The Art of Conversation with Grumpy Expats

Grumpy Expats
Grumpy Expats

One perk of traveling the world with no guidebook is that it gives you a valid excuse to strike up conversations with other foreigners you might meet while you are traveling. I’ve been to some of the coolest places in my travels on the advice of local expats I met in random places. A two minute conversation can lead you Kipu Falls, the House Hotel in Sokcho, South Korea, a hidden restaurant on Istanbul’s Prince’s Islands, or a natural hot spring in the Sahara. It’s worth it to talk to the foreigners who live wherever in the world you might go.

As a small aside; I like to live in countries where I was not born, and honestly, there is little more annoying than someone coming up to me and saying “Hi, I’m a foreigner too. I’m a tourist here on vacation, where are you from?” This might be one reason I take the approach I do when I am introducing myself to expats, travelers, or people who look like they might be from other than where they are. Here is my approach, I suggest you either use it, develop your own, or expect to be snubbed by jerks like me who probably left their countries to avoid just the kind of person you might be (if you approach as above.)

Me: Excuse me. Do you live here?
(This is far better than asking “Are you a tourist?” since grumpy expats like me tend to think of most tourists as one step below pond scum. Even if they don’t live there, they will probably be a bit flattered that you thought they might)

Grumpy ExpatsExpat: (cautiously) Ughhh
(Don’t expect more than a grunt since they have no idea what you want and probably are hit up by art students who want to ‘practice their English’, merchants who always offer a ‘free’ cup of tea, and all manner of locals who see them as a cash machine of some sort. Also keep in mind that expats choose to live away from their countrymen so saying “Hi, I’m American and you look American too.” is usually the wrong approach.)

Me: Sorry to bother you, but I’m traveling without a guidebook and purely going on the recommendations of the people I meet. Since you look like you live here, I wonder if I could ask you a question.

Expat: (gruffly) What’s your question?
(All of this is assuming that they speak your language (which, if they don’t makes this all impossible) and that you’re not a hot young woman or George Clooney type (which probably makes things much easier but since I’m neither, I wouldn’t know.)

Me: Oh, nothing much. I just wondered if you could recommend a restaurant nearby that serves great food at a reasonable price. (The truth is, I want much more information than that, but everyone has a restaurant they like and most people aren’t scared to share that information)

Expat: (Warming up a bit) Oh, is that all? Sure, there’s a great little place over there called something or other.

Me: Sounds great. I’ll check it out. Thanks. Bye.
(Wait a minute, I want more info, right? Right! The key is that I now give them the chance to answer the questions they are thinking by prematurely ending the conversation and staring out the train window, sitting on a nearby bench, or sitting at a nearby table in Starbucks…)

Grumpy Expats
Not Grumpy Expats

Let a few minutes pass so the person really begins to wonder “Wow, that was it? I wonder where this person is from? Why are they traveling with no guidebook? What other tips have they gotten from the locals? Is that really it?”

The thing is, it takes someone to start a conversation and the first conversation is the hardest. By just keeping it simple, you open up the door and make it easier for the other person to approach you. You demonstrate that you are not a threat and you make yourself both interesting and approachable as a result.

At this point, one of three things will happen. 1) The person will be glad to be rid of you so easily and will leave 2) The person will take the bold move of striking up further conversation by asking something simple like “Where are you from?” “Why are you here?” “Why do you travel with no guidebook?” In this case, you can jump wholeheartedly into the conversation. or 3) They may need more reassurance or might need you to start the follow up conversation (for example : Excuse me, sorry to bother you again, but I want to take a short day trip from town, can you recommend anyplace?)

This might all sound crazy to you, but for me it works. Give it a try!

World Travel for Almost Nothing #6

One of the biggest impediments to world travel is your stuff. Not just your physical stuff, but your mental stuff too. It’s hard to get rid of the baggage you’ve spent your life accumulating. One of the reasons I’ve been able to see as much as I have is that I’ve gone through the painful process of saying goodbye to people, things, and ideas…it’s never easy and if I were better at it, I would have seen much more than I have.

World Travel for Almost Nothing Tip #6: Leave Your Crap Behind You

We all like the physical comforts that a sedentary life brings us. The nice lazy boy (yeah, I miss mine), the kitchen gadgets, the easy way we can lounge around the house, and most of all the comfort of routine.

Routine is the biggest killer of adventures. It’s comfortable, we’re used to it, and even if it isn’t good for us, we hang onto it. I say that as I realize I’ve been smoking for nearly 25 years and refuse to think of how much that has cost me in terms of money and health. Or how much it will.

Yes Virginia, habits are nothing more than comfortable routine. It’s hard to leave your city, it’s hard to put yourself in a new environment, it’s hard to leave the friendships and places you are used to. But if you want to see the world for almost nothing, that is what you have to do.

Most of the time people think of travel in terms of leaving home and then coming back home. Well, a home costs you whether you are there or not. Same goes for a car, electricity, and all the other physical things you own. You have to keep them somewhere, right?

The bulk of my things are sitting in six small boxes in my brother’s garage. When I say small, I mean you could put them all in the front seat of a compact car. These are the things I’ve temporarily let go of with the knowledge that it might be permanent. I’ve also managed to somehow get a house full of things in Morocco, but I’ve very little attachment to any of them this time. My wife doesn’t count as a thing by the way, she isn’t a possession. 🙂 Besides, she’s small enough to fit in that front seat with the boxes…

Anyway, the point is that if you want to travel for almost nothing you need to get rid of that stuff or find a place where it will sit and not inconvenience anyone while you explore the world. One nice thing about traveling is that you don’t have to pay any of those expenses unless you hold on to them.

The truth is that traveling takes less money than being sedentary. As you travel you don’t need to pay those bills, you don’t need to have a job, and you don’t need to worry about what the Jones’ will think.

That also gives you the chance to let go of some of the harder possessions. Obsessions and habits need to hit the garbage can. To Truly find the joy of travel, you need to walk away from it all and experience what comes at you with your whole mind, body, and spirit.

If you have to plan everything six months in advance and you can’t live in the moment and ‘carpe diem’ than you might as well book that cruise vacation or the all inclusive package and spend the next six months working to pay for it.

The only way to really travel for almost nothing is to have almost nothing.

If you enjoyed this series you should buy my books, buy things using the affiliate links on the site, or donate a couple of bucks towards my future travels and the upkeep of this site.

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