Making friends on the open road
Evelyn Hannon shares her advice for women traveling solo.
Remember back to your first day in school? You arrived excited but a bit worried that you would not have anybody to talk to. Who would you play with at breaks? Who would sit beside you in the lunchroom? Well, hold that memory because setting out on a solo journey could include much the same set of emotions.
I have never been afraid to travel solo. I have been doing it for the last 37 years and I love it, but I do work on ways of meeting folks along the way.
1. Seek out connections even before you leave home. Chat with women who have traveled before you. Make note of their tips, advice and contacts. Some of your best adventures will begin that way.
2. Speak to your friends and neighbours who were born in the country you are travelling to. There is a grandmother here or a sister there who will happily provide some wonderful connections for you. (And, even if they cannot suggest contacts to you they will certainly share their expertise on how to dress appropriately and stay safe. This is a perfect time to ask.)
3. Become a member of an organisation that fosters the exchange of homestays. Women Welcome Women, promoting visits between females in over 60 countries, is a perfect example and a practical way of getting to meet the locals.
4. Join SERVAS, an international network of hosts and travelers building peace by providing opportunities for personal contact between people of diverse cultures and backgrounds.
5. Avoid large, impersonal hotels. Opt for a more friendly bed and breakfast or a hostel.
6. Eating in a cafe? Keep an English book or newspaper on your table. Inevitably someone will recognise either the book title or the newspaper and strike up a conversation. Likewise, you can be the first to comment if you notice someone reading a book that you have already enjoyed.
7. Look for restaurants that offer communal seating at large dining room tables. I have tried this at the warm and welcoming Le Pain Quotidien bakery, bar and cafe as well as Wagamama, a chain that serves tasty noodles dishes worldwide. The fun part of these restaurants is you never know who will sit down beside you and what the conversation will yield.
8. Are you a teacher, lawyer or doctor that belongs to a professional organisation at home? Through them you can connect with professional women's groups around the world. If you are in town on the right date, try attending one of their monthly meetings or excursions.
9. Do you enjoy public speaking? Make yourself available to speak to women's groups when you are abroad. Do not charge for your informal talk. It will establish goodwill and new friends in the city you are visiting. For example, if you would like to meet and mingle with a whole range of empowered business women in Tokyo, go along as a guest to one of the monthly FEW (For Empowered Women) networking events.
10. If you have a special interest, pursue it at your destination. Are you a bridge player, for example? This site will help you find bridge clubs around the world. Do you enjoy cooking? You can join a Girls Night Out three-hour cooking class in Paris.
11. Check with your country's consulate in the city you are visiting. Are they hosting any activities or exhibits that you can attend? If you were a Canadian visiting China last year you could have attended a piano recital or an art exhibit in Beijing sponsored by the Canadian government.
12. Do not be afraid to participate in the banner events of the city. I was in Sydney during Gay Pride Festivities; I am neither Australian nor gay, but that certainly did not stop me from joining the celebration and marching in Sydney's Gay Pride Parade. It was a real hoot and I met some very charming folks in the process.
13. Do not have time to volunteer at home? You can 'do good' at your destination and I promise it will 'do good' for you in return. A perfect example is this travel story about a middle-aged guy who volunteers to take care of babies in Thailand. Click here to be inspired.
14. Take an educational course in the country you are exploring. When I have gone on the road for longer than a month I enroll in at least one week-long class along the way. This insures that, at least, I will have people to interact with for that length of time. Add to it the bonus of learning about my classmates' culture through their eyes. And, if I am really lucky I might be invited home to meet their family. (Note: If you are invited to someone's home and would like to offer a small gift, make sure that your offering is culturally correct.)
15. Do not be afraid to ask questions. If you are at an onsen (hot spring bath) in Japan or hammam (bath) in Morocco, ask the other women in the changing room about proper decorum. Females are generally wonderful communicators. I have started more great conversations by asking for help than one can possibly imagine.
Evelyn Hannon / Expatica
Evelyn Hannon is the editor of JourneyWoman.com, the largest online travel resource for women. She is also the consultant to Foreign Affairs Canada on Women and Travel. TIME named Evelyn one of the 100 innovative thinkers of this century. On Twitter, Evelyn tweets one daily travel tip to her 5,000-plus followers.
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