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Updated post: 16/06/19 | June 2019
Why is important to meet people while travelling alone? After all, we know that solo travel alone is liberating and has the power to transform your life. But after a while you can get a little tired of your own company, are fed up of eating alone and long to have someone to share experiences with. Loneliness can then rear its ugly head.
Meeting other people, be they fellow travellers or locals, means that you do not have to be alone all the time. But it goes deeper than that. The connections you make when travelling have the potential to change the way you view the world and lasting friendships can arise from these chance encounters.
Paradoxically, solo travel is one of the easiest ways to make friends. But how do you make friends as a solo traveller? To help you along the way, I share my 21 top tips to meet people while travelling alone.
HOW TO APPROACH PEOPLE AS A SOLO TRAVELLER
1. Be open and friendly
One of the joys of travelling is that you will come across people from all walks of life and from all corners of the globe. Be open to these encounters and reach out to these people.
Just because that person striking up a conversation with you is 20 years your senior, this doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to find common ground. Even after nearly three decades of travelling alone, people still have the capacity to surprise me, mostly in a good way. Everyone has a story; just give them a chance to share it.
I recognise that for some of you, talking to strangers may not be easy. But let me tell you that I am an introvert and if I can manage it so can you. An easy starter is to smile and chat about the weather (how very British!).
Lisa, a good friend and fellow solo-traveller, shared this piece of advice and an anecdote:
A good conversation opener is to pay someone a compliment…. I love your hat/ scarf / colour nail polish! Although while on boat trip in Costa Rica someone said to me ‘I love your perfume. What is it?’ It was my insect repellant! We did laugh and chatted all day as a result.
What’s the worst that can happen? The other person may not be receptive, but for all you know they could be having a rough day and may just want to be left alone. Or they might ignore you or turn out to be rude or self-absorbed. In that case, remember it’s not you, it’s them.
You are not invested in that person’s opinion of you, and you can pat yourself on the back that you had the guts to approach them. For the odd occasion when this doesn’t work, there will be many more instances where you will meet like-minded people with whom you can forge a genuine connection.
2. Take an interest in people
Most people love to talk about themselves. It’s true. Although this may sound manipulative, you can use this to your advantage.
Avoid closed questions that simply require a Yes / No response. Instead, throw lots of open questions into the conversation. For example:
- How long are you travelling for?
- What has been your favourite place so far?
- What do you think of the food here?
You get the idea.
3. Offer to Take a Picture
This is a strategy that has worked for me in the past. All solo travellers know that it can be tricky capturing an image of yourself next to that iconic landmark. It’s easy to spot those travelling alone as these are the people struggling to take a selfie.
Help them out and offer to take a picture for them. From there, you might be able to strike up a conversation with them which might lead to you having a travel buddy, even if this is just for a few hours or so.
WHERE TO MEET PEOPLE WHILE TRAVELLING ALONE
4. Stay in hostels
Staying in a hostel is by one of the easiest ways to meet fellow travellers. Most hostels have shared spaces, including bars and communal dining areas, that are ideal for making friends. Additionally, many hostels run events or day trips.
However, I now struggle with this strategy for meeting people while travelling alone. Until my early thirties, a dorm bed in a hostel was my accommodation of choice. Through those stays, I connected with other great solo travellers, some of whom remain friends to this day.
But as I grew older, I eschewed hostels for hotels. I craved more privacy and had grown tired of grimy, shared bathrooms and the party atmosphere of some hostels. After a busy day out exploring I just wanted a quiet, comfortable bed for the night and my own bathroom.
However, as private rooms are now the norm for hostels, this can offer the best of both worlds, combining privacy with the opportunity to meet people.
If you are thinking of staying in a hostel make sure that you do your homework first. Based on real travellers’ reviews, Hostelworld rates hostels across the globe on location, staff and cleanliness. Hostels.com provides similar information but also considers atmosphere, security, facilities and value for money as additional criteria.
5. Stay with a local host
Although hostels are great places to meet people while travelling alone, they don’t provide many opportunities to mix with locals. One way to gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of your destination is to stay with a local host.
