Picture this: you are on an 8-hr flight and you’re seated next to the most talkative, open and friendly person in THE WHOLE WORLD. All you say is “Hi, how are you?” and that sparks a whirlwind, two-hour conversation. Before you even get to introduce yourself and say your name, you know every intimate detail about the stranger next to you. This happened to me a few weeks ago. I met a fellow solo female traveler who was absolutely wonderful but her life stories ran from her mouth like water from a faucet that could not be turned off. Within hours (and without asking a single personal question), I was told that she was a teen mom, married young, divorced her husband after he slept with her best friend while she was 8 months pregnant with their second child, etc. Aaah! And that was just old background info. I heard stories of her presently owning property in Morocco and piloting small planes as her hobby. Near the end of the conversation (she started to get sleepy, thankfully), she told me where she’d be staying (in the destination we were heading to) and gave me her cellphone number and other forms of information. I want you to catch this: in the two hours of our conversation, I may have been given the chance to speak for 12 minutes, if that. Literally. The point is, she didn’t know who I was and did not give herself enough time to fully judge my character before giving me information that could have directly affected her safety. Amazing.
When I meet typical travelers, I am usually treated to tales of their adventures around the world and plans for future trips. For my part, I tend to share where I’m from and general interests that may tie-in to my passion for travel. I find this to be most appropriate but I do understand that everyone is different. Maybe I am just a naturally guarded or reserved individual because I do value my privacy. It’s not that I don’t share but I am careful not to over-share. A stranger, no matter how lovely, does not have to know every little thing about me. This becomes even more important when I travel the world alone.
For safety reasons, I try not to get too in-depth during conversations. Whenever I feel uncomfortable with prying questions, I either deflect them and try to change the subject or flat-out lie. This happened in Florence, Italy when an aggressive man asked me where I was staying. First I tried to change the subject but when he persisted and asked again & again, I named a very nice hotel from a sign I saw, knowing that I was staying in a budget hostel. I always let my instincts dictate how I communicate with people during travel. Gender makes no difference to me either. I am not more likely to spill my personal details with a woman just because I might feel safer with her than with a man.
So how do you interact with folks while on the road? Do you let your guard down? How much of your personal life do you share with strangers?