It’s widely known that the best part of travel is sharing memories with other people.
So what do you do if you’re traveling by yourself?
Well, the simple answer is you make friends.
The problem is it’s hard for many people to form friendships when they’re solo and outside their comfort zone.
I’m definitely one of those people who tend to be introverted.
It’s not natural for me to start conversations with strangers.
However, I’ve learned a number of tricks to help me overcome this personality trait and meet a lot of people.
Some of whom will be lifelong friends. (To learn how to find time and money to travel, read my post on how to start a new life.)
In today’s post, I want to give you a number of these tips on how to make friends while traveling solo. Specifically, I’m going to list seventeen discoveries I’ve made while doing eight months of solo travel:
#1- Forget your hang-ups
This is the most important tip I can give. A lot of people travel with a number of hang-ups and ‘reasons why’ they can’t do something. They feel like they’re too old (or young, scared, wealthy, etc.) to try do something. Stuff like, “I could never stay in a hostel because it’s full of party-hearty 18 year-olds.”
Many of the tricks I’m about to discuss might seem geared toward people in their teens and twenties. But I’ve used them to make friends with people ranging from the age of 18 all the way to a sweet old grandmother in her 70’s. Don’t put an age requirement on friendships. You can learn something from almost anyone you encounter.
#2- Regularly stay in a hostel
Without a doubt, hostels are the best resource for meeting people. At first I was a little worried I’d meet a bunch of crazy people (like what’s seen in one of my favorite commercials). The reality is hostels are filled with a mixed age range of travelers. Of course you’ll find the typical young backpacker traveling the world. But you’ll also get a chance to meet families enjoying a budget-minded vacation.
A great secret to hostels is they often offer private rooms if you want some personal space. That way you get the experience of a hotel while enjoying the community aspect of a hostel.
Now, it’s important to do your homework when booking a hostel. I use a combination of sites like Hostels and Hostelworld to research what other people think of a particular location. Most of the time, you’ll get an extremely accurate depiction of what they’re really like.
I’ve only tried Couchsurfing once (while in Ireland). The idea is simple. People throughout the world open their home and offer a free place to stay. Why would someone do this? Well, for many folks it’s a way to broaden their horizons and meet people who share a love of traveling.
It’s not about having a free place to stay. The benefit of couchsurfing is you get to meet a local who can show you around and give a perspective you wouldn’t get on your traditional “tourist experience.”
Couchsurfing isn’t as scary as you might think…even if you’re a woman. I’ve met a number of females who have “couchsurfed” a number of times in a guy’s home and made a lasting friendship. What these women do is only contact someone who has a lot of positive reviews from others who have stayed in their home.
#4- Enjoy your favorite activity
A site like Meetup can be one of your best traveling tools. Here you’ll find a collection of groups interested in a particular sport, hobby or activity. So if you’re into hiking/trekking it’s easy to find local groups who are into this activity. One of the quickest ways to bond with a stranger is to share a hobby you both love.
#5- Learn a new skill
What if you don’t have a hobby that can be shared? Well, a great trick is to try something that’s specific to a region. You could take a language class. Learn how to play Flamenco guitar. Get instructions in traditional Tuscany cooking. Or even put on your “ceilidh dancing” shoes and learn how the Scots cut loose. Not only will you meet fellow travelers with these activities, you’ll also get a chance to experience something different.
To get started, I recommend using your guidebook. Get an idea of what’s unique to the area you’re visiting. Then ask around and see if somebody offers instruction in this skill.
Plus I highly recommend using a resource like Craigslist. Here you’ll find a bunch of local pages of people who offer tutoring and instruction.
#6- Find virtual traveling partners
Not only is the Internet a great place to do research, it’s also useful for meeting people. For instance, on a site like Virtual Tourist, you can post in forums and find traveling buddies. This is great for those who visit an area on their own but still want to share an experience with another person.
#7- Go on a pub crawl
This is one of those tips geared toward younger travelers. A great way to quickly make friends is to go on “pub crawls” offered in most large cities and towns. Usually this involves a traveling to 4 or 5 different bars in a night and making friends over a few pints.
I’m not saying you need to get drunk to have fun. However it’s been my experience that alcohol is one of the world’s best social lubricants. Drink responsibly and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you meet people.
Hostels (and some hotels) are great places to find a pub crawl. Usually you’ll see them advertised as part of the pamphlet collection in the reception area.
Plus if you’re in certain cities, I highly recommend going on the pub crawls offered by the Sandeman’s company. They offer a fun time with the knowledge that you’re being looked after by a sober group of guides.
#8- Take a package tour
When I started my trip in April, I was bit of a travel snob. I felt the only way to experience a country was to do everything on my own.
After four month I changed my mind. During the last month I ditched the do-it-myself attitude and joined a few five-day tours through Scotland and Wales. It was on these tours that I formed some friendships that will last for years to come.
