From soccer balls to bandaids, here are my top five items that have proven indispensable in making the acquaintance of locals and tourists alike.
On a recent trip, my traveling buddy decided to bring along a bunch of soccer balls that he threw in an old army duffel along with a pump. When we got to our destination, he busted out the soccer balls and suddenly everyone within a 10 mile radius showed up to play a game. It was kind of awesome. From that day forward, I swore I would always carry along a soccer ball or frisbee to bust out at opportune times and places. You know, like the Louvre.
I have a map fetish. I’m a little bit obsessed with them, but I don’t think I’m the only one. Whenever I unfold a map, people come out of the woodworks. Some to ask if I need help and others to see where they are. I discovered this trick when taking the Greyhound bus across the U.S. Somewhere inbetween El Paso and St. Louis, I busted out a map of the U.S. to track our progress. Suddenly my fellow passengers who hadn’t shown any real interest in me or each other up to this point, were crowded around my seat trying to see where we were and telling stories about other places they had been. You could have knocked me over with a feather.
Speaking of maps….a guidebook
Yes, it pegs you as a tourist, but there is always going to be that one person at the hostel or on the train (me) who didn’t bring one and will strike up a conversation in order to take a peek at what your Lonely Planet Guide says.
Everyone likes cookies. And if they don’t, well, more for you. It’s a win-win situation.
First Aid Kit
Headaches, hangovers, bug bites, scrapes, and other ailments. When you’re the bearer of bandaids, Tylenol, and malaria pills, you’re pretty much guaranteed to keep people close to you. If patching someone up doesn’t make friends, I’m not sure what will.
Oh, come on. You knew this one was coming. What else unites travelers better than being stranded hours at an airport during a snowstorm? Beer. Nothing is more promising for the establishment of a lifelong friendship than a few hours spent swapping horror stories over a pint of the local brew. Granted this set up usually works best at backpacking hostels where the travel ruffians congregate to thumb through beat up guidebooks and occasionally grab a shower. Beer helps forges friendships between locals and tourists alike as well. Just scout out the local pub, buy everyone a round, and you’ll be the most popular kid in town.