Lifestyle & Culture

Jackie Harding: The art of engaging people and enriching your expat travel adventures

As a frequent traveller I always look left and look right … not only to avoid traffic but to also engage or speak to the people around me. As long as they don’t look like serial killers and most people are quite friendly!


This has served me well over the years. Because of my actions, I have met some interesting people for a brief moment who have unknowingly enriched my life, given me a story to tell and made some boring travel time more bearable.

The three I am going to share are just some examples of the fabulous people you can share a conversation with if you only just open your eyes and remove your earbuds.

First, there are a number  of useful strategies to follow:

  • The first one is to read the person’s body language … if they are turned away from you, or don’t make eye contact, then they really are not open to chatting.
  • Smile!
  • Don’t worry whether they’ll like you … you’ll never meet again, so just enjoy a conversation.
  • Ask where they are from? People who are travelling love to talk about home and you will learn some intimate details of a country you may never have visited.
  • Don’t give away intimate personal details … it’s all about that moment.
  • Don’t engage with a stranger if you feel uncomfortable, this is supposed to be fun.
  • Of course, all the personal safety rules ALWAYS apply.

I have met some great people over the years – for a brief moment in time – and always am glad I turned and said, “Where are you from?”


There was the Italian professor of fashion who I met on the airport express bus into London. I am not at all interested in fashion and here I was chatting not only with an Italian fashion expert  (let’s face it – most Italians fall into that category) but a specialist!

I apologized for my poor outfit immediately and we spent a pleasant hour chatting about politics, family and the distress of leaving a small child for the first time.

Another moment happened in Amsterdam as I ordered some beers with friends at a bar. At the table adjacent to ours were a couple of American ladies, with whom I fell into conversation.

They were both serving their country in the military, based in Germany, and in Amsterdam for the first time.

I shared some tips and places to visit and eat and they joined us for a beer. What was going to be a quick drink became an hour or two of funny conversation with this lovely couple. They were a married couple and I couldn’t help but think how only 20 years before President Clinton had instituted the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy in the US military, beginning the acceptance of gay servicemen and servicewomen.

In 2015 the United States Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was legal throughout the USA. Now here we were chatting to a couple that would have never been able to live their life openly in the military before that time.


My final story is my “pièce de résistance.”

A few years ago I was visiting Paris with my husband. Sadly it was not a romantic break in the “City of Love,” as he was working.

So I decided to take myself on a walking tour.

As I stood in line under my umbrella to register with the tour guide, I turned to the lady next to me to comment on the weather. I asked where she was from and learned she was from Toronto, Canada. “I have a dear friend who lives in Toronto,” was my reply.

As we continued to chat, it transpired she lived in the same neighborhood as my friend: “I won’t embarrass myself by assuming you know each other,” I chortled.

“Wouldn’t it be hilarious if we did,” the woman replied, “What’s her name?” After I told her she stared at me; “Does she have two dogs?” was her response. It turned out they played tennis together!

Out of a city of more than 2 million inhabitants, I had managed to meet someone who knew someone I knew!

We became friends for the afternoon, ate lunch in a little Parisian bistro together and chatted about life. When we said goodbye we knew we would never get in touch or meet again and that was okay. After all, I knew how to find her if I ever wanted to!

Therefore, to enrich your travel experience, remember to look at the person stood or sat next to you and smile.

You never know who may meet!

About the author: Jackie Harding was born in the United Kingdom. As a longtime expat, she’s lived in Boston for 12 years, and in the Netherlands for the past six years.

Trained as a nurse in the U.K., she worked for nine years in the United States for as a special education teacher’s assistant. Since moving to the Netherlands, she has discovered writing and runs the Hub newsletter and writes for the Eindhoven News.

She’s married to British businessman Martin Harding and is the mother of two international adult children.

You can read more of Jackie’s work for Dispatches here.

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