Traveling takes a lot of social skills. Being a dedicated fan of social psychology and aspiring traveler I’ve decided to research what turns an average traveler into a remarkably likeable modern day nomad. The truth is that no matter what travel modus operandi you dig, at some point you’ll have to communicate, you’ll have to sympathise, you’ll have to understand and you’ll have to learn quickly.
I discovered there are at least 6 habits every likeable traveler should have. They are the habits that help them make an entire room full of people smile. No matter if those people understand a single word he says.
When you meet them, after, “What do you do?” they’re never out of things to say. They never suck at small talk, and they’re far from shy and a never insecure. When you meet them you can even secretly envy them, but trust me there’s a lot we can all learn from them.
I assume that when we travel, we generally want to make a good impression. We want people to genuinely like us. Sometimes it is just a question of comfort and nice atmosphere and sometimes it is the question of getting around more easily and finding a place to stay and food to eat. In most extreme cases it can be a question of our safety. Here’s how remarkably likeable travelers do it:
A Genuine Traveler Loses the Power Pose
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Our culture boosts self-confidence and I’m not here to tell you to ditch it. It is great to display nonverbal self-confidence, but go too far and it seems like you’re trying to establish your self-importance.
When you travel to a foreign country it is you who is the guest. The power pose can make “meeting” you seem like it’s more about you than it is about the other person, the other culture.
This is all very well if you absolutely don’t care about other cultures, but I assume that since you choose to travel you’re a tiny bit interested in what’s behind those people you meet and places you discover.
Take a cue from people of power who can easily put aside all sense of self-importance or status. Like Bill Clinton, who – when meeting other politicians or common people –always takes a step forward, avoiding the “you must come to me” power move. He always steps forward with a smile and bends slightly forward as if, ever so slightly, to bow (a clear sign of deference and respect in nearly every culture). He’s important and definitely has had power. But he’s genuine and you can definitely learn from him.
So next time you meet someone traveling, relax, step forward, tilt your head towards them slightly, smile, and show that you’re the one who is honored by the introduction – not them. Despite the cultural differences there’s one thing that prevails in our multi-cultural world – we all like people who like us. So show the people you meet you’re genuinely happy to meet them and trust me they’ll instantly start to like you.
A Genuine Traveler is Not Afraid to Embrace the Power of Touch.
I know that both sexual and nonsexual touch can be interpreted differently across different cultures. Sometimes one can be interpreted as the other and it takes some research before you go to Japan to understand why the all-so-common nonverbal eye contact is regarded highly inappropriate. Either way nonsexual touch can be very powerful. (Well, that sexual touch can be powerful too, but I’ll leave that for another multicultural post.) Your nonsexual touch can influence behavior, increase the chances of social interaction and makes you instantly more attractive and friendly. Providing the culture you do the touching in encourages it.
When it comes to nonsexual touch better make it casual and nonthreatening. Try to pat the other person lightly on the upper arm or shoulder. When you walk up behind a person you know, touch them lightly on the shoulder as you go by. There’s a high chance you’ll feel like a more genuine greeting was exchanged. In every culture touch breaks down natural barriers and decreases the real and perceived distance between you and the other person. Of course the intensity differs – what the people of Maghreb consider just friendly nonsexual touch, we would view as too intense and Japanese would dread more than tsunami. The key is context and culture – the touch is universal but its forms may vary.
A Genuine Traveler Whips out Their Social Jiu-Jitsu.
I love social psychology and as a observer of many dynamic processes that happen between people I have discovered one interesting thing. Remarkably likeable travelers are masters at Social Jiu-Jitsu. It is the ancient art of getting you to talk about yourself without you ever knowing it happened. They are the opposite of extraverted narcissistic all-so-fabulous people who only talk about themselves without paying any attention to the others. Social Jiu-Jitsu masters are fascinated by you! So take it from them and learn to use your interest, your politeness, and your social graces to cast an immediate spell on the people you meet. When you get a chance to have some quality time with the locals just ask the right questions. Stay open-minded and leave space for others. Make room for description and introspection. Ask how, or why, or who. People love to share with those who care. So show you care. Trust me – no one gets too much recognition. Asking the right questions implicitly shows you respect the person, the culture and the reality you experience.
A Genuine Traveler Always Whips Out Something Genuine.
No matter how brilliant you are everyone is better than you at something. Yes, that’s true even for you and as hard is it may be, the sooner you accept it, the better for you. The key is to let them be better than you. I our western culture we seem to be too competitive. I get the impression that too many people when they first meet engage in some form of penis-measuring contest. I know! It’s a rather crude reference, but it instantly calls to my mind everytime I see two alpha male master-of-the business-universe types whip out their figurative rulers. You don’t have to compete with the world and its wife when you travel! It is not the competition of who saw more European countries in two days or who managed to climb everything there was to climb in Tibet.
It’s OK to lose. It feels liberating to admit failing or a weakness. You don’t have to disclose your darkest secrets, but when other traveler says they’ve just seen the most amazing view diving the Grand Berrier Reef don’t instantly jump into topping that with the „amazinger” view. Just say “That’s awesome. I have to admit I’m jealous. I’ve always wanted to do that, too!” Don’t be afraid to show a little vulnerability. As much as we may be (momentarily) impressed by the artificial we sincerely like the genuine.
A Genuine Traveler Asks for Nothing.
I must admit that as much as I regard networking as a very helpful tool, I sometimes hate that moment when I’m having a great conversation and finding things in common… and then someone plays the networking card. Does it always have to come down to it? Can it just be about the conversation? About the exchange of thoughts and views? When you travel you might seek help, advice and more, but try to put away the hard-charging, goal-oriented, always-on kinda persona. If you have to ask locals for something, find a way to help them first, then ask if you can. Remarkably likeable travelers focus on what they can do for you – not only for themselves.
A Genuine Traveler Always Accepts It Isn’t Easy.
As simple as all this sounds it can be actually hard to implement those into your travel plan. So what!? Accept it’s hard. Accept that being a little more deferential, a little more genuine, a little more complimentary and a little more vulnerable means putting yourself out there. Accept that becoming a better, more genuine traveler is a process – and as with every process it takes time and is based on learning from your mistakes. But don’t worry – every time you help people feel a little better about themselves they will like you for it. And it feels damn good. No matter what it takes.