How to Meet People While Traveling Alone
When I tell people that I traveled alone for 7 months the first question I always get is, “weren’t you lonely?” It’s an honest question but it turns out, I was anything but!
One of the perks of solo travel is that you have the opportunity to meet a ton of people. When I came back from my trip I think I had over 150 new facebook friends (I know it’s such a cliché way of measurement but the easiest way to keep in touch with people from all over the world). Interestingly enough, I think that I met more people while traveling alone than if I had been traveling with a friend. I think this stems from the fact that when you are alone it forces you to be more open, whether that’s reaching out to other people if you have questions or need suggestions or just looking more approachable. This was something that was tough for me at first. After spending 9 years in New York I was never a fan striking up conversations with random strangers. But the beauty of traveling is that there is some unspoken culture between fellow long-term travelers that makes this a little less daunting and almost everyone is out-going and open to meeting people.
This is one of the most rewarding things about traveling, you end up meeting and becoming friends with people that you never would’ve even thought to talk to back home. Here are a few of the ways I met people while traveling alone.
This is one of the easiest ways to meet new people because you are forced into a group. These tours could last for a few hours one afternoon to a few weeks. Of course it always seems a little bit unnatural when you first join a tour group and you find yourself awkwardly striking up a conversation with random strangers but know that they feel the exact same way as you. The sooner you introduce yourself and make small talk the more relaxed you’ll feel during your tour. After the initial conversation you’ll find that you have some if not many things in common, if not you wouldn’t be on the same tour!
Meeting people where you are staying is very easy and the most natural way. Of course that all depends on what type of accommodation you are staying in and the place that you are visiting. Southeast Asia is a major destination on the backpacker circuit and many people are traveling alone and looking to meet up with others to do things with.
Hostels are an obvious choice to easily meet fellow travelers. Not only are you sharing sleeping quarters but you are also sharing a kitchen, a dining area and other common areas. In fact you are never alone when you are at a hostel! I have yet to meet someone who is unfriendly at a hostel. I would say that if you are looking to be alone and not talk to strangers a hostel may not be the best place to stay.
Hostels aren’t the only type of lodging where you can meet people. However, some types of accommodations are more conducive to meeting new friends than others. While traveling through Southeast Asia, I would stay at mid-tier hotels costing around $20-$40 bucks a night. These places gave me all the basic amenities that I needed and I found other travelers just like myself (on the road long-term, on a fixed budget but not eating ramen noodles to survive).
Since most hotels offer complimentary breakfasts during set hours this was a time where I could see who was staying there (and trust me everyone wakes up for breakfast whether they are tired or not if it’s free!). I also found that it was easy to meet people in hang-out areas that most guests gravitate to when staying at a hotel. This could be the lobby, outdoor patios, restaurant or the hotel bar.
So you may be asking, “but how do you actually meet these potential friends and end up having a conversation with them?” First of all, look open! If you have a snobby or scowling look on your face or immediately put your headphones in when they start talking amongst themselves you don’t look approachable or like you want to talk anyone. By the way this is a great technique if you truly don’t feel like talking to anyone but anyways I digress…Eventually you’ll end up making eye contact with your neighbors and if they are talking loud enough about something (which they usually are unless they are French) you could smile at something they are saying or nod your head in agreement. This works like a charm. It makes you look more approachable and easy to talk to and you’ll eventually be included in their conversation. From there it’s easy and you’ll find yourself asking the usual questions; “where are you from, how long have you been traveling, what have you seen since you’ve been here, etc” . Soon enough you’ll be making plans to hang with them the following day.
While I’m on the road I am more interested in meeting locals than anything else, which is extremely challenging for a variety of reasons. While I love meeting other tourists, the reason why I go to foreign countries is to experience the true culture and the only way to do that is by befriending a local. This part can be tricky and at times intimidating (especially if you are a woman traveling alone) but it is the most rewarding!
Talking to locals is actually pretty easy because they usually approach you, whether to strike up a conversation, compliment you, sell you something or the most obvious line, “where are you from”? Once they ask where you are from you will see how their demeanor changes. For example, if you are in the Far East and are a westerner they will perk up and smile as soon as they hear this because many believe that western tourists are rich! I’ve had many conversations with locals and have explained, that if I was in fact rich, I would not be in this country staying at hotels for $20 a night and buying dinners for $4. If I was rich, I would probably be on a deserted island that I got to by private jet in a villa equipped with a private concierge, maid and butler!
This initial conversation always leads to them asking what you’ve seen during your stay. When this question comes up I usually answer and then ask if they know of any restaurants, cafes or spots that the locals frequent. They usually recommend a place and sometimes they’ll even offer to take you. If this does come up I try to get as much information about the place before I agree. I ask where it is, if it is easy to find and last but certainly not least how expensive it is. Asking about price is a technique that I use when a local offers to take me somewhere because I want them to know that I am careful about my money and signals to them that you do not intend to be taken advantage of.
Once all of this is established (and it is in walking distance from my hotel), I usually tell them that I will meet them there and pick a time that is early enough that won’t get me home too late. While I’m on my way to meet them I take mental pictures of landmarks, street names, etc so that I can easily find my way back just in case I don’t feel comfortable. If I do end up having a good time, I will still go home fairly early but make plans to hang out with them the following day if they are free. Obviously this is overly precautious but when traveling alone I’d rather be safe than sorry. I am sure that this is different for male travelers but I’m speaking from experience as a solo female traveler.
I’m usually a pretty good reader about people when I first meet them and I’ve had my favorite travel experiences with locals. When it comes down to it always trust your gut!
Another great way to meet people on the road is to reach out to friends that have already traveled to the places that you plan to visit. If they met someone who is still living there ask if they don’t mind reaching out or making a introduction over email to see if they are interested in showing you around. Usually if that person enjoyed spending time with your friend they are always willing to meet up with you and sometimes even host you!
My brother, went to Cambodia 3 years before I did so when I went there he put me in touch with his old tuk-tuk driver. Not only did this driver pick me up at the airport and organize my stay in a hotel but he also invited me and a few others (that I met at my hotel) to his friend’s house for dinner in the country-side.That night we ate a delicious meal and listened to our host sing and play traditional Cambodian music under the stars. This type of experience never would’ve happened if I hadn’t been put in touch with that tuk-tuk driver!
If you are lucky enough for a friend to refer you to a contact that they know, nine times out of ten you will always have a great time.Not only are the hosts flattered that someone thought highly enough to recommend them, they also don’t want to let their friend down. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to show new visitors the best parts of their hometown!
So go ahead, put yourself out there and be open and approachable. I guarantee you’ll have some of the best experiences with memories and friends that will last a lifetime!