When I visited Lebanon in 2009, I stayed with Mirna, a local host. Through chats on the sofa of her beautifully restored apartment in downtown Beirut, I learnt more about her city, its history and Lebanese culture than I ever could have gleaned from a guidebook. I would not have traded that experience for a stay at The Four Seasons if you had paid me.
Nowadays, Airbnb has a firm grip on the homestay market. Again, do your homework and review the description of the property and reviews of the host before committing.
7. Meet people on public transport
As solo travellers we all need to get from A to B and trains, buses and planes are great places to meet people.
In 2009 I shared a compartment on a sleeper train from Bangkok to Chang Mai with a Russian ballerina with whom I performed a temple-hopping pas de deux on arrival. More recently, I shared a table for the on the Glacier Express with a delightful trio: a South Korean couple and a Swiss lady. The eight-hour journey flew by as we chatted and exchanged stories.
However, you don’t necessarily need to seek physical locations to meet others. The virtual world is another place to meet fellow travellers and locals alike.
8. Use social media to meet people while travelling alone
Why not use solo travel into an opportunity to turn your virtual friends into real friends? Reach out to those that you follow on Instagram / Twitter / Facebook and who live in the destination that you are travelling to. Or if you spot someone else heading to the same place at the same time think about trying to hook up with them.
If you are feeling particularly brave, you can cold call people. Search a place by its hashtag and reach out to other travellers posting from there
9. Use your Facebook account
For me, one of the best things about Facebook is that it allows me to keep in loose contact with people I have met whilst travelling with a minimum of effort. If you are heading to that person’s hometown it is easy to reach out to them with a view to getting together.
Similar to other social media channels, posting an update to let others know what you are up to might result in a response from another traveller to that place. However, your privacy settings will need to accommodate this.
Facebook groups are another way to meet locals with similar interests. For example, a search for Facebook groups for foodies in London generated close on 100 results.
10. Find travelling companions using dedicated apps
The growing market for apps dedicated to meeting fellow travellers is a sign of our connected times.
Backpackr – a bit like Tinder for those travelling alone. Browse the profiles of other solo travellers and message those you would like to meet. It also has a ‘common room’ in which to post those burning travel questions.
A great feature for solo female travellers is that it allows you to configure your settings so that only other female travellers can contact you. Maybe not so much like Tinder after all.
Tourlina – Going one step further, Tourlina is an app solely for female travellers. Plug in your dates and destination it will search for other women who are travelling alone. You can also specify the age of your potential travel buddy in your profile settings.
HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS THROUGH ACTIVITIES
11. Take a small group tour
When you are travelling alone, don’t feel that you have to do everything independently. A small group tour can be convenient, time efficient and provides you with ready-made travelling companions for the duration.
I have been on a dozen or so small group tours over the last 14 years and have formed some lasting friendships with other travellers on these trips.
Of course, the downside is that it is a complete lottery who your fellow travellers will be. Group travel requires tolerance, and when you travel with a group there may be someone who you wouldn’t choose to spend time with under different circumstances. Just make sure that pain in the neck isn’t you!
12. Go on a day tour
But you don’t have to take a lengthy group tour to meet people while travelling alone. Instead, why not sign up for a day tour? Most cities will offer a walking tour, which may be free and will only last two or three hours at most. During a lull in the guide’s commentary, chat to the person next to you.
When I visited Syria in 2007 as a solo traveller, I hooked up with Agwa on a day trip to Krak des Chevaliers out of Aleppo.
13. Indulge in your favourite activity with others
Perhaps you are an avid photographer or a keen walker? Then why not indulge your passion whilst travelling and meet people at the same time?
Meetup is an online tool listing events that cater to a vast range of interests. Type in your interest in the search engine and pick your event.
14. Meet other travellers by taking a class
Instead of indulging your passion, why not learn a new skill? And that’s even better if it is something related to that region. Channel your inner Riverdancer and learn how to jig. Create the perfect ragù sauce in Tuscany. Or fashion the finest spring roll in Vietnam.
It’s a win-win situation. You get to try something different and will meet fellow travellers.
15. Go on a pub crawl /night event
If I’m honest, this is probably no longer for me and is a tip aimed at younger solo travellers. But if you are up for it, organised pub crawls are on offer in many cities. In my home city of London, where pub culture is ingrained, there is a myriad of opportunities to get well and truly bladdered over the course of an evening.
