5 Tips for Talking to Strangers on a Plane or Bus

I've had some incredible conversations with strangers on planes, including the one that convinced me to marry my now husband!

There's something about being on a bus or a plane that can sometimes lead to the most amazing conversations. You're out, you're the stranger, and you will never see this person again. Why not share your heart? Or find out about the life of some fascinating person you never would have met otherwise? Traveling is about finding out new things, and meeting new people. Of course, be careful, but look at it as an opportunity to grow.

It's funny, but talking to people on the bus has been life-changing for me. It's as if I've had angels in disguise waiting at strategic locations to help me at key moments of my life. I've had some travel conversations that I will never forget. How was I so fortuitous as to stumble upon these treasured nuggets of discourse? Well, in short, it was serendipity. But if I was to give any advice as to help serendipity along, this would be it.

A friendly stranger's face on the plane can give you the signal to start talking.

A friendly stranger's face on the plane can give you the signal to start talking.

1. Give off the Right Signals

For those of us who ride a bus or plane regularly, you know that there is unspoken seat etiquette. When your seat partner comes along, you politely let them stow their bags, and get seated. You will give a polite smile to let them know you are friendly, and may or may not say "hi." You are both cautious, wanting to respect each other's space, and still get along for the next two or more hours that you are going to be in such close proximity.

Well, part of having a good conversation while traveling somewhere is to be open. If you want to possibly talk to this person, say hello to them right at the beginning. This signals that you are open to talking. You can tell by watching some people's signals that talking to a stranger is their worst nightmare. By saying hi, and smiling, you are letting your seat-mate know you are open.

Most airlines and bus lines provide TV or movies for you to watch. Other people like to listen to their music on an iPod or another device. If you feel like talking, postpone the earphones, which signal that you are wanting to be alone. As well, if you want to read, choose a newspaper or magazine over a book. Your traveling partner is less likely to interrupt your newspaper browsing than dare to interrupt you reading the next best novel.

2. Start With Where You're Going and Coming From

This topic sounds so simple, and it is. But it provides a wealth of conversation material. On a jet ride about a year ago, I had a wonderful exchange with a lady who was coming from Winnipeg to visit her sister, who lived in Calgary.

Well, you know what? So was I! And the parallels just continued. She had nieces that she adored, and missed, like me. She liked to go on adventures, but those around her didn't understand. I could relate.

We compared Winnipeg and Calgary like only those who frequented both cities could do. In that conversation, which spanned two hours, we touched on our belief in God, on cancer, on death, on kids today, our marriages, and much more. It was wonderful. And it all started with "where are you going?"

This is the most obvious place to start, and it's always interesting to find out why people are on a plane, and to share in turn why you are there, too. Traveling is a time of transition, and talking to someone else who may be going through something similar is fascinating.

You may also talk to people whose job requires traveling, and this is a great start-off for a conversation, too. On one plane ride, I spoke with a gentleman for almost two hours, and learned a plethora of information about installing skylights. He was a professional skylight consultant, and was going to put in a skylight in one of our buildings in Winnipeg. People love to talk about their work, if nothing but to vent, and you can always learn something new!

3. Listen and Ask Questions

Which brings me to my next point. Listen and ask questions! All of us love to be listened to, and giving a willing ear is an act of generosity. Give this gift, and you may have yourself an unforgettable conversation.

I remember talking to this young man (approximately twenty years old) when I was on a Greyhound bus to Whitehorse. He had recently stopped his party lifestyle and just wanted to talk. We talked about God, about his family, about his dreams, and about his regrets. In that conversation, it was more about him, and that was okay, too. He opened up to me, in that setting, when he probably wouldn't have anywhere else. And it was nice.

Listening and asking questions shows that you are interested, and you never know what you might learn from a stranger.

4. Be Willing to Share

As I mentioned earlier, I have had some life-changing experiences while talking to travel mates. One poignant conversation I had was with a lady beside me on a plane to Northern Canada, where I was going to work. Somehow, the conversation got around to whether or not I should break up with my then-boyfriend, now husband.

She definitely knew the right questions to ask, and I just opened up. She was a good listener, and genuinely interested. I went over the pros and cons of our relationship with her, and at the end, decided that our problems were pretty normal, and that maybe I should give it another chance. We are married now, and I never did thank her for that pivotal conversation.

