PEOPLE AND HOW DO I APPROACH THEM?
Updated: Jul 5
MAY 23, 2023
How do I make friends on the road? I must interact with locals on the road at some point and not talk to myself ALL the time, how do I do this? How do I ask for help, directions, or just strike up a conversation with anyone if I want human interaction?
I will answer this question in two parts. The first is that the majority of the time, people actually approach me. There are a few reasons I've deducted that this happens.
It's an anomaly for most people that women solo travel (cue the "It's dangerous" comments, this is a whole other blog article we won't get into)
I ride a motorcycle (riders are predominantly male, so it's not common to see a female on a bike)
I am Asian (Europe is pretty homogenous, so Asians are a minority)
I am small and alone
My accent is not local
I clearly look out of place due to all of the above so people are curious
And my favorite: My snail shell of a home packing system amuses people. I mean look at this thing. My luggage looks like a passenger
Here's a better angle. I am dwarfed by my gear and I weigh the same as it.
Luckily, in all of these instances, people have approached me with curiosity and kindness. Everyday, sometimes multiples times a day, people come up to me when I am hydrating or using my seat as a table to eat lunch. I really enjoy answering peoples' questions, challenging stereotypes and inspiring them with my story to chase their own dreams. However, sometimes it gets to a point where it takes several hours out of my day to talk to everyone who strikes up a conversation, and I have to cut the interaction short so I can make some distance or beat nightfall.
Now that we've set up with context with part one, I'll respond with the second part of how I personally approach people. As far as directions or general conversation, I say Hello, introduce myself in a friendly way and ask if people can help me. I don't know the scientific term for this, but there's a certain psychology if you ask for help "Hi, can you help me find the gas station?" versus a more assertive "I'm looking for the gas station" that opens people up to wanting to help you, versus just answering the question quickly and sending you on your way.
Let's get into this a bit more. I understand some people may have anxiety approaching people and asking for help can be out of one's comfort zone. I understand. I grew up introverted and became extroverted once I realized I personally wouldn't get very far in life staying shy, recoiling from confrontation, and sometimes I would be in so much fear, I couldn't speak. I had to change. So I understand what it feels like. For this, I say practice small talk every opportunity you can. Your barista, gas station attendant, or grocery store clerk don't know you have social anxiety or feel awkward speaking to strangers, so just start by asking "Hi, how are you?" and build on that conversation. Be so uncomfortable and awkward, but do it so often, that it becomes less foreign to you. Then create deeper conversation on those basic skills. Maintain eye contact, stay curious and read people's body language to pay attention to people's boundaries and comfort level. If I can do it, so can you.
Back to motorcyclists and how I approach them on the road. I'd like to have rider friends in every country. Sometimes they find me, but most of the time, I find them. Disclaimer: my friends tell me they think I'm weird and don't follow social norms. I actually received this comment recently from my friend Dianna two days ago and this is probably one of those instances. I can't disagree, but you know when you keep pushing your own comfort zone further and further, that when you look how far you've gone, it CAN be deemed as socially strange upon reflecting on the whole picture on what most people do. Here's my technique:
I stalk them.
Let me clarify. I stalk them in a way that is similar to a stray cat looking for food from someone who repeatedly feeds them. I am just drawn to motorcyclists and want to be friends with them. Basically, I ride around town looking for parked motorcycles, and if there are riders by their bikes, I pull over, dismount, take off my helmet and say "Hi!" with the friendliest wide eye smile I can. However, if there is no one at their bikes, I wait for them until they come back. Or if I find motorcyclists riding, I follow them until they stop and I pull over at the same time as them. This is probably bordering being OVERLY friendly, extroverted and maybe even creepy, but I know I don't have ill will, I just am very adamant about making moto friends on my expedition. The great thing about our moto community is that in doing this technique, I have never felt like I was intruding and always felt welcome. Motorcycles have this strange ability to bring people together. However, I will say that in order to do this, one needs to be able to read the room, understand if they are actually intruding and making others feel uncomfortable. One needs self awareness to avoid crossing the pushy line.
It's not just motorcycles, I also do this technique to make new friends at badminton gyms. In the vast majority of Europe, the gyms are set up where you reserve courts with 4 friends you already know and play only with each other. There are rarely ever "open gyms" where there are pick up games, so it's very odd for a single player to show up and ask to play with established members. So when I go to gyms by myself, I use this technique to ask people if they'd like to rally with me. Here are a few instances where my "stalking" technique with motorcyclists or locals led to even more wonderful random experiences.
Upon approaching some Romanian-Hungarian riders at a border crossing, they invited me to join them at a Motorcycle Rock Festival in Hungary where we camped together, listened to live bands and soaked in a natural hot spring.
I waited at this motorcyclist's bike in Estonia until he came back, we became friends and he invited me to crash at his place where I had a beautiful loft to myself.
I met these Swedish bikers at a gas station and helped one of them pick up their bike they dropped after forgetting to put down the kickstand, and they invited me to a Harley meet.
So that's how I approach people on the road. Be friendly, non-threatening, and I let my weird out. This works for me. Be yourself, respectful and find what works for you.