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Is Meeting People on the Road a Thing of the Past?

Posted by exacto on 25/4/2022 at 15:12

I was chatting with long-time Travelfish member and contributor Tilapia the other day about how we don't seem to meet new people while traveling anymore. Part of it is the style of travel has changed; domestic flights often take the place of the long-haul bus and train rides where it was easy to meet people, and the newer style accommodation in Southeast Asia often no longer have the common areas where guests would gather for a beer or a snack and exchange notes.

The biggest change, however, seems to be that people are looking into their phones instead of around at others. It even makes sense. My phone is an instant source of details navigation and information, and an instant connection to my full roster of friends and family all over the world. I can share my travels with them in real time. If we are connected to loved ones back home, are we less likely to reach out to potential new friends at the next table? That's a shame, of course, because if we happen to be at the same guest house or restaurant or day tour in Ayutthaya or Champassak or Gili AIr, odds are we have at least something in common (and likely quite a bit) with our fellow travelers in those places too.

The irony is that Tilapia and I had this chat on our smart phones via WhatsApp while I am on the road! In fact, Tilapia and I have become pretty good friends after years of interacting though Travelfish and directly with each other over digital platforms, but we've never met in person. He's exactly the type of individual I might have met on the road years ago, yet it is because of these new digital connections that we've become and stayed friends.

What about you? Do you still reach out to fellow travelers when you travel (or plan to on your next trip) or does staying in touch with people back home fill the social needs while on the road? Cheers.

#1 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,821

Posted by exacto on 25/4/2022 at 15:29

As a follow-up to the above post, it seems there are several factors that make it more likely to meet other travelers. The first factor is language. If you can't effectively communicate with other people in a common language, then the conversation probably won't go very far. Over the years I've meet (and stayed in touch with) quite a few people from many different countries all over the world, but we've always had a common language as a basis of the relationship.

The second factor is demographics, and this one is a bit more complicated. Differences in age and other things don't necessarily prevent meaningful interactions with others, But I recognize that when I was in my late 20's and early 30's traveling together with my charming and beautiful ex Cathy, I was (we were) far more likely to meet other travelers than I am now as a single male in my late 50's. I guess a middle-aged (old) guy doesn't project the same fun, let's hang out vibe as a young couple.

A third factor seems to be the common ground of experiencing a place from the outside looking in. I suspect that's why even though I speak pretty decent Thai, I was always far more likely to meet other travelers than locals when I travel in Thailand, because we are experiencing the place in largely the same way, and from a more common perspective, than we could with locals. That's even true now on my current trip in Mexico where I am struggling to learn Spanish. The people who have been most willing to engage with me for extended conversations in Spanish are not from Mexico, but have been from Argentina and Chile and Honduras. That commonality of being outsiders, although in these cases to greatly differing amounts, helped us create that common ground. Regards.

#2 exacto has been a member since 12/2/2006. Location: United States. Posts: 2,821

Posted by antoniamitchell on 25/4/2022 at 16:39

Hi Exacto,

I think there's probably validity in those reasons, and I've also noticed the difference. 

When I travelled SE Asia for 3.5 months in 2010-2011, I can remember 5 instances where I went for a meal or a day trip with one or more strangers - the guy who sat next to me on a bus in Vietnam, the two separate women I met at the breakfast room of my guest house in Penang, etc. 

In my last trip for 7 months in 2019, I struggle to remember a single instance. 

It could be partly me (older and more curmudgeonly, so I was less likely to strike up a conversation myself, and less likely for others to bother approaching me). It could be partly that these days I stay in slightly more expensive accommodation, so encounter fewer backpacker types.

I also noticed fewer solo travellers in general on my last big jaunt. Most people seemed to be travelling in groups or couples, and so were self-contained.

But I suspect the biggest reason is that we're all chatting to friends and family regularly on WhatsApp, and so people just don't get lonely on the road, like they used to. 

Be well

#3 antoniamitchell has been a member since 13/5/2012. Posts: 569

Posted by somtam2000 on 27/4/2022 at 00:20 admin

Morning!

Yes, I think a few things play into this, language, phones, fewer solo travellers etc, but I think these are all within a traveller talking to other traveller context. 