You might not share something quite so personal, but part of having an unforgettable talk is being willing to share, and open up. Just think of it as airline therapy. You will probably never see the person again: what do you have to lose? And there is something magical about talking to a stranger: it's romantic, in a sense, because it's removed from our everyday humdrum lives. It's the reason people fall in love while on vacation.

5. Accept That It's Temporary

Which brings me to the next point. An airplane conversation is kind of like a summer romance: you know it's going to end, and that's what makes it so sweet.

Don't expect to be best friends with this person afterward. You never know, it could happen, but it's likely just a one-time event, and that's okay. Chances are, if you were to meet later, you might not even remember each other. But that's okay. You're not meant to. Just accept that as part of the process, and move on.


© 2010 Sharilee Swaity


Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on January 10, 2016:

@brakel2, it is lovely to meet a like-minded person! And it was neat for me to revisit this hub, since it was written five years ago. Thanks for the comment and have a wonderful week!

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on January 10, 2016:

@Rochelle, thanks so much for your kind comment. I was pretty surprised myself, and didn't even notice for a couple of weeks. I wrote this one when I first got to Hubpages.

@RTalloni, how wonderful that you still pray for them. That is so considerate of you. Thanks so much for your comment.

@Jesse, thank you for the comment.

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on January 10, 2016:

@FlourishAnyway, it sounds like you had some great opportunities for conversations. And I am sure it made your time go by much faster. Thanks for the comment!

@Thank you so much, @Kristen Howe. I did not even realize I had received this honour until a couple of days ago. Have a great day!

Audrey Selig from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on December 22, 2015:

Hi prairie - You sound like me, as I always talk to traveling folks, Once, I was on a twelve hour train ride that turned into a twelve hour overnight romance. I never saw him again, and it was probably pretty crazy. Your tips are excellent and ones I usually followed. Another time, my travel mate left her seat, as she got tired of a man who was next to us talking to me about stocks. Great experiences. Thanks for sharing, especially about your current husband. Sharing Blessings, Audrey

The Write Life from The United States on December 22, 2015:

Interesting viewpoints. Thanks for sharing!

RTalloni on December 22, 2015:

Nicely thought out. While zipping across the country to visit kids/grands I've met such lovely, kind people and only a very few duds and only 2 scary ones. Sometimes having very memorable conversations, I still remember those names and pray for them when they come to mind. Thanks for encouraging good communication when possible because we can learn and grow so much when we are willing to do it.

Rochelle Frank from California Gold Country on December 22, 2015:

How great to have this gem of a hub come up as Hub of the Day! It's one I would not have seen. I enjoyed it very much. Congratulations.

Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on December 22, 2015:

Great hub, Sharilee. You have thoughtful and helpful tips to make the most of your bus ride or flight comfortable and pleasant with other passengers. Two thumbs up with this great hub! Congrats on HOTD!

FlourishAnyway from USA on December 22, 2015:

Great HOTD! I used to travel extensively on business and have had some good conversations with strangers sitting nearby.

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on February 04, 2013:

Saitam, that's great that you have a travelling partner. You could even try talking to other couples together. Have a good day!

MPanta from Lisbon on January 20, 2013:

Nice advices, I normally travel with my wife so we normally just talk to each other, but I never know when these can be useful

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on October 12, 2012:

Doboo700, thanks so much for the comment. Take care!

dobo700 from Australia on September 25, 2012:

Great Hub!!!!!

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on October 24, 2011:

Dzy, for sure. It is a lot of fun to share those new novel experiences!

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on October 24, 2011:

I'm sure it is, prairieprincess, but I'm one of those odd ducks who enjoys travel with others. It's the sharing of common experiences with folks you know, or are related to...the "ohhhh..look at that;" moments, the photos of the 2 of you or group of you together; the after-trip memories---"OMG--that was so funny/embarrasing when we tried to order in the native language at the restaurant..." and so on.

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on October 23, 2011:

DzyMsLizzy, thanks for your comment! It can be very interesting traveling by yourself: a different experience, for sure, than doing it with a partner or kids. Take care!

