How to Meet People When You’re Traveling Solo

by Ekua on October 10, 2011 in d.i.y. travel,listastic,solo travel

I tried to play it cool at the beginning of my first big solo trip, but I was pretty nervous about the whole thing.  While I value my alone time, I can also be a very social person. Going into that trip, I was worried that I wouldn’t meet anyone that I would click with and that I could have a lonely month ahead of me. Once I arrived, however, it wasn’t long until I found myself meeting all kinds of new people and forgetting all about how fearful I was at the beginning of it.

A few months ago, I wrote a post entitled 7 Reasons to Work Up the Nerve to Travel Solo. One of the reasons I offered was “To meet people you would never otherwise meet,” one of the aspects of solo travel I enjoy the most. To me, making great connections when I go abroad on my own now seems like a given, but I remember what it felt like to be unaware of the possibilities you can open yourself up to when you travel solo.

In a series that aims to give people the courage to try solo travel, ideas on ways to ensure that you make friends along the way seemed like natural fit for the second post. Here are my suggestions for making your solo trip a very social trip:

» Stay in hostels.

You are undoubtedly going to meet more people if you stay in communal accommodations. When you’re by yourself, hostels provide you with several other people who are doing the same thing and a set up that makes it easier to connect with those people. I tend to go for smaller hostels rather than larger ones because the atmosphere tends to be more homey and community oriented. You’re likely to meet more people in hostel if you stay in a large room with a lot of bunks, but if you’re not interested in that, quite a few have smaller and single rooms available if you book in advance.

» Travel slowly.

Flitting about from place to place is sometimes necessary, but meeting new people is much easier if you stay in one place for as long as you can. The longer you stay, the more likely locals and expats will want to invest their time in getting to know you because they’ll see that you’re not just passing through. When you establish yourself at wherever you’re sleeping, you’ll begin to feel comfortable and that will lead to easy conversation with other people who are staying there. Traveling slowly also allows for time to do things like taking classes or working on an organic farm which will further enable you to meet new people.

» Become a regular.

When I stay in one city or town for five days or more, I find a spot I like (usually a cafe) and go there regularly. This is a great way to connect with the staff and also to meet locals who stop by daily. I find that eventually (if not immediately), they’ll be curious about you and strike up a conversation with you.

» Network online before you go.

I’ve made some great real life connections through travel blogging. If you read someone’s blog and enjoy it, chances are that the person will make a good tour guide or show you to really cool spots if you end up in their town. Of course, when it comes to meeting up with bloggers, it’s helpful if you have your own online presence so that the other person feels comfortable with meeting up with you.

And of course, there’s Couchsurfing. While I have not been active on it, but I know a lot of frequent solo travelers live by it and regularly use it to stay with and/or meet people wherever they go.

» Be open and bold.

There are often times when the people I deem to be unlikely friends at first glance turn out to be some of the most fascinating individuals once I get to know them. So even if there’s a big age gap, cultural difference or other seemingly huge difference, try breaking out of the boundaries that you inadvertently set for yourself at home. The more open you are, the better your chances will be of meeting people you really connect with.

People may approach you, especially if you’re smiling and look happy to be wherever you are, but sometimes you have to begin the conversation. With fellow travelers, the classic conversation starter is, “Where are you from?” It’s super generic, but it gets a conversation going, especially because frequent travelers love to chat about places.

» Join a short tour.

Joining up with a tour group for a day or a week is a good way to make insta-friends and take a break from making your own arrangements. Tours often get a bad rap because of those gigantic ones that cart you around constantly and never give you enough time to really experience a location. They’re not all like that; there are plenty of them that arrange your transport and accommodations while leaving you free to do what you wish during the day. There are a lot of places that are really easy to travel independently where I wouldn’t bother with a tour, but tours make sense for some destinations and certain experiences that are difficult or impossible to do without one (example: exploring the Amazon Basin in Bolivia). Tours can be hit or miss, but if you’re lucky enough to end up with the right tour group, it can be an extremely rewarding feat.

» Keep in touch.

Add new friends you meet on the road on Facebook or exchange e-mail addresses. Even if you part ways with new travel friends, you have a greater chance of linking up with them again in another city later on your trip if you have a way to contact them. Also, you can end up with great contacts all over the world who you can meet up with on your next solo trip. Maintaining friendships with fellow wanderlusters I’ve met abroad has been one of the most rewarding aspects of travel for me.

» Be patient.

It can take time to gain the confidence required to meet people on the road. Even with following all these tips, you may find yourself hiding out in your room, wondering why you decided to go on your trip alone. But it gets easier with time and soon enough, you’ll find that starting conversations with strangers has become easier and making lifelong friendships with people you didn’t know the previous week feels natural. You will be intrigued by the possibilities.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Naomi October 10, 2011 at 3:43 am

I second so much of this!! A few of my friends are wary of travelling solo because they’re worried about loneliness, but I really believe that the transient nature of travel makes people more outgoing and much easier to meet. On my last trip, I was lying on the beach when another backpacker just walked right up to me and asked if she could sit with me. We spent all morning talking and hanging out….it was that easy!

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Ekua October 11, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Yup… I think people are more open on the road, and being solo both forces you to seek out connections and makes you more approachable. I’ve met so many interesting people on my travels that I’ve spent a couple hours with or a couple weeks with, but before I started traveling solo, I really never could’ve imagined how many amazing people I’d meet while doing so!

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Richard April 6, 2013 at 12:32 am

Hi this has really helped, my first time anywhere myself and first time in a hostel today. Feels really wired sharing a room with people and i feel bad not talking and almost blanking them but I just have no idea what to say. I’m not a very confident person to start with, it’s good to hear I’m not the only person feeling like this. and hopefully it’ll get easier.

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Ekua April 6, 2013 at 2:41 pm

The fact that you’ve taken it upon yourself to travel alone actually shows that you do have confidence! It takes guts to travel solo, so congrats on making it happen. If you’re unfamiliar with traveling solo and hostelling, it may seem awkward to share a room with and start talking to random strangers, but I’m guessing you’ll quickly find out that it’s totally normal. Maybe start off by simply introducing yourself when someone walks in the room and/or asking someone for a recommendation on a place to see or somewhere to eat. Good luck and have fun!

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Richard April 8, 2013 at 5:20 am

Took your advise and did get talking to people, ended up sitting out of the “party night”. Was a bit too full on foyer me at the minute. I’m sure ill get better though.

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Ekua April 10, 2013 at 6:11 pm

Awesome, glad it helped! Enjoy the rest of your trip!

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Monica May 6, 2013 at 8:56 am

Great tips. I especially like your final tip about being patient. It isn’t easy but it does happen eventually but it can be so much harder if you move from place to place every other day.

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