It is one of those fundamental rules we are taught as children. Still, one of the joys of solo travel really is talking to strangers.

For some reason, it is just easier to strike up a conversation when I am traveling alone. Perhaps it’s because I’m not preoccupied with a traveling companion. Maybe it is more of a necessity because I am alone. Whatever the reason, it has enriched my life immensely.

I know what you’re thinking – talking to strangers is not something that you usually associate with ‘enriching’ a life. As grandiose as it may sound, it is very true.

Had I not talked to strangers I would have never met the pair of ladies, old friends, who travel together because their husbands hate leaving home. I wouldn’t have met the very nice Scottish farmer who stood in line with me at a crowded bus stop in Edinburgh. Nor would I have chatted with the shopkeeper who told me the harrowing tale of his family’s escape from a war torn country when he was just a child, and his memory of the large American soldier who had carried him to safety.

So what are the rules for this? When is talking to strangers a bad idea? It’s pretty straight forward, really. Like most travel related safety tips, it largely has to do with common sense.

The ladies who travel were at the table next to me as I had breakfast one morning. The waiter introduced us, seeing as all three of us were Americans.  The farmer? He was an older gentleman and quite proper. I was in a large group of people in a very public place.

But that doesn’t give you much to go on, does it?

How about this, I have learned to trust my gut. If we listen carefully to our intuition, it will let us know when something isn’t right. I highly recommend that folks read “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker. He has made a study of this notion – that we often have clues ahead of time when something is about to go wrong. The problem is that we – especially those of us who are female – worry a bit too much about being polite that we discount or flat out ignore those clues.

Yes, I have talked here about the polite words and respecting cultures and not being an Ugly American. None of that applies when we are talking about your safety. Don’t discount that nagging feeling that something is not right, don’t ignore that uneasy notion that this guy is a creep just for the sake of being polite. Your life is more important than etiquette.

Trust your gut, be aware of where you are and what your are doing and talking to strangers becomes a joy.

You meet amazing people. People who will inspire you, people who will restore your flagging faith in humanity, people who will make you laugh, make you cry and make you think. Talking to strangers has garnered me incredible restaurant finds, pointed me towards towns and places I would have never known about, even provided me with information about a place that can’t be found on a plaque or in a book.

Talking to strangers is one of the reasons I travel. So many of these people have been in my life only fleetingly and yet they have changed me. Changed my perspective, changed the way I view the world, or made me think differently about something.

Isn’t that one of the reasons for going somewhere new? Isn’t that the best reason for going somewhere new?

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