Is the Big Lap really the ultimate friend zone?

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Grey nomads make friends on the open road
Is making friends as easy as it looks?

The Happy Hour tradition is one which is synonymous with the grey nomad lifestyle but – unless you are travelling with friends – it’s a non-starter until you actually meet people in the campsite in the first place.

While many caravanners and motorhomers talk about their endless stream of new friends, others feel they are missing out. “I imagined being just about swarmed by like-minded fellow travellers as soon as we pulled up,” said Dom G.  “The reality was rather different and even though we wave, smile and shout cheery greetings whenever we can, we spend most evenings alone.”

Of course, all grey nomads are different. Some are naturally extrovert and are eager to make friends with everyone, while others are more cautious. And it’s not just a matter of talking to anyone. While all grey nomads naturally have an adventurous spirit and a love of the open road in common, that is sometimes all they have.

Some people are interested in carburettors and some are interested in coq au vin, some like to tell risqué jokes and others like to read Shakespeare plays. For grey nomads who have spent decades interacting with thousands of colleagues and aquaintances, a casual meeting at a van park or campsite shouldn’t be enough to turn their knees to jelly.

But constantly meeting people from different backgrounds and different places does present a different sort of challenge.

“At first I thought people could see we were just novices and that I didn’t know anything about engines or generators and were not worthy of their time,” said Dom G. “And then I thought they might think we had a rubbish rig or had packed badly … and then I realised they could probably just tell I was super anxious!”

So, how do travellers assess the people they camp next to, and how do they make a good impression on new people? Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy has been studying first impressions for more than 15 years. In her new book, ‘Presence’, Professor Cuddy says that people meeting others for the first time soon decide whether they can trust that person, and whether they can respect that person.

Psychologists refer to these dimensions as warmth and competence, and ideally you want to be seen as having both. However, warmth is the most important. In other words, don’t start showing off how much you know about solar panels and inverters until you have been through the social niceties with your new campsite companions.

“A warm, trustworthy person who is also strong elicits admiration,” said Professor Cuddy. “But only after you’ve established trust does your strength become a gift rather than a threat.”

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