#rtw2012: meeting people

This is one of a series of posts about my recent round-the-world (RTW) trip. They are all collected under the #rtw2012 label. You may wish to read from the beginning for context and background.

I did the trip by myself. This was the first time I did a trip of this magnitude / duration alone, though like most people I had done shorter trips, often for business, by myself.

Although I do enjoy time by myself, time to reflect and wander around, it’s also nice to have company once in a while. I wanted to meet locals, both for company, and to get some “off the beaten path’ tips and recommendations, particularly around local nightlife and attractions.

This proved surprisingly easy. I’m not the most shy person in the world to start with, but I employed a couple of very helpful tools, described below, which made it a cinch to meet people. Maybe this will be helpful to future travels…

Meetup: I joined every interesting meetup.com group I could find, in the various cities on my trip. In fact, I joined so many that I got throttled by the meetup.com site, and got a follow-up email from an employee, asking if I was a real person or a software ‘bot. 🙂

Screenshot of some of my meetup.com groups.

Not all the meetup groups are created equal. Many are inactive, and others had events that didn’t interest me. But several meetup groups were absolutely great, having multiple interesting events with fun people, and letting me do things (e.g. kayak polo) I could not have done otherwise.

This is a good place to send a shout-out to the Stockholm Sporty People, Around Berlin in 80 Restaurants, Live Love Laugh Copenhagen, Hong Kong Eclectic Movie Night, Bangkok Beach Volleyball, probably my top 5 meetup groups of the trip whose events I actually attended.

Free and highly recommended, a great way to meet folks. Some cities, like Moscow and Delhi, had a disappointing lack of meetups, but that’s OK.

Pickup football (soccer): as I mentioned earlier this week, Pelada was one of my favorite movies of the spring / summer. I re-started playing football (soccer) after many years earlier in 2012, and wanted to keep it up. It’s also a fantastic way to meet people. So, partially inspired by this Pelada movie, I did some research looking for interesting groups, venues, and pickup games during my trip.

I played pickup football at every single stop on my trip. Like many sports, the mechanics of the game are fairly universal. What’s more important, the dynamic of “hey, want an extra player?” are the same everywhere. It helps to be fit and tall enough to be useful in most areas of the field, I imagine.

No one refused me entry to the game, and in most places people were very welcome. Almost invariably, the team would grab some food or drinks after the game. This was a great way to get additional exercise and meet locals at the same time.

Of all my pickup games, the one that stands out the most is in Tokyo, on top of a big building housing a department store in Shibuya, one of the busiest and most famous neighborhoods around. This is the same game the folks from The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift show in the movie.

Here’s a good photo of the pitch, by Stuck in Customs, on Flickr.

And here’s my Foursquare checkin / tweet / photo from right by the pitch, waiting our turn to face the winners of this match.

Apache, GitHub, and other open-source / software organizations: I looked up the location of fellow members (or committers) of these, and other organizations to which I belong. I emailed them in advance, and universally, everyone was happy to meet for food, drinks, coffee, or similar.

Apache makes it the easiest, with its global committer map, but it’s not that hard to Google for information about other people you’ve worked with. Here, a shout-out to Avhdesh for showing me some excellent Indian food + hospitality. And one to Lars, who set up a banging night out on the town in Hong Kong.

From a rocking evening in Lan Kwai Fong (Hong Kong) with new friends. I can’t repeat what I said that caused this reaction. But the B52 shots (what she’s holding) are to blame.

Volunteering: this will be the subject of another blog post. I volunteered at every stop on my trip. Usually some small activity that took 1-4 hours, no more, didn’t cost me much (if any) money, and was a great way to meet local people (fellow volunteers and organizers). One of my favorite experiences was volunteering with In Search of Sanuk, in Bangkok (Thailand), where Prae stepped up to organize a fun afternoon for me and another woman volunteers, with Sri Lankan refugees. More on this in a separate post.

Friends, and friends of friends: this one is kind of obvious. I have a lot of friends from various places in the world, and they have their own friends. I met a few this way, and I even stayed with a couple. A special shout-out to Tanya and Anna for the Moscow connection, to Seda for some awesome introductions in Istanbul, of course to Steve and Jenn for hosting me in London, and to Leah, Stephen, and Kyle for hosting me in SF, as well as connecting me with Gili in Tel-Aviv. And Nate, thanks again for all the email introductions…

The crew on the roof of Chateau Greenwich on a gorgeous SF day, planning the evening shenanigans.

Bars: this is the obvious one. As a lone traveler, one often sits or hangs out at the bar area of restaurants, pubs, clubs, etc. It’s easy to say hi and meet folks that way, just smile and say hi. 95% of the people I met were super-friendly and receptive. A large number of them were interested in practicing their English…

An outdoor bar in the Stureplan area of Stockholm, lots of friendly people.

Airbnb hosts: I used a number of Airbnb apartments throughout my trip, and they were mostly great. A couple of hosts stood out for being extra fun, approachable, happy to hang out beyond just showing me the apartment. A shout out to Isil from Istanbul, and Gunnar and Starki from Reykjavik!

From the amazing Airbnb lighthouse apartment in Reykjavik, which I shared with the fun roomates Gunnar and Starki.

There were numerous other random occurrences: people in museums, tour groups (I only did a couple of those, mostly in Iceland, but they were great), shops, etc. As long as you’re open-minded, smiling, and maybe making a small effort with the local language, it’s super-easy to meet people.

Overall, out of more than 100 nights on my trip, I think I had dinner alone only 4-5 times. I made a number of good new friends, and have been keeping in touch with them. I hope to host them some day, and / or meet them in other travels…