#261: Small Talk About Travel, Vacations, and Holidays in English

Jan 4, 2023 | English Conversation, Small Talk in English

When you get back into your daily work routine after a holiday season, what are the best small talk questions you can use to reconnect with your colleagues?

Or when your coworker is back from a long weekend getaway, what are the best questions to ask for friendly small talk conversations in English?

Is it polite to ask how was someone’s holiday? Is it a superficial question? Is it okay to be curious about someone’s long weekend and ask about it?

These are questions one of my students recently asked. You might be curious too. 

In this Confident English lesson, you’ll learn how to have successful small talk about travel, vacations, and holidays. 

We’ll review the right small talk questions to ask and what to say if you’re not sure if a question is too personal or not.

Plus I’ll share my top tip to feel confident in small talk conversations.

The Importance of Small Talk

Before we start with the best questions for small talk conversations about vacations and travel, followed by holidays, let’s do a quick review of why small talk is so important.

I know small talk might make you cringe.

If you haven’t viewed my previous lessons on small talk in English, here’s what you need to know. Small talk is a social skill.

With small talk, you avoid moments of uncomfortable silence.

And it’s what leads to a productive conversation.

It’s informal, polite, and often revolves around unimportant things.

 Small talk connects people.

 So is it polite to ask about a coworker’s time away from work during the holidays? Is it okay to be curious and ask about a vacation?

 Absolutely!

Small Talk Questions about Vacations and Travel

Let’s start with common English small-talk questions about vacation and travel.

If you know a coworker will be away on vacation or if the whole company is closing down for a period of time, here are common questions you can ask before the vacation.

  • What plans do you have for the summer/spring/autumn/winter break?
  • What are your upcoming vacation plans? Will you travel or stay closer to home?
  • What are your vacation plans for the year ahead?
  • You mentioned you’ve got a vacation coming up. That’s exciting! Where will you be traveling?

When an acquaintance returns from a vacation or a long weekend getaway, here are the best questions to ask after they return.

  • How was your trip?
  • How did you spend your vacation? Did you travel or stay closer to home?
  • How was your long weekend? Did you get away somewhere? 
  • I remember last week you talked about some travel plans for the long weekend. How was it?

The Right Questions to Ask and How to Avoid Superficial Questions

Before we transition to common questions for English small talk conversations about the holidays, let’s discuss two keys for successful small talk in English.

Number 1: Use Open Questions

Let’s review the previous small talk questions.

They all started with what, where, or how. By starting with a question word, you avoid potential one-word answers. Such as a simple yes or no.

Instead, you are encouraging conversation. And, you’re making it easier to avoid superficial questions.

 That leads me to the second key for successful small talk.

 

Number 2: Show Genuine Interest

The questions I’ve shared so far are starter questions.

Imagine you’re at the beach. You’re thinking about going for a swim. What do you likely do first?

You dip your toes in the water. You test the temperature.

 Starter questions help you do that with conversation. Open starter questions encourage the speaker to share details.

And to show genuine interest, the key is to ask follow-up questions.

 

Imagine this scenario:

You come back from a vacation and I ask, “How was your vacation?”

You respond with, “It was amazing. I swam every day. Enjoyed the sun. Read books. Hiked to watch the sunrise from the top of a mountain. It was exactly what I wanted. I wasn’t ready to come home.”

Then I say, “Cool.” And I walk out of the room.

What would you think?

Yeah – NOT cool! I would appear rude and my question would appear superficial, right?

Instead, to show genuine interest, I would ask follow-up questions.

And because you shared so many details from my open question, it’s easy. I can ask about the details you shared.

For example:

  • That’s amazing. Where did you go?
  • That sounds wonderful. What beach did you visit?
  • Two weeks of reading! That sounds like a dream. What was the best book you read?
  • Wow. Hiking to see the sunrise sounds incredible. Do you have any photos? I’d love to see them.

Small Talk Questions about Holidays

With that in mind, let’s talk about the right questions to ask about the holidays. Then I’ll end with 2 more tips, including what to say if you’re not sure a question is too personal. 

Let me clarify that when I use the word holiday. I mean federal or religious days during the year when government offices and many businesses close.

Americans don’t often use the word holiday for their vacations.

Like questions about travel, we’ll talk about the before and after.

Before the holidays or at the start of the holiday season, you might ask:

  • What are your plans for the holidays?/What are your holiday plans?
  • What do you usually do during the holidays? Will you be traveling?
  • How do you like to spend your time during the holidays?
  • What are you looking forward to during the holidays?
  • How do you usually celebrate the holiday?
  • What is your favorite holiday tradition?

And after:

  • How was your holiday?
  • How was your [Insert Holiday]? For example, How was your New Year?
  • What did you get up to during the holidays?
  • How was your time away? Did you travel for the holidays or stay home?

Of course, like with travel, it’s best to use open questions. And show genuine interest with follow-up questions.

What to Say If You’re Not Sure a Question Is Too Personal

Whether you’re chatting with someone, there may be a question you WANT to ask. But you’re not sure if it is appropriate.

Is it too personal? Would it be offensive?

When you’re not sure, use these phrases to start your questions:

  • If it’s okay, I”d love to ask…
    • Example: If it’s okay, I’d love to ask about your holiday. Where did you go? How was your time with your family?
  • If you don’t mind me asking, how was…
    • Example: If you don’t mind me asking, how was your time with your family over the holidays?

Both of these phrases help your listener to know you’ll be asked a question. It’s like giving a gentle warning and they have a moment to prepare how they may want to answer.

How to Feel Confident in English Small Talk Conversations

For small talk, there’s a simple way for you to feel more confident in the conversation.

Determine the questions you want to ask in advance. And, think about your own answers to those questions. 

What details would YOU share about a recent vacation or your upcoming holiday plans? 

There’s a simple reason this is important. When you ask someone a question, MOST of the time they will answer and then say, “And what about you? How was your time away?”

They will return the question to you.

By deciding the questions you want to ask in advance, you get to control where the conversation goes. And you can prepare your answers.

Do you have a favorite small talk question to ask in English?

What is it?

I’d love to hear your go-to questions. You can share your answer — as well as your questions — with me in the comments below.

~ Annemarie

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