Reach Friends You Haven’t Met Yet: The Benefits of Talking to Strangers Stranger danger or inspiration? Talking to strangers may be the key to learning about yourself and the world around you—especially when traveling. By Dr. Jodi Ashbrook Photo by Joshua Ness Meet far-flung friends around the world by joining the international Wanderlust community! For little more than a traditional festival ticket, buy a Passport and attend 60+ events in 20+ cities all across the globe. Because talking to strangers is the beginning of building a mindful family—anywhere you go. Passport on-sale now. Picture this: You’re sitting quietly in your favorite coffee shop sipping on a latte, and a strange woman approaches you, wanting to have a conversation. Do you invite her to sit? Or do you make a swift exit? Every day, we go through the motions with our heads buried in our smartphones, often unaware and disengaged with the tangible reality around us. We don’t hesitate to comment on posted photos of people we have never met, yet we walk down busy streets and spend time in public venues, rarely pausing to say hello to anyone who falls into the “stranger” category. We’ve been strongly advised since our inception to avoid strangers. Most parents adamantly warned us against so-called stranger danger: Steer clear of the unknown. Stay close to those you know best, people you’re confident won’t hurt you. Let’s be real—there’s some benefit to that… It’s not a great idea to walk down a dark alley alone late at night, or put yourself in a precarious situation. However, unfamiliar people have their own unique wealth of knowledge and experience to bring to the table that just might change your perspective on things, with the power to influence your worldview in a positive way, but only if you’ll let them. A great way to tap into these treasure troves of the unknown? Travel the world. Solo travelers are not alone. The number of millennials, women in particular, who are eager to travel solo is on the rise. According to Resonance Consultancy’s latest Future of U.S. Millennial Travel report, 25 percent of American millennials polled in the study said that they plan to take a trip on their own in the next 12 to 24 months. Why are we craving solo travel now more than ever? There’s something to be said for a travel experience that only you as an individual can embrace and hold sacred forever. An opportunity to self-reflect, escape all of the chaos, cut through the noise, and be still with your own thoughts. To explore the world through a raw, unbiased lens with no judgment. A chance to plan an itinerary that aligns only with your personal wants and needs, without accommodating others. Last month, I set out on a cross country road trip from the East to West coast to embark on a research project, Wandering West, to uncover and aggregate authentic life lessons from everyday Americans. In each city, I’m interviewing people I encounter along the way (to eventually be compiled into a documentary) in order to better understand and share their wisdom on life. Along the way, I’m exploring what creates happiness, with the ultimate goal to inspire hope. What I’ve found most intriguing—and perhaps most unexpected—is the typically negative reaction I’ve gotten from my unsolicited request for an interview. We’ve become so skeptical of strangers inviting us in for conversation, that we naturally shy away from mystery. But what happens when we say yes to outsiders when we travel to foreign destinations? We open our minds and hearts, with an opportunity to reap great rewards. Here are a few benefits of breaking the “stranger danger rule,” and how talking to random people you cross paths with in your travels can transform your potentially cliché itinerary into an unforgettable life experience. It boosts confidence. It generally takes a lot of courage to spark conversation with someone we don’t know yet. We revert back to our middle school disposition, filled with self-doubt and awkwardness. Once you take that baby step forward and reach out to someone new, someone you might never cross paths with again, you will be filled with a new sense of confidence, and remember just how interesting you truly are. (Because you ARE.) You’ll be inspired. When you take the time to befriend a stranger on your journey, you’re opening your heart and mind to new perspective. If you demonstrate that you are capable of being a good listener, you’ll find that people in fact love to share their own personal stories that can drive inspiration. It just might be the conversation you’ve been craving, a spark of hope and an impetus to move forward in a more productive direction. Establish meaningful connections. For the most part, everyday people are humble. They aren’t wearing their success stories on their sleeves, so it’s nearly impossible to know how we can drive value to one another until we have an exchange. Talking to strangers can open the door to new possibilities for you, both personally and professionally, establishing meaningful connections that might benefit you now or later. Social media is a beautiful medium to help you stay in touch with those people you meet while traveling, who may be able to help you navigate your journey down the road. You’ll learn to resist judgement. Not judging a book by its cover is easier said than done. It’s in our nature to fold people up and place them neatly into boxes, as labels make life seemingly more manageable. While you’re traveling, release that judgment and dig deeper. Ask more penetrating questions, offer to buy someone a cup of coffee in exchange for information about the area you’re exploring, and stay genuine. It’s amazing what can happen when we break down barriers and allow ourselves and others to just be. Experience a place like a local. Who better to guide you on a new adventure than the people who inhabit that space you are visiting? When you take time to ask locals about their personal favorite stops around town, you’ll reveal pieces of that destination that you might never have stumbled upon otherwise. Take advantage of those hidden gems and experience the authentic culture around you with recommendations from the creators themselves. Create a rich memory bank. What makes a memory everlasting? Typically an unmatched experience. Talking to strangers on your travel journey can lead to conversations and events that you might never have again in your lifetime. There are so many astounding places to visit on Earth, chances are, you might only choose to explore that new city one time with the goal to see as much as humanly possible. When you dare to venture outside of your comfort zone and build relationships with new people, your travel experience is bound to be marked by a footprint of unforgettable memories. — Dr. Jodi Ashbrook is a wellness entrepreneur, the founder of ZenLeader, The Be Brand, ZenLeader, The Yoga Movement, and Elevate Higher Ed. She’s also a speaker, writer, and traveling yoga teacher who has embarked on a road trip and research project across the United States called Wandering West. In 2018, Jodi was a global diploMAT for Kulae Yoga, and is writing her next book that will focus on breaking out of the conventional box to lead a more authentic, fulfilling life.