Even if you prefer to travel solo, you want company sometimes. Meeting new people and making friends when you travel makes the trip more fun – even for introverted writers like me, who love being alone! But how do you make friends when you’re in a new place?
“The world is kinder than we think, if we only give it a chance,” says Cassie De Pecol, the first woman on record to travel every country in the world. Isn’t that a beautiful sentiment? I love it, and agree wholeheartedly. Sometimes Cassie traveled alone, other times with friends or family members. In her Solo Travel Tips blog post she offers a few tips for women traveling alone. I included two of her suggestions for meeting people in my tips below.
A reader from India asked for tips on how to make friends while traveling solo here in Vancouver, Canada. “Thank you for these tips, I appreciate it,” says Priya on Are You Traveling Alone and Feeling Homesick? “I am from India (Mumbai) and traveling through Canada. I am in Vancouver right now which is probably how I found your Traveling in Faith blog. I am searching for tips for women alone in their travels. My problem is the only way I overcome homesickness is to meet people. Vancouver is not the easiest for meeting people. How do you make friends when you are traveling alone and don’t feel confident about your English? Namaste, Priya.”
If you have any tips for Priya, please share below! How do you meet people and make friends when you’re traveling? I have a feeling my tips for meeting people on the road won’t include every possibility.
How Do You Make Friends? 7 Tips for Solo Female Travelers
I enjoy traveling with my husband, but there’s something about traveling alone that perks me up in a special sorta way. I love the freedom of being able to wander where I want when I want, and to stay in whatever quirky little hostel attracts my attention. I don’t mind eating alone at restaurants, and I feel at home in new cities.
Not everyone likes to travel alone, though. One of my friends loves to explore the remote trails and mountains of North Vancouver alone, but she doesn’t like traveling to cities like Montreal or New York by herself. I’m the opposite: I’d much rather be alone in a city than on a mountain in the Rockies.
Speaking of mountains and cities…there are definitely more opportunities for making friends in urban settings than remote wilderness trails. So if you’re looking for ways to meet people while traveling alone, you might find it helpful to take a trip to the nearest, busiest intersection.
1. Stay in youth hostels
My husband and I have stayed in several youth hostels (which were once just for young adults). I love staying in hostels – especially in Europe – because they’re much more friendly and open than hotels. There’s usually a kitchen, shared dining area, lobby with books – every hostel is different but one thing is the same: it’s easy to make conversation with your fellow travelers because they expect to meet new people.
I didn’t stay in a hostel in Nepal, and I wouldn’t stay in hostels in India either (I was supposed to fly to Varanasi from Kathmandu, but didn’t make it. So I wrote What Happens When the Airline Won’t Let You Board the Plane?).
2. Be the first to make conversation
The best way to meet people when you’re traveling alone is to speak up and talk to them. Some places are much easier than others! An impersonal hotel lobby, for instance, seems to discourage conversation. In a hostel, on the other hand, you might never be the first to make conversation because someone always beats you to it! Hostels are literally designed to bring travelers together, which is why it’s one of my best ways to meet people when I’m on a solo journey.
Making small talk is an art, and can be difficult for shy, quiet people (or introverted writers like me). Why? Because striking up a conversation leaves us vulnerable. What if we’re rejected, ignored, or even scorned? Ouch. It feels much easier and safer to close ourselves off rather than take a risk and talk to a fellow traveler – especially when we’re alone. Being alone makes us feel even more vulnerable. But the best way to meet people when you’re traveling solo is to be the first person to say something. What do you talk about? Anything! The easiest thing is to talk about something right in front of you, even if it’s just a salt shaker.
3. Avoid bars and parties when you’re a female solo traveler
“Especially when traveling alone, always be extra aware of your surroundings and what sort of situations you get yourself into,” says Cassie, a solo travel expert. “I personally choose not to go out to bars or parties when I travel alone. First, it’s not really of interest to me anyways. Secondly, it just impairs my judgement, something I don’t need when I need to be vigilant of my surroundings. Secondly, make sure to educate yourself on the culture you’re about to get yourself into. Do you need to cover up more or less? Are there certain places you should/shouldn’t go?
Here are my favorite places to meet people when I’m traveling alone:
- Walking tours of cities (I loved the Street Art Tour in New York City, and the walking tour of Hong Kong Island)
- The public library (often beautifully constructed and filled with interesting local people)
- Community centers (they might have drop-in talks, exercise classes, public lectures or presentations)
- Cooking classes, art exhibits, street performances
- Train stations, bus depots, airport lounges
- On the street – I often start conversations with other solo travelers, especially if they look lost or confused. I found the MapsMe app this way! Except I was the lost and confused one; I asked a couple how they were navigating a street in Hanoi so easily.
- Christian churches, Muslim mosques, Jewish synagogues, Buddhist temples – not as a tourist, but as a participant. I went to a Baptist church in Pretoria, South Africa and ended up at a fellow believer’s house for lunch!
Tuning into your instincts is the best way to meet new friends and traveling companions. For example, I once wandered down a quiet lane in Pokhara, Nepal. I had no idea why I was there; the lane was quiet, most of the shops closed. I came across a Tibetan tour company and found myself signing up for a tour for the very next day! On that tour, I met a lovely pair of travelers from Wales. I didn’t deliberately set out to meet new people – and I was perfectly happy traveling solo in Nepal – but I trusted my instincts by going down that lane.
