Excuse me sir, do you want to be my friend?
Traveling is strange. You spend hours in airports, hotels, trains, and bars surrounded by people but you know no one, and it feels like no one wants to know you. When you start to spend so much time alone, you go into an existential crisis. It took only a few trips for me to realize that I have to make friends on the road or I will start to question my existence. Traveling for work can take a lot out of you, and the thought of doing anything besides ordering room service downing a bottle of wine and watching Seinfeld can sound exhausting. However, when you are gone for almost three weeks out of the month, you have to be social. Otherwise, you end up falling apart at an airport bar and asking the bartender why life is so hard.....at least that is what I have heard happens.
First, get over your fears. I know so many people who are just AFRAID to speak to strangers. They put on their headphones and refuse to have a conversation. I get it, and I used to be that way. I could not be bothered with individuals and their stories. I would get annoyed when someone tried to get to know me on a plane ride or want to sit with me at the hotel bar. But when I looked at why I had such a bad attitude about it it was because I was afraid. The best way to get over that fear is to realize no one knows what the fuck they are doing in this world and we are all just running around trying to survive. Seriously, we are all afraid. Once I came to terms with this fear of opening up to strangers, starting a conversation did not seem so hard. If they were going to judge me, then that was based on their fear, not mine.
"First: get over your fears"
Second, just start talking. The obvious icebreaker is "where are you from?" As it turns out, people love to talk about themselves. Ask everyone, baristas (the most important person in your life when traveling), someone sitting next to you in the terminal, bartenders, flight attendants, or the hostess at the restaurant. Because I have opened up and taken the first step in meeting someone I have had some of the best adventures with strangers. I have spent a day in St. Louis with a girl from Ireland, ate at a museum restaurant with a 75-year-old marathon runner, showed a couple on their honeymoon around NYC, and sat in a coffee shop for three hours talking to a very conservative lawyer from Tennessee on immigration laws. All of these people have taught me something important, and I still speak to them on a regular basis. They have all given me life advice and showed me how to see the world differently.
The world is not as big as you think it is. As it turns out most humans want the same thing in life; to feel loved and have a connection. We tend to have this idea in our head that love can only be given to those we choose to spend our lives with and I call on bullshit on that. Fall in love with as many strangers as you can. Learn everyone's stories and ask a million questions. Smile at people walking by, say thank you, ask how others are. There is enough hate in this world you might as well send a little more love into it. The world is enormous and fantastic, and you should experience more than just the inside of a hotel or monument by yourself. Plus, you never know when you might make a new best friend.