There are a lot of benefits to doing a “package tour,” even if you’re a seasoned backpacker. You’re basically trapped with a group of fellow travelers. So it’s only natural to start conversations and make friends.
#9- Go on a day or walking tour
You don’t have to go on a lengthy tour to make friends. In fact, you could easily get the same thing from a walking tour that lasts only a few hours.
Every tourist area has some form of a walking tour. Sign up and be open to meeting people. All you have to strike up conversations when the tour guide isn’t talking. Most people are open to chatting when there is nothing else to do or look at.
#10- Become a leader
One of the basic principles of human psychology is people are attracted to those who demonstrate the quality of leadership. Instead of waiting for things to happen, become the person who makes it happen.
For instance, let’s say you’re in a hostel on a slow night. Rather than sit around and watch television, recruit a group of people to grab some drinks at a local pub. Or even better, pull out a deck of cards and suggest a game. Which brings us to…
#11- Bring a deck of cards
A deck of playing cards is another incredible tool for making friends. It’s a way to be competitive while engaging in friendly banter with someone you’ve just met.
For instance, last summer my ex-girlfriend and I met a group of Saudi-Arabians during a long train ride through Italy. All it took was a suggestion to teach them the game of Bullshit. They didn’t know the rules at first. But after five minutes all you could hear throughout the train-car was the sounds of people screaming, “Bullshit!”
#12- Ask people questions
Another great way to meet people is to not be afraid to look stupid. While you’re sightseeing you can strike up a conversation by asking for directions or getting suggestions about “what’s interesting” in that area.
You don’t even have to save this one for when you’re stuck. I’ll often ask a question even if I already know the answer. I don’t think this is being deceptive. Instead it’s simply an excuse to start a conversation and meet someone new.
#13- Take an interest in people
Know this… people love totalk about themselves. We’re all basically selfish and subconsciously wait for someone to give us a chance to do a little bragging. Use this to your advantage.
After I start talking to someone, I’ll often ask a bunch of open-ended questions. Like “Where else have you traveled to?”, “What’s your favorite place?”, “What’s cool around here?”, “Are you on holiday or taking a break from work?”, or even a simple “Where are you from?”
Before you leave on your trip, pick up a copy of “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. In my opinion, this is the best book I’ve ever read on social dynamics. It’ll teach you how to quickly turn a casual conversation into a lasting friendship.
#14- Be open to new experiences
It’s pretty easy to get stuck into “tourist mindset” where you only do things suggested in a guidebook. That’s why I recommend a simple exercise… whenever you make a new friend, say ‘yes’ to any (safe) activity this person suggests.
I’ve learned that you can never plan an experience that might change your life. Sometimes the most innocuous suggestion leads to an amazing time.
For instance, in July I was in Cork talking to a Dutch girl I first met in Dublin. She suggested that I join her and a couple of Austrian guys on a 4 day road-trip through Western Ireland. Although I never met these guys before, I decided to jump in a car and join them.
Some of my best memories in Ireland come from this trip. We hiked around the Cliffs of Moher, drank in Dingle’s official pub/hardware store, and even picked up a random French hitchhiker who decided to tag along. It was a great experience that didn’t come from an itinerary in a guidebook.
#15- Carry pen and paper at all times
Always carry a pen and piece of paper. Or a phone with a Notepad feature. This simple tool can help you turn a casual conversation into a friendship. This is especially true if you share a mutual interest or connection.
If you like a person, find a “reason” for getting their contact information. Tell them you need tips about where they’re from. You could even ask if they would be willing to show you all their sites.
#16- Get a Facebook Account (and USE it!)
Facebook is the ultimate resource for maintaining contact with your friends. You can send emails, ‘like’ their wall post, and comment on what they’re doing. I love this site because it helps me stay connected with the people I’ve met. This goes back to tip #13. If you take an interest in a person’s life, they’ll take an interest in yours.
I like to use my “status update” to announce my itinerary for the upcoming week. Often I’ll get a response from a person who either lives or is traveling to this area. This makes it easy to share an experience with somebody else.
#17- Above all…be safe!
Okay, I just gave a bunch of tips that’ll help you make friends while traveling solo. Some will definitely help you push past your comfort zone. However I have one final travel suggestion…
…use your head!
Most people are friendly and full of good intentions. However there are a few who mean to do you harm. No matter what, use your best judgment. Your personal safety is more important than any of the tips I just described. Don’t put yourself in dangerous situations. And always listen to what your gut tells you.
This has been a pretty lengthy post about meeting people while traveling solo. I know a lot of you reading this have your own suggestions. So I’d like to hear about any secrets you might have for making friends while traveling.
In the comment section below, please list any tricks or techniques that I might have missed.
And as I close this post, I’ll leave you with a quote from William Yeats, “There are no strangers, only friends you have not met yet.”
Take Action. Get Results.