Study Abroad Smarter in Hotels

Meet interesting, new people at hotels while studying abroad.


I read this piece of advice a long time ago and it has served me quite well in the past so I thought I would share it here:

If you find yourself in a city without anything to do for a night, go to the nicest hotel you can find and post up at the bar. I have done this several times and one of three things seems to always happen.

Before we begin, let me pose one question to you: who do you think is staying in the nicest hotels in the world? __________.

Exactly. Whatever word popped in your head is probably accurate. These are the kind of people you want to meet and speak with. If you read Study Abroad 201 you will find out how to take these interactions to the next level. How to go from a nice story or memory, to an actual contact who can help you with your career upon graduation.

I digress. On with the article…

1. You get wisdom

You’ll find someone older and they’ll tell you one of the most fascinating stories you have ever heard. You should act like a sponge and soak up everything he (or she in some cases) has to say.

They’re more experienced in life, and the wealth of information they have to impart is priceless. I have met veterans, entrepreneurs, and artists as a few examples; all of them with diverse backgrounds. It is refreshing to talk to a person who comes from a completely different field than you. They can open a door to a world you’ve never been to and give you a tour: labs and tests that biologists conduct, the process an architect goes through when designing a new building, or what it takes to write a screenplay. I’ve exchanged book recommendations, emails, websites, and stories with all of the above.

Drink recommendation: Scotch

2. You get family

A couple enjoying their retirement, as an example. Here you can talk about family and happiness, among many other things. This is one of my favorite conversations. It may be obvious, but parents love talking about their children and grandchildren. I was in Buffalo, NY, not too long ago and spoke with a father about his daughter. The topic? She just so happened to be studying abroad in Italy and we were discussing staying in a hostel vs. Airbnb vs. a hotel. We talked about the pros and cons of each:


This was originally drawn on a cocktail napkin. The father wanted his daughter to stay in a hotel for safety, and the daughter wanted to stay at an Airbnb or hostel to save money. Dad was just wary of the safety of anything but a hotel. I assured him that you can vet everything online by reading the ratings and reviews.

My personal recommendation is to stay in a hostel. You can meet more interesting people this way. We’ll talk more about this in future episodes and posts.

My favorite are the couples with big families. You listen to them tell you about their children and it is almost a routine; as if they’ve given the speech thousands of times before. They are always happy to help wherever they can. And if you are fortunate enough to be interested in something that they or their children are involved in, you may be able to get some kind of introduction.

Always exchange contact information and follow up with a polite email the next day in the afternoon referencing something about your discussion from the previous night. Most people don’t do this because they are either afraid or embarrassed. You won’t get a response every time, but all it takes is one reply to change your life.

Drink recommendation: Wine

3. You get the unexpected

That’s right, sometimes you just don’t know what you’ll get. And that is the beauty of a hotel bar. No one really knows what to expect. When people are traveling they have two things in common: First, they’re looking for a story they can tell their friends when they return. Second, they’re going to be more open to starting conversations with complete strangers.

I was in Scottsdale, AZ, not too long ago and there were was a group of executives who actually invited me to a dance. The show was spectacular, and they even paid for the Ubers to and from the performance.


One of the above three interactions will happen almost every time you go to a nice hotel bar. Keep in mind that it is not a bad idea to go on a week night. Business travel is common and most of them are home on the weekends. About 2/3 of students who study abroad are female, so if safety is your concern, just bring a friend or two.

Keep reading if you’re an introvert

I realize a lot of what I just wrote seems impossible to you the same way passing a math test without studying and going to a tutor was for me. Here are some tips on how to start a conversation while at a hotel bar in a foreign country.

1. Go to the bar and order a drink. Don’t get nervous if you’re the only one there. More people will come, I guarantee it. If you don’t have anyone to talk to right away just start playing a game on your phone. When someone comes in, they’ll think you were texting your friends.

2. When someone sits next to you wait a little while to see if they’ll initiate the conversation, if nothing happens simply say “so where are you from?” or “so what are you doing here?”

3. Believe it or not it is mostly downhill from here. As soon as it is your turn to tell what you’re doing there just say you’re studying abroad. This will automatically make you more interesting than they are. You’re still in college, they’re old and often reminisce on the good old days. This is exactly where you are in your life right now. They’re going to be curious.

4. From there, just keep the conversation going and approach it with an open mind. Remember, you’re in a bar so try keep pace with how much they’re drinking while still being articulate in your speech. “To be interesting you have to be interested.” — Dale Carnegie.

Have an open mind, and most importantly, have fun! Some of the most interesting people I met on my trips wouldn’t be considered to have ‘the gift of gab.’ But I have had some of the most lucent of conversations with these folks.

It’s not who you know, it’s where you go.

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Published: May 3, 2018