“I talk to so many interesting people when I travel alone, but I don't get to when I travel with my partner.”
I hear this lament from travelers in relationships all the time. My usual response is:
“What do you do to change that?”
At this point, most people don't know how to react and fumble out a few words while trying to overcome the shock that I laid any of the responsibility on them.
Pick your jaw up off the floor and hear me out.
Understand how others see you
Almost every blog out there that talks about solo travel will report that people are more likely to approach or strike up a conversation with a solo traveler than a couple or a group. I absolutely think this is true.
It's human nature, isn't it? We feel awkward in situations where we feel we don't belong.
Traveling with one or more people naturally creates an in-group/out-group mentality, making the people not within your in-group circle less likely to engage for fear of this awkwardness.
I don't want to interrupt. Maybe they just want to be left alone. They probably have their own plans anyway.
These are the things that run through the minds of those not within your traveling party.
If you act like an exclusive in-group, that's exactly how most people will view and respond to you.
If you want people to talk to you, you have to be willing to talk to them
This is what many people don't understand about making (travel) friends as a couple or in a group.
If you choose to sit at your own private table away from others, if you are engaged in conversation only amongst yourselves, if you're canoodling in the corner, then don't expect people to approach you. You're giving them no signs that you want them to.
If you're a traveling couple and want to talk to others or perhaps find some other travel companions, then stop acting like you want to be left alone.
How we make new friends when we travel as a couple
Fortunately, turning the tables on this and connecting with fellow travelers is quite easy with a few simple changes to your approach.
Yeah, it can really be as simple as that. If you're walking into a shared space like a guesthouse kitchen, say ‘hello' or ‘good morning' to the people already there. Rather than sitting at the other end of an otherwise empty table, ask if you can sit next to them.
A simple, ‘Is this seat taken?' can be a really easy inroad to initiating a conversation. There are lots of questions that come naturally on the road. It feels rather instinctive to follow up with ‘Where are you from?' or ‘How long are you traveling for?'
If someone is walking into a shared space you're already in, be the ones who smile and say hi. Let them know the seat next to you is free if they want it.
When you find yourselves in a group situation like a tour, make a point of turning around and introducing yourselves to the people around you. You're probably going to be together for the next few hours, the whole day or perhaps several days or longer. You might as well take the opportunity to get to know some new faces.
Don't only talk to other couples
While there is nothing wrong with becoming friends with other couples, don't limit your chances to meet interesting solo travelers too (or any type of traveler for that matter).
Be aware of others and make an effort to involve them in conversation. Change up seating arrangements so you're not always sitting side by side at restaurants (and they're opposite you with an empty chair), or walk on either side of them on the street so they feel part of the group, rather than just “tagging along.” People will only feel like a third wheel if you make them feel like that.
We've ended up traveling with lots of solo travelers on our trips as a couple and it's never been awkward. In fact, we've made some amazing, life-long friends.
Be an individual first
I think one of the keys to effective communication for couples who want to interact with others on their travels, is to be individuals within your partnership. You don't need to wait for your partner in order to have a conversation with someone.
If one of you heads to the hostel kitchen first, you don't have to sit in silence waiting for the other to arrive when you could be asking a fellow traveler about their plans for the day. You don't have to exclusively sit next to each other at every dinner table or on every bus ride.
While we don't deliberately try to hide it, many people we meet don't even realize we are married (or even a couple) initially because we may have struck up a conversation with them on an individual basis first or were seemingly going around doing our own thing.
If you've ever met us in person, you're probably smiling right now because that's how how it plays out nine times out of ten!
Conquer the out-group mentality
Many people complain that others don't talk to them when they travel as a couple, but few have the self-awareness to reflect on how the situation appears to people in their “out-group.”
Others may have preconceived notions that couples traveling together are only there to spend time with one another. Many will naturally shy away from you if that's what it looks like. So if you actually do want to interact with others, then the onus is on you to do something about it. Change people's perceptions of you by showing them how you want to be perceived.
If you don't close yourself off to potential interactions, then you can meet just as many people traveling as a couple as a solo traveler does.
And if you're still feeling anxious about reaching out to others on your travels, just remember that as a couple or a group, you have the added benefit of having each other as a social safety net. If the person you're trying to interact with isn't interested in chatting or you just don't click, it's easy to go back to chatting with your travel partner.
Have you ever traveled with a partner? What have your experiences been like? Do you like to talk/hang out with others, or do you prefer to do your own thing? Let me know in the comments!
More tips for meeting people on the road as a traveling couple:
How to Meet People while Traveling as a Couple – Jessica Dawdy on Why Wait to See the World?
How Couples can Meet New People while Traveling – Two Drifters
Traveling without your partner? (no, it's not weird!). Check out: