One of the primary things that separates a traveler from a tourist in my eyes is how they interact with the places they go. A tourist may go to all the sites, but when they are done taking the picture; they will likely move onto being in their confined group and go to places in larger groups. To be clear there is nothing wrong with this, in fact the truth is without tourists there is no tourism. A traveler is different, they allow the place they are in to wash over them; one key aspect of this is meeting people wherever you go.
Chances are if you are reading this you may be a bit of an introvert, and this idea of walking up to random people and talking to them is terrifying. When I travel and I get to feeling this way I try to think of myself being in an RPG. Anyone who has played Fallout or Skyrim knows you talk to people you meet, and the conversations you have are a major part of the journey. If you shed your shy skin of whoever you are back home, and when you are traveling pretend you are on an adventure; it becomes far easier to talk to people and generally do things you may not normally do. After a while you no-longer need to pretend. Also most of the time you don’t need to initiate the conversation, trust me locals can tell when someone is not a local quick. In my experience most people you meet when traveling are just as interested in where you come from, as you are in where they come from.
A major step you need to take if you are going to do this and you are in a tour group is pretty simple. Ditch the tour group whenever you can with a friend or by yourself if you are in a safe city. The larger a group you are in, the less likely people are to talk to you. I get best results when I am traveling alone, but I am also the size of your average bear; which gives me a certain amount of protection from those who would mean to do me harm. Also in general if it does not seem safe, don’t go there is a pretty good rule of thumb. Your gut and intuition won’t steer you wrong in that department.
So you ditched the crowd of tourists and found a nice cafe to sit at to try to meet people. Two things you should not do. First don’t sit and browse on your cell phone, instead look out and seem like you are open to conversation. If you have ear buds this is a good time to not put them in, ear buds in is the international symbol for leave me alone; something you don’t want to have when you are trying to talk to locals. If you look open to chatting, and don’t look like a serial killer; it is fairly likely someone will start a conversation.
Remember earlier when I said they will be interested as much in where you are from as you are in where they are from? Well that means talk about where you are from, and it may be best to not talk much about yourself even. I have had many conversations where the person left not even knowing my name, but sometimes those are very meaningful conversations.
Anonymity tends to be talked about as this negative thing that people have on the internet that allows people to be assholes. Well being anonymous was not invented in 1983 (the year the internet was), talking with strangers can be some of the best ways to learn about others. This includes the tour group you may be with, the chances of those people contacting you after the trip are fairly low. In person anonymity can be a powerful way to talk to people with very low stakes.
So how does this all work together? Here is an example. I was in Galway the day before Beltane and it was dinner time. I had walked off on my own and with a tip from my tour guide went to try this place called The Black Gate. I walked in and it was clear I was the only person not from the city in there, I stood out; I was not however out of place.
I saw on the menu an item called the Hamlet Toastie and I ordered it. immediately the chef named Julius (not his real name) told me that was a special creation of his he has been working on (a good sign). I watched for roughly 10 minutes as Julius with the skill of a true artisan meticulously made this sandwich, slicing the cheese fresh by hand, and topping the plate to his high standard.
This sandwich which I don’t remember the exact ingredients had different cheeses,was on perfectly toasted bread, and many different pickled vegetables. It was delicious, everything played together but without any one taste overpowering the other, it was clear it was made with care.
As I was eating it Julius and I chatted about the sandwich, and eventually about where each of us is from. I told him about how Salem,Ma is feels very much like Galway, and he told me about how he came to Galway. Julius like most of those who live in Galway is from elsewhere. He is from Montreal, came to Galway backpacking, fell in love with the city, and never left. “Galway is at the end of the line for most backpackers, and it is so nice most decide to try to make it work there”.
He told me how he went to culinary school for a year, but found that all culinary school gives you is a ticket to skip 4 years ahead in the line; and he preferred working in the kitchen to in a classroom. I finished my sandwich, which was amazing, I talked a little more with everyone there, and when my glass of sparkling water was empty I went on my way.
I would recommend whole hardheartedly that if you are in Galway try The Black Gate, it is a very cool place. Say hi to Julius if he is there for me.
Most people who are going to be willing to talk to you are nice. most people live at the very least sub consciously by a golden rule of not being a dick to people who aren’t dicks to them. I am not saying you won’t have weird and bad conversations, but you can learn to get out of them. Traveling is so much better when you absorb yourself into where you are, rather than just see what is on the surface.
As always hope you enjoyed reading,
Go With The Winds.
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