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on October 23, 2011:

Interesting. I've not done all that much travel, and usually I'm not alone--I've got my own traveling companions with me--whether it was my mother, my kids or my husband. And I don't travel much by public transit--I prefer to drive..but your article raises interesting possiblities..thanks for sharing.

Voted up.

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on October 23, 2011:

Wow, wow, wow, Maven! What an amazing story. I think there might be a hub in there, too! It sounds like she enjoyed the conversation as much as you did and you were there for her to listen when she needed it. A true case of serendipity. Thanks for sharing about your talk with a "stranger!" Take care.

Larry Conners from Northern Arizona on October 23, 2011:

I used to travel a lot for my work in international transportation management...I always looked forward to meeting strangers on the flight...I'm not much of a talker but I'm a good listener, and people always seem to respond to that...little nudges here and there and the most amazing stories emerge...

One young woman was just returning from the 1976 Montreal Olympic games ...We were on a flight to San Francisco, about a 6 hour flight, during which she talked non-stop about the games, her training, her family, and her plans for the future...It was like talking to one of my own daughters...But she saved the best for last when we arrived at SFO...While taking our carry-on's down from the overhead storage, she opened her bag and blew me away when she dangled the gold medal she won in Montreal...Her name is Jennifer Chandler, a soft-spoken world champion diver from Alabama, and the best seat companion I ever had...Larry

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on September 03, 2011:

Rcrs, you know what I'm talkin' about! I completely agree -- stranger conversations are great -- and sometimes strange! Thanks so much for the feedback. Nice to talk to a fellow sojourner!

Rcrs957 from Kaohsiung, Taiwan on August 30, 2011:

Excellent! I love it! In all my traveling, I have learned the most from conversations with strangers. They help you to plan your trip, give you places to stay, and secret tips to check out. And are also unbiased and can give you an honest opinion. Well done!

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on May 12, 2011:

Mrs. J.B., that's a great example! I had never thought of this topic, in reference to retail, but it's so true. Working in a store, it's part of your job to talk to strangers. I can imagine you have met such a wide, interesting assortment of people. That is so cool! Take care.

Mrs. J. B. from Southern California on May 11, 2011:

I spent the last 33 years in retail management. Talking to strangers every day and I must say I have met some of the most fascinating people from all over the world. Its amazing how much you can learn in such a short amount of time. Great Hub.

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on November 26, 2010:

Sweetmummy, that's great that your children are included in this, too, and can learn the magic of meeting new people. What a fun way to pass the time, and also make it easier for both parties to manage their children! Thank you so much for sharing!

Raylene Wall from Alberta, Canada on November 26, 2010:

When traveling with children, we often fine opportunities to visit with other families. It's usually lots of fun, especially keeping in mind point #5 here (it's temporary) so we don't have to strike up life-long friendships based on these conversations. Great article! Thanks

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on November 26, 2010:

PurpleOne, I wrote this, thinking there must be others who have experienced what I have, or people that might do so, if they opened themselves to it. Thank you so much for your comment!

PurpleOne from Canada on November 25, 2010:

I never thought of it quite like that but you're right: often these "stranger conversations" seem to come along at just the right times in our lives to provide us with that nugget of wisdom we've been searching for. Interesting!

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on November 20, 2010:

Thank you so much, coolbreeze!

Rik Rodriguez from Hawaii on November 19, 2010:

Great HUb!

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on November 11, 2010:

Thanks, Pcunix, for the comment. I agree ... if you get people to talk, you can hear some amazing stories ... it's fascinating!

Tony Lawrence from SE MA on November 11, 2010:

Good advice. I like talking to people, but most of all I like to get them talking so I can listen :)

Sharilee Swaity (author) from Canada on November 07, 2010:

FGual: You make a great point! The stress of the trip probably intensifies the pleasure of the conversation ... very true. Thanks for your kind comment.

Gmmugirl: Thank you so much, I'm so glad that it reminded you of some good memories. Take care.

Shan Moore from Philippines on November 07, 2010:

Wonderful hub! It reminded me of the great conversations I had and the people I met while travelling. They started as just mere strangers but the conversation turned out to be worthwhile.

FGual from USA on November 06, 2010:

So true, these casual conversations with strangers often are remembered for years, probably because they were pleasurable amid the often stressful anticipation of how the trip will turn out considering all that can go wrong.

Related Articles