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‘Don’t be shy, just say hi’: Meld meets the Social Traveler

Iona Salter

Fri Sep 02 2011


HIS message is simple: be social.

Online, he’s known as the Social Traveler, using sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ to get tips and advice for his round-the-world trip.

Offline, he’s better known as Bjorn Troch, a Belgian social media consultant who swapped the desk job for a backpack a year and a half ago, and hasn’t looked back since.

Inside that pack you won’t find a single guidebook. No Frommers littered with post-it markers, no Lonely Planet graffitied with the email addresses of friends he has met on the road. Instead, he gets where he needs to go using the tools of his trade – a laptop and a mobile phone.

Through his social networks, Troch gets advice on where to go, what to do and who to meet. He gets put in touch with friends of friends, gets offered places to stay, and even gets the odd dare, from the serious (hitchhiking his way around New Zealand) to the silly (eating bugs in Laos, getting a nipple pierced in Newcastle).

Troch says he has two rules that he tries to follow when he travels.

“Firstly, (my experiences) should teach me a little bit more about myself,” he says, “and the other one is, I should learn from the culture of a region or a country”.

Troch’s trip began in Spain, where he hiked the 900km Camino de Santiago, and has since taken him through Morocco, Eastern Europe, Dubai, Sri Lanka, India, South East Asia, New Zealand and now Australia.

Next it’s up through Eastern Asia, across to Canada and the US, before heading down through Latin America and eventually completing his global loop by heading home.

Troch aims to do what every backpacker talks about but rarely achieves – experiencing a place like a local. He says a lot of his stereotypes of countries have been broken down that way – lo and behold, Australians aren’t all laid back!

So too, he says, should we break down our pigeonholing of people.

“I really want to insist that people shouldn’t think if they’re a student that they can only talk to students, or if they’re a CEO they can only talk to CEOs, just break through the barriers, kill the stereotypes,” he says.

“My message that I try to get across now, to people, I put it in a little phrase: ‘don’t be shy, just say hi’. Be social… most people today are just in their own bubble.”

But Troch says the online world can be its own bubble.

“We are very social online, it’s easy to ‘poke’ and ‘like’ and all that. But I think we should have that offline more.

“Of course you have to bring it to offline or to real life to reinforce it, to get a real, valuable friendship or connection with somebody.”

His parents, he says, are people he maintains a deep connection with while away. They video-chat regularly on Skype, and Troch says this creates dedicated time they rarely had at home, for sitting down and sharing thoughts and emotions.

“I’ve never been so close with my parents even though I’m far away,” he says.

The “tyranny of distance”, it seems, is a thing of the past.

Hi Melbourne, Be Social is an event being hosted by The Social Traveler at 1000 Pound Bend, 361 Little Lonsdale St, Melbourne, 7 to 11pm, Friday September 2. It’s a chance to meet new people, or as the Social Traveler puts it, “it’s like traveling, but at home”.

Have you got a suggestion for something the Social Traveler should do in your home country? Someone to meet? Or perhaps a dare? Hit him up on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ with your ideas, or visit The Social Traveler for more information.