Quiet London Mews

How to Meet People While Traveling

Erstwhile Expeditions is an ongoing series in which I reflect on my past travel experiences. I recently wrote about my semester of studies in New York and my decision to move to London after college. In my last post, I questioned whether or not traveling requires a great amount of courage.

Many people are afraid to travel alone. It’s scary to think about traveling abroad for a few months or more without knowing anyone and having only yourself to rely on. Most people avoid long-term travel for this very reason.

The truth is, it’s actually extremely easy to meet people while traveling.

I mentioned in my post about courage and traveling that I am a shy person. I have social anxiety and it is difficult for me to carry on a conversation with a stranger. A lot of people use this as an excuse to remain within their comfort zones and socialize primarily with people they already know. I’m a firm believer, however, that you can’t grow as a person unless you step outside this comfort zone once in a while, no matter how scary it may seem.

So, with my shy personality, how did I manage to travel abroad for six months by myself?

I began by reminding myself that there were hundreds of thousands of people just like me; people who wanted the experience of living abroad and who were traveling alone. They wouldn’t know anyone either. These were people who, like me, would be looking for companionship in a new city.

The work-abroad program that I was traveling with had a short-term hostel for participants just arriving in London. We could stay in the hostel until we found jobs and more permanent living spaces. It was a perfect place to start meeting new people because everyone staying in the hostel had arrived in London within the past few weeks.

Taking the first step is the most difficult part, but it’s not as difficult as you think.

When I first arrived at my hostel, I was placed in a room with one other girl. She was quiet, and spent much of the first morning I was there sitting in her bed and reading. I quickly realized she wasn’t interested in doing much socializing, so I strayed out of my room to explore.

The hostel was a converted flat, so there were rooms of various sizes, a shared bathroom on each floor, a community kitchen, and a tiny living room. While there were a few people engaged in a television show in the living room, there weren’t many places to sit, and so I felt uncomfortable joining in. I obviously couldn’t burst in to any of the bedrooms to meet people, and certainly didn’t want to try and make friends in the bathroom. I was beginning to feel hungry as lunchtime was quickly approaching, and I decided the kitchen might be my best option.

A local grocery store was just across the street from my hostel, so I ventured out to purchase a few things to eat over the next few days. When I returned, the kitchen was empty, but I nevertheless began preparing myself lunch. Eventually, others began filtering in. I smiled and said hello as they made eye contact, trying to be friendly, despite the fact that I was extremely nervous.

Guess what happened? They were friendly right back! They began talking to me, asking if I’d just arrived and a natural conversation followed. All I had to do was go into the kitchen and make a sandwich!

If you pay attention, there are endless opportunities to meet new people.

The most exciting fact about my experience is that I didn’t have to do anything outside of my comfort zone to begin making friends. I simply found a place where people would naturally gather and used the space to do something I would normally do. There are many opportunities like this while traveling, you just have to look for them and be a little brave.

Be sure to read the next chapter of my travel series, in which I find my first overseas job!

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    Hello! I'm Erika, a quiet girl living in the noisy city of Los Angeles with my husband Eric and my cat Cookies. I enjoy exploring new places, going on adventures, eating delicious food, and taking lots of pictures! >> Read more

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