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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!

Ever get nervous talking to strangers but are interested in meeting new people during long trips? Consider these tips!

Ever get nervous talking to strangers but are interested in meeting new people during long trips? Consider these tips!

Meet New People

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?"

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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

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