A Few Common Phrases to Avoid in Hostels

| May 24, 2010 | 12 Comments
backpackingquestions A Few Common Phrases to Avoid in Hostels

We know this article comes off a little cynical and we know we’re being a bit—well, smarmy. But these questions tend to irk us after a while!

Without fail—as soon as you check into a guesthouse or hostel—out comes the perennial backpacker conversation, ie “where ya from?”—and out goes any notion of independent travel. A backpacker’s decisions on where to go, what to see and what to are influenced by social interactions to a much greater extent than other forms of tourism. Indeed, this is because backpackers are storytellers. And our conversations —and their relation to adventure, risk and hardship—often present themselves as good opportunities to impress one another.

Of course, we understand the backpacker conversation is a way of finding common ground to build rapport with new people — but we feel that you need not rely on these questions to establish a firmer relationship. Think outside the backpack!

If you prefer to avoid the generic formula for backpacker conversation—we’ll give you a couple of questions that you would do well to avoid!

Don’t say: “Where ya from?”

Why: It’s too formulaic. You can almost hear a sigh of resignation shortly after asking it—it’s the most oft asked question of backpackers. That’s because most travellers believe it to be a magic conversation starter.

Instead: Have a quick look and see if you can get any ideas about their possible interests—a band’s tour shirt is an obvious sign about the kind of music that person likes. Look for other clues in the person’s clothing. Check out your surroundings. Is there anything interesting in the area? Is there some sort of unusual art or architecture nearby? Just anything to avoid the dreaded question — “Where ya from?”. That’s not to say you won’t eventually ask it — just don’t break the ice with it. At the very least, you’ll win points for being creative.

Don’t say: “How long are you travelling?”

Why: It’s an invitation to brag. On the road, there is a certain stripe of traveller that you will quickly learn to avoid—it’s the person whose ears perk up when they hear the question: “How long have you been travelling?”. Even if it’s not addressed to them, they’ll swoop in, corner you and begin to enumerate the countries to which they’ve backpacked. Pretty soon you’ll realize that the question more often than not is seized upon as an opportunity to brag. No matter how many countries you’ve travelled to, no matter how many two-dollar-a-night YMCAs you’ve stayed at, no matter how exciting your travels have been — you will never win this contest.

Instead: Ask “Where are you off to next?” It’s a good way to avoid the invitation to brag offered by the aforementioned question, and instead makes the destination the subject of discourse. Of course, you’ll still be able deduce where a person’s interests lay when they talk about what they would like to do — but you can avoid the ‘pissing contest’ that usually develops when two backpackers talk about what they have done.


Of course, there’s also “Where have you been?”, “How long are you here?” and “Where are you going?”—these questions generally round out the most-often asked questions of backpackers by backpackers.

That being said, we realize that the deeper and more personal questions tend to come once the obligatory questions have been asked. And, when you meet someone it’s clear that you’re likely to talk about things that are pertinent to whatever situation in which you both find yourself, ie travelling.

So what’s our point? Well, just that it’s okay to think outside of the backpack once in a while. On the tourist trail, we tend to all go to the same places, using our guide book as a kind of divining rod and stick to a script of questions when meeting someone new. And I say we — because we’ve been guilty of doing it on more than one occasion. Why? It’s easy.

So the next time you find yourself on the tourist trail talking to a fellow backpacker, make “Where are you off to next?” your very first question. With answer firmly in mind, thank the person with whom you’re speaking and head off in the opposite direction—refuse the guide book and remain truly independent!

Don’t worry—you won’t get lost. And, if you do, you know which questions to ask to land you firmly back on the tourist trail!

We know this article comes off a little cynical and we know we’re being a bit—well, smarmy. But these questions tend to irk us after a while! Are there any questions that simply drive you nuts when meeting folks on the tourist trail? Let us know!

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About the Author ()

For nearly ten years now, Daniel of Two Go Round-The-World has explored how travel captures our imagination and engages our deepest emotions. One half of the duo that maintains the widely read Two Go Round-The-World blog, Daniel treats his subjects not only as works of art but also as symbols of the cultural and political forces that inspire them. Check him out on Google+.

Comments (12)

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  1. Lilian says:

    Haha…I’m definitely guilty of the first question because it’s definitely the one that comes to mind automatically.. =)

  2. Kathryn says:

    LOL. I agree Lilian. When I see other backpackers I am too curious to not ask ‘Where ya from?’ and ‘How long are you travelling?’. I also have to admit though, that it does annoy me when I am asked that again and again.

  3. Nomadic Matt says:

    I hate the 5 questions…i always ask stuff like whats your name, what do u like about here, whats ur fav color…different questions. i care very little where people went before this or how long they have been traveling for or how old they are.

  4. These questions do start to get very annoying, very fast. The question that hurts me the most is:
    Example: (We are in Cambodia) So have you DONE Angkor Wat? and others along those same lines using DONE, terrible word!

    Great suggestions for other things to say.

    • Abigail says:

      So true! ‘Do’ is a verb that should be banned from the backpacker vocabulary. Especially when it’s applied to a whole country. How could you possibly see and experience a whole country in a short space of time? I lived in the UK for mumble-mumble years and I still wouldn’t claim to have ‘done’ it.

  5. Rich says:

    Hard not to ask those questions , like traveller’s tourettes, they just roll out of your mouth, beyond your control lol

    • Europeeno says:

      Travellers Tourettes – what a wonderful turn of phrase – I shall enjoy using that.

  6. Not cynical – I hate these questions! So annoying. What’s so difficult with starting off with “can I get you a drink?” :)

  7. Great post – so true. We like your suggestions how to start conversations alternatively – we’ll definitely keep them in mind for our further travels ;-)

  8. Jillian says:

    Guilty of the first one, I’m just too curious, but I do usually ask what their favorite thing to do in their home city is, gives me great ideas. :) Add this one to the list: what are you going to do when you go home? :sigh:

  9. Laura says:

    Jullian is right. That question is a conversation killer and a fun spoiler.

  10. Jill says:

    Uh oh, been guilty of both of those, especially the first one :p But I guess it’s nice to find out if there’s some sort of common ground (say if the other person is also from California, or has been to the same places as you have)… it’s easier to keep the conversation going that way.

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