How do you make cross-cultural connections?


One of the reasons we travel is to reach across cultural boundaries and experience the world from a different perspective. It’s that genuine human interaction between different worlds, within the same space that is the essence of the value of leaving home and “seeing the world.” That connection is the moment that makes all of the uncomfortable moments on the road worthwhile. It’s the window that allows us to really see into a place, and a people. It’s the window that allows us to truly see ourselves and learn about who we are and our place in the world at large.

In our experience, those connections rarely happen on tour buses, or packaged experiences. There’s no way to set them up, or manufacture them for mass market. The moment someone tries, something is lost. The best of them are beautiful serendipities.

Today I’d like to ask my fellow travelers how they make these connections.

  • How do you find ways to reach across the smiling language gap and touch souls with locals in the places you visit?
  • Do you have any tricks?
  • Any tips for us as we travel?
  • Do you have any secret weapons for disarming strangers and becoming friends?

We have two, that are effective without fail:

  1. A soccer ball. Our boys discovered long ago that a soccer ball was a token of instant friendship. We buy them everywhere we go and carry them around. Pick up games always draw a crowd and friendly competition seems universal.
  2. Music. We carry a guitar, a mandolin and a fiddle. I know, it’s ridiculous in some ways, but it’s also the very best of our gear in other ways. Music is also universal. It’s a gift that can be given in return for many kindnesses. It’s a way to connect with children and the elderly alike, and it’s an invitation to join in with a pan for a drum or a digeradoo, or a bamboo flute that you made yourself.

Some of our best friends have been drawn to us while traveling because of soccer balls and musical instruments.

What about you? How do you make connections? What are your best “tricks?” Tell me about your experiences, as I’m seeking to learn and deepen my own!

Posted by | Comments (3)  | May 28, 2013
Category: Languages and Culture, On The Road

3 Responses to “How do you make cross-cultural connections?”

  1. Ahimsa Says:

    I think just walking around cities, towns, parks, and villages will lead to lots of conversations, with increasing returns for less touristy areas.

    But I’ve also seen that drawing/sketching in public places can lead to queues of people who want to come talk to you.

  2. DEK Says:

    Travel alone and travel where strangers are rare. Learn enough of the language for some sort of simple communication. “What is this called?” is a good phrase to know, as are a good stock of phrases of praise and admiration. Talk to old people. If I am in a Christian country I go to church on Sunday.

  3. Jennifer Miller Says:

    Ahimsa… art is a universal connection point… agreed. We carry sketch books often.
    DEK… I agree, asking people to teach you things, from the names of items to how to get around, or their favourite place/thing is a great way to bridge gaps. Church… interesting… we’ve done some of that. We try for something very different than we’ve been to before.