4. Connect to travelers’ groups and forums online (not my favorite way to meet people)
You found me and my Travel in Faith blog by searching the internet, right? Or maybe you clicked on a Pinterest image or saw my Facebook profile. It makes sense; I’m online and so are you :-) It’s good to use the internet to find ways to meet new people when you’re traveling alone. But it’s not so good to stay online when you should be out walking around!
Online ways to meet people on your journey:
- MeetUp groups
- Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc travel groups – especially ones for female solo tourists
- Travel blogs, websites, and discussion forums
- The city’s volunteer opportunities websites (VolunteerVancouver, for example, has short-term and immediate volunteer positions. Some aren’t suitable for solo travelers – but searching for opportunities can give you ideas for events and activities to attend)
- Craig’s List for events, activities, and volunteer possibilities
The problem with connecting with people online is that you’re haven’t solved the problem of making friends or meeting traveling companions in person. Unless your MeetUp or Facebook group has a scheduled event, you won’t meet anyone new. And if there is a planned activity, it has to be when you’re still in that city! Then you have to find the location and get back to your hotel before dark. Online ways to meet people when you’re traveling solo are fine, but not my preferred choice. What do you think?
5. Go to health and wellness studios, fitness centers, spas
I went to Healing Hands Massage in Kathmandu, and got a massage from a blind woman. It was a good massage – and I met another solo female traveler in the waiting room. We already had lots in common: we liked massages, were curious what it’s like to get a massage from blind massage therapists, and were still from trekking in Nepal. We didn’t become traveling companions, but that particular place – a health and wellness therapy center – was a great place to meet other tourists.
When you’re traveling, it’s crucial to stay healthy physically, emotionally and spiritually. Here’s the problem I struggle with when I’m on the road: The more time I spend alone, the harder it is to reconnect with people. When I traveled solo to Nepal, Dubai and Hong Kong, I noticed that my social and people skills started deteriorating. The less time I spent with people, the less time I wanted to spend with people – even fellow travelers. And that is an unhealthy place to be – even for an introverted travel blogger.
Your health and wellness is why it’s so important to learn how to make friends when you travel alone.
6. Stay in bed and breakfasts, couch surf, & other social-oriented accommodations
“When traveling alone in my early twenties, I’d Couchsurf my way around the world, staying in strangers houses for free from Peru to America to Egypt,” says our solo female travel expert Cassie. “Food brings people together, and if you can go to the grocery store and pick up a few things to then show them your gratefulness through whipping up a local dish from your country, it’ll go a long way. Even staying in Airbnb’s, I find that if I’m sharing a house with people, I could certainly keep to myself, but why do so when traveling? If they’re open to it, connect with them and cook them up a dish from your country!”
If you’re an extrovert, you’ll enjoy the ready-made companionship of sharing an apartment or house with other travelers. If you’re an introvert like me, you may find yourself longing for a quiet hotel room so you can rest in peace. I like spending time with other travelers when I’m in different cities, but I treasure my alone time. What do you prefer? If you don’t know how to make friends in a community accommodation when you’re traveling solo because you’ve never couch surfed or stayed a a BnB, it’s time to step out in faith. Try it.
I met three British travel writers as we exited the historic Hotel Shanker in Kathmandu at the same time. “Where are we going for supper?” the guy in the blue jacket asked me. “I don’t know — I was hoping you’d tell me!” And we found a restaurant. Can you believe those Brits ordered eggs and chips in Nepal? To be honest, I didn’t eat Nepalese food, either. I ate Indian curry.
7. Ride share – Uber and Lyft can be great ways to meet people
When I was 18, I hitchhiked through Europe by myself. Ride sharing programs didn’t exist. Traveling through Europe alone was my first experience as a solo female traveler – and hitchhiking was a fantastic way to meet both fellow tourists and locals who were happy to give me a ride. I even had dinner with a lovely young man called Patrick in France. Ooo la la!
I’ve also taken Uber in Texas, Tennessee, and Minnesota. I had good conversations with the drivers, and one even invited me to a function he was attending that night. See how easy it can be to make new friends when you’re traveling solo?
When I traveled Europe alone, I did feel lonely sometimes. I was also nervous about hitchhiking but I never had a single problem (or hitch! Ha ha. No hitches in my hitchhiking experiences :-) ). What helped me overcome fear and homesickness was talking into a digital voice recorder; I recorded my journey by talking to my sister on it throughout the whole trip, and I felt like she was right there beside me! It was awesome. We listened to the tapes when I got back home; it was a great way to re-live my European vacation.
I’m not a big talker these days, but I love to write and journal. If you don’t have a travel journal or aren’t writing about your experiences, it’s not too late! Read 10 Best Travel Journals for Solo Pilgrimages or Group Treks.
“I have gone ahead despite the pounding in the heart that says: Turn back.” – Erica Jong.
Okey doke, fellow traveler, I have reached the last of my seven ways to meet people and make friends when you’re a solo tourist. What have I missed? Your thoughts on finding travel companions — or whatever occurs to you — are welcome below! If you have any tips or tools for travel that transforms you, please do share those. We love tips and tools :-)
Travel in faith, and be transformed.