Traveling solo is an empowering experience, and there’s much to be said for experiencing certain places on your own. Personally, I enjoy the solitude and the chance to internally reflect on what I’m seeing and experiencing. But sometimes a girl just wants to have fun with other human beings.
Whether it’s observing the chaos of an Asian megacity like Shanghai or having a private moment with the ruins at Machu Picchu, some of the most meaningful experiences I’ve had while traveling have been by myself. But there are also times where I just want to interact with other people. Meeting fellow travelers while on the road can be fantastic; you’re meeting individuals from all over the place, bonding over the mutual experience of being a stranger in perhaps a strange land, and maybe even exchanging notes.
Admittedly, it can be a little intimidating to walk up to a group of strangers and start a conversation, but think of it this way: You have almost nothing to lose. If you approach someone and flame out, or the interaction gets awkward, so what? You may never speak to these people again. But you also might make a friend for life—I still keep in touch with folks I’ve met on my adventures.
Here are some basic things that can make it a little easier to muster up the courage to reach out.
This is my number one, tried-and-true recommendation. Hostels are gathering places for budget and solo travelers all over the world, and most hostels have a naturally social vibe (chalk it up to communal sleeping and bathing spaces). A lot of people are hesitant to stay in hostels; they associate them with less-than-amazing conditions and/or hordes of young partiers. But neither is necessarily true. But I’ve stayed in hostels that are significantly nicer than boutique hotels (a growing trend). If you’re not one for a shared dorm room, most hostels have single or double rooms you can rent for a slightly higher fee, but usually it’s still less expensive than a hotel. As for being “too old,” there’s no such thing. Many hostels, especially those in Asia and South America, cater to people of all ages. I’ve run into recent retirees staying in hostels just because they’re looking to connect with other travelers.
If you want to make new friends, find a hostel that looks like it has a fun atmosphere (it helps to read online reviews in advance to find the right kind of place) and preferably a bar—grab a seat and stick around for a bit. If it’s the early evening when people are coming back from a day of sightseeing, it won’t be long before someone sits down next to you. It’s easy to say hi to someone when they’re a couple of feet from you and you’ve both got a drink in hand.
I love wandering and experiencing places without tourists. That’s one of the best parts of traveling, discovering those spots that aren’t on everyone’s to-do list. But when you’re traveling solo and want to make friends, the beaten path is where you’re going to find people. If you’re headed to one of the more popular destinations, like Europe, Southeast Asia, Central or South America, or Australia, grab a Lonely Planet. No, it won’t lead you to hidden gems, but it will tell you where all the other travelers are—everyone has the same guidebook and most are going to the same places. There’s no shame in going to a bar or a restaurant that’s listed in the guide if you’re looking to meet people. Chances are, there will be other solo travelers looking for the exact same thing.
“Gah, tours!” you may say. “I hate tours!” I used to be right there with you. Lots of loud people and lots of slow walking—no thanks. But walking tours provide an easy environment in which to strike up a conversation with the person standing next to you (also, they can be really interesting). The same goes double for pub crawls, which attract both large groups and solo travelers. Pub crawling has the added benefit of alcohol; if you’re shy like me, some liquid courage can make socializing with strangers easier.
I always enjoy making friends who are actually from the area I’m visiting. Depending on where you are, it might be hard to meet someone who speaks your language or wants to hang out with you, but often you’ll see that locals will respond quite positively to your efforts. I try to strike up conversations with hostel employees, bartenders, or people sitting in a cafe with me. Many are curious about foreigners and wouldn’t mind chatting at all; you might even find them doling out recommendations about their favorite local haunts. It takes some guts to strike up a conversation with someone who’s not wandering around like you are, but the rewards of doing so make it worth the risk. Again, you’re just passing through, you’ve got nothing to lose.
When you’ve actually met some people that are potentially cool, where do you begin? Or how do you even make first contact with someone? Keep it simple.
- Where are you from?
- Where have you been on this trip?
- Where are you going next?
I know these are really obvious questions, but they’re a good way to gauge whether or not people are going to be worth your time. You’ll meet some strange folks on the road; a vaguely pleasant and benign conversation can help you identify the ones who are and aren’t your cup of tea. These three questions are also impersonal enough to keep anyone from getting uncomfortable, and travelers always love talking about their travels. (Be warned: I once skipped this conversation and ended up trying to explain to someone that President Obama did not intentionally cause the Ebola outbreak. I eventually gave up.)
If my advice seems straightforward, that’s because it is. Travelers are a friendly and open-minded bunch and finding friends on the road isn’t usually difficult. Even when you travel solo, you’re only as alone as you choose to be. So muster up some courage and reach out. And when in doubt, just find a pub crawl.
Image via Shutterstock.
Lily Seglin is a twenty-something with a love of solo travel and a bad case of wanderlust. In June, she will be departing for her next adventure in Swaziland with the Peace Corps. Find more from her about previous travels as well as upcoming escapades at her blog, rootlesslily.wordpress.com, or on Instagram: @lseglin.
Flygirl is Jezebel’s travel blog dedicated to adventures big and small, tips and tricks for navigation, and exploring the world at large. Have a story or an idea? We’re always taking submissions; email us with “Flygirl” AND your topic in the subject line. No pitches in the comments, please.