They're not strangers, they're just friends you haven't met yet.
Some people enjoy travelling alone and the freedom that comes with it. However, even solo travellers are likely to want some human interaction while abroa. If you are not 'lucky' enough to bump into your long forgotten school friends on Bondi Beach or the Kho San Road, you may want to meet some new faces to share your experiences/beer budget.
Remember that first day at school or university? That standard list of 'openers': 'What course are you doing?', 'Did you take a year out?' You may look back with disdain, but these 'openers' probably played a part in starting important friendships. You'll find a similar list of over-used 'openers' following you around on your travels. Don't be too cynical, shared experiences always create a bond: 'Have you been to... yet?', 'Where are you headed?' Right down to the slightly more intrusive: 'Have you been ill yet?' (You'll be amazed at how you find yourself discussing your bowel movements with virtual strangers!)
It really doesn't matter what you start talking about, it's easy to get chatting if you just go ahead and speak to someone, or join in a conversation that's already going on. For example, if you know someone has just asked the hostel owner for information about something, see if they'll share it with you. Ask to borrow a guide book/pen/lighter, or find out if they know the best place to change money or book an excursion. People generally like to share their knowledge, or talk about themselves.
A minute's peace?
Overall, be approachable, smile, ask questions, and don't be too coy, but don't take things to the other extreme either - no one wants a boiled bunny in their backpack. You'll learn to read the signals: the couple who haven't taken their eyes off each other may not want company as much as their mates who look bored to tears and desperate for a distraction.
You're likely to find that rather than being lonely, you'll end up without a minute to yourself. "People do speak to you more if you are alone, I seemed to meet another group of people every time I moved on," recalls Dave, who travelled South America alone. "I think I only ate dinner alone four or five times in two months. There were times when I wanted to just get some reading done and couldn't because there were too many people to talk to!"
Alexis, 24, travelled solo in Australia and Southeast Asia and had a similar experience. "If I sat down to read, within 10 minutes, if not less, somebody would join me and conversations would just start up. There were so many different nationalities that it could be really interesting. I used my instincts to judge whether I wanted to stay talking to that person or not, if not I would make my excuses and leave."
So if you don't have a permanent travel companion, you'll have the freedom to go wherever you please and the impetus to talk to more new people - people you might not have considered being mates with in different circumstances. Keep a positive attitude and you'll undoubtedly end up with friends from across the world with whom you've shared some of your most memorable experiences.
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