I’m travelling at the moment in Java and, well, for starters there are zero other foreign travellers, but it hasn’t taken long in most places we’ve slowed down in for local travellers to come say hi and have a chat. I wrote of an encounter just the other day on Coucjfish here

I was on my phone at the time (as I am about 3000% of the time), but that certainly didn’t stop the guy from inviting himself to chat. I think people have become so attuned to most people being on their phones all the time, that it is increasingly seen as ok to interrupt one’s phone time just as you would someone reading a book/newspaper/whatever. So I don’t see it as big an issue as perhaps it was in the past. It also helps, I guess, to be in places where you being there is a bit more unusual (aka anywhere in Java lol) as local people will be curious to have a chat and swap notes. Don’t assume locals don’t speak (or understand!) English!

Even pre-Covid there were definitely fewer independent travellers around, but I think many reasons for that—economics a big one—people graduate now with so much debt the though of taking a year or so off to go travelling is possible for far fewer. Feels that way anyway.

#4 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 8,079

Posted by Woolton on 29/4/2022 at 22:35

My style of travel has completely changed since Covid. Whereas before I really enjoyed staying in hostels, because of the opportunity to meet people, now shared bathrooms (where by definition people don't wear masks) and shared kitchens are for me an unnecessary risk. So these days I am looking for a private room with own bathroom facilities, and a private kitchen in places where it is too expensive to eat out. Yes I do miss the communal aspect of hostels, but so far I have avoided Covid, so for me that is a worthwhile compromise.

#5 Woolton has been a member since 31/12/2012. Posts: 46

Posted by somtam2000 on 4/5/2022 at 01:44 admin

Yeah, that is a really good point about communal-style accommodation like hostels and homestays. I hadn’t really thought of that. The other day I rode over to Canggu—a popular tourist area here in Bali—and while it isn’t back to pre-Covid numbers, it is still well busy, and as far as foreigners went, I was the exception to the rule wearing a mask. Plenty of locals were, and staff in cafes etc were, but the clientele, nope!

#6 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 8,079

Posted by davelliot on 6/5/2022 at 07:10

The foreign manager of a guesthouse / restaurant on the island of Kapas off the east coast of Malaysia a few years ago seemed to have taken this into account with a sign on the wall of the restaurant that said   ' sorry no wi-fi - talk to each other instead'

#7 davelliot has been a member since 6/9/2017. Posts: 47

Posted by somtam2000 on 6/5/2022 at 12:58 admin

Yah, see that kinda thing a bit—personally I’m a big fan of no WiFi in common areas, but having it available in the rooms. A bit moot though as so many now with local sim cards and don’t even bother with the WiFi.

#8 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 8,079

Posted by antoniamitchell on 6/5/2022 at 13:03

Having been to Kapas, I suspect that may be more of a function of the island's infrastructure than a cunning plan by the proprietor to get guests chatting..... 

#9 antoniamitchell has been a member since 13/5/2012. Posts: 569

Posted by davelliot on 7/5/2022 at 02:54

No, Kapas has had wi fi coverage since at least 2006. The manager who had also been a traveller himself just wasn't into the idea of wi wif in the restaurant area.

#10 davelliot has been a member since 6/9/2017. Posts: 47

Posted by gecktrek on 12/5/2022 at 08:21

hey, traditionally people would connect while traveling to exchange information etc., with phones, there is less need, although i will always chat to others for their impressions.  demographics does play a part, most people i stay in touch with, are of a similar demographic, but do connect with others in any demographic while traveling...  friends and family at home hardly rise an eyebrow these days, with the usual retort being, oh, where have you been this time?

#11 gecktrek has been a member since 24/3/2013. Location: Australia. Posts: 175

Posted by davelliot on 13/5/2022 at 08:10

Although information from phones has limitations.  Before covid staying in dorms could be a good way to meet other travellers although the old school style guesthouses that have dorms are much fewer in number and the newer style hostels can be a bit clinical.

   Don't find age or demographics that much of a factor. 

#12 davelliot has been a member since 6/9/2017. Posts: 47

Posted by gecktrek on 14/5/2022 at 00:44

good to see your still around dave, and glad coalcliff hasn't driven you into the ground!

#13 gecktrek has been a member since 24/3/2013. Location: Australia. Posts: 175


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