Alcohol is a highly effective social lubricant, loosening the shyest of tongues. Just drink responsibly, especially you solo female travellers out there. It’s sad to say that women travelling alone have to be particularly mindful of their personal safety.
A good night out doesn’t necessarily need to involve boozing into oblivion. Like many travellers to Cuba, I attended a riotously good salsa evening in Trinidad which was extremely friendly.
Although volunteering has become a bit of an industry in the last decade, it is a good way to give something back to society or to support a cause that you are passionate about. You will meet locals as well as fellow travellers and through shared interests. Due to the longer duration of time spent together, these contacts may transform into lasting friendships. Also, as you are likely to be working in a local community, it will feel like a more authentic travel experience.
Some years ago, I volunteered on two kibbutzim in Israel over six months. Although this did not result in lasting friendships, I went travelling with my fellow travellers during our breaks. But more importantly for me, in addition to gaining a broad perspective on a troubled country, overcoming the challenges associated with that experience helped form who I am today.
HAVE A ‘TOOLKIT’ TO HELP YOU MEET PEOPLE WHILE TRAVELLING ALONE
17. Carry photos from home
With most of our lives now stored on our mobile phones, this is so easy to do. Sharing photos of home and family is a fantastic way to engage with people you meet travelling. Over the years, I have found this to be great in making a connection. Just don’t bore the pants off them!
18. Pack a deck of cards
I have found card games to be a great way to make friends when travelling alone. On a group tour of Jordan in 2005, we spent most evenings engaged in mildly competitive card games. In a Jerusalem hostel, I learnt how to play poker very badly (I don’t really have a poker face!).
Card games are great for long train journeys and can transcend language barriers. And if you are alone there’s always Solitaire.
19. Have some business cards handy
Not strictly essential but very useful if you decide to share your contact details with other travellers that you meet.
20. Carry pen and paper at all times
Failing having a business card handy, you can always scribble your details on a piece of paper. Where there are language barriers, expressing yourself through writing can often work wonders.
21. Learn some of the local lingo
I am lucky in that I am a native English speaker and English is relatively widely spoken throughout the world. But I am not so arrogant to assume that everyone I come across whilst travelling will speak English.
Whilst is usually possible to get by with English and occasional, creative sign language – cue, my chicken impression in a restaurant in Hangzhou! – learning even just the basics in the host language can go a long way. In my experience, people in most places appreciate you making the effort. And if you can sustain a basic conversation in this language, it allows you to connect with people outside the circle of English-speaking travellers.
I am a huge fan of the Duolingo app. This offers 33 language courses for English speakers from Korean to Klingon. Yes … really! It’s fun and it’s free.
Hostelworld has launched a translator called Speak the World on its app. Boasting Google Cloud translation capabilities, this translates up to 43 languages in real-time. Also free.
I hope that these tips will help you meet people while travelling alone as much as they have helped me. Just because you are a solo traveller, this doesn’t mean you have to be alone.
One of the greatest things about travelling alone is that you can be completely flexible and you have just yourself to please. Having said that, it is very easy to get stuck on the tourist trail, jumping from one prescribed attraction to another.
Inevitably, you will meet people who might suggest doing something that doesn’t feature in your guidebook and that isn’t on your radar. As long as it is safe to do so, and if you connect with that person, why not join them?
The first time I visited Australia, my friend Fi and I met this English guy in the outback. He invited us to an Australia Day party being thrown by some well-to-do friends in their harbour-side home in Sydney. We were due to fly to New Zealand that day but changed our plans, went to the party and had one of the most memorable travel days ever.
Often great things can happen if you throw caution to the wind. But always remember that your personal safety is paramount. I recognise the contradiction here. I have just given you 21 ways to meet people while travelling alone, and many of these involve putting yourself out there and being more open with strangers. However, keeping safe trumps all of these tips put together.
Most people who you meet will be decent and would not harm a hair on your head. But equally, there will be a few individuals whose motives may not be so pure. Trust your gut. If someone feels off, walk away and don’t feel bad about doing so. When you are arranging to meet with someone you don’t know well, make sure that this is during daylight hours.
If you want to know more about keeping safe while travelling, check out this post.
Happy solo travelling!