Every single person who sets out on solo travels for the first time has a moment – sometimes many moments – of wondering if they will be lonely…if they will manage to make any friends…of how on earth they will go about connecting with others when they are exploring the world alone. This super-common concern is big enough that many find it an impossible fear wall to overcome and one which ultimately – and sadly – prevents them from actually taking the plunge to get discovering the world without a partner or friends in tow.
The truth of the matter is, it is actually harder to find alone time than it is to find company and anyone who has been there before you will tell you – yes they too worried about this but the reality is so very very different that those original fears – when remembered – become almost laughable. Besides this simple truth there are also some simple tricks or avenues to explore which are sure ways of getting you connecting, conversing and finding like-minded companions; the like of which can often result in friendships of the deep, meaningful and lifetime enduring kind
1) Stay in hostels
The NUMBER 1 advice for all solo travellers looking to make friends is simply this – stay in hostels; better still, stay in dorm rooms. Not only is this your cheapest option it is kind of hard not to get chatting to people when they are sleeping above or below you in a bunk. If the idea of communal sleeping with strangers is really something you can’t get past then most hostels offer private rooms. If you go down this route though be sure you pick a hostel which has plenty of communal spaces – lounges, bars, pool area etc. – where you will be mixing it up with your fellow hostellers and finding opportunities to get chatting. Do be sure to do a little research about your hostel of choice. Raucous party hostels are great if you’re looking to party but pure hell if you’re looking for a more tranquil vibe. The opposite of course is also true.
2) Learn some ice-breakers
Knowing how to make a beginning at all is often the hardest part of conversation with total strangers. However, almost all traveller conversation will start in a time-worn pattern of repetitions – recognised by those who have been travelling a while as the standard ice-breakers. Of course you can simply say hi and see where it goes but if you are both a little more timid this could be the beginning and the end of any chat. The best thing is to ask a question such as where are you from?/how long have you been on the road?/where are you headed next?/what has been your favourite place so far?/do you have any recommendations of where to eat around here?…and so forth. Apart from anything else people generally love to speak about themselves – and who doesn’t puff up just a little bit when some-one shows an interest in their opinions or life? – so it is a sure-fire way to get talking. This repetitive list of questions can get a little wearying when you have been on the road for a while but most travellers recognise them for what they are – a potential chance to get onto more interesting and in-depth subjects.
3) Join Couchsurfing
The idea of rocking up at a perfect stranger’s door to spend the night under their roof might seem to be plunging yourself into exactly the type of scenario your mum told you to avoid but the simple truth is Couch Surfing is a wonderful experience. This vast international network connects hosts and travellers and although you do get to sleep somewhere for free that isn’t really what it is about. Follow the website’s comprehensive guidelines for how to stay safe and then enjoy the company of a local who can show you all kind of hidden gems and offer experiences you’d never have just by simply being a tourist. Additionally, even if you don’t want to take advantage of the free place to stay, the Couch Surfing community offers all kinds of advice, connects travellers in the same place at the same time, includes local ‘experts’ who will meet for a coffee or show you around and stages all kinds of events. Joining is free but the friendships and connections you might make here are worth a fortune.
4) Sign up for tours
Sitting on a bus with other tour folk or sharing the experiences they offer is a great way to make friends. Tours are made up of all kind of people but single travellers will often use them as a simple means of getting an instant injection of companionship so you’ll be in good company. The mere fact that you have signed up for the same tour already means you have tastes and interests in common.
5) Do some voluntary work
All over the world you will find voluntary work projects of every kind and for every length of time commitment from a single day to months. Some of the deepest friendships of all travelling are formed during voluntary work placements because in many cases you will be sleeping, eating, working, living and spending leisure time together. Shyer people can sometimes find the nature of hostels too transient and no sooner have they plucked up the courage to get chatting than a new crowd of people arrives. This won’t happen with voluntary work placements – especially those of a week or longer. What’s more, the shared experiences of facing any difficulties, challenges or simply the culturally alien scenarios which typically crop up at some point during voluntary work is a sure way to bring individuals closer together.
6) Find your forum
We live in an age where every aspect of travel is soooo easy thanks to the vast resource of the Internet. One such valuable tool right at our fingertips is the ability to link ourselves up with other travellers from all over the planet looking for long term travel buddies, short-term company while in a certain destination or some-one to share a journey or experience with. There are a zillion forums out there offering all kinds of different advantages depending on what you need from them; those which include a section for – or are even dedicated to the sole purpose of – finding travel partners are common. Two good starting points are www.virtualtourist.com and the Thorntree section of www.lonelyplanet.com but there are hundreds more.
7) Sign up to learn something new
Travel offers all kinds of exciting opportunities for increasing our personal skill bases; it could be a Thai boxing class, surfing, salsa dancing, yoga, photography or just about anything else which interests you or that you have always wanted to try your hand at. You can sign up for a few hours or a few months and besides the new talent you will acquire you will have the chance of connecting with other people at the class/on the course. Connection is super easy under these circumstances as you are already starting from a mutual interest standpoint.
8) The independent travellers’ group tours
Just because you are an independent solo traveller doesn’t mean you have to figure everything out alone the whole time. All over the world – particularly in New Zealand and Australia – there are heaps of companies who put together some kind of exciting adventure or countrywide sightseeing highlight package and then bring together a small group of travellers to enjoy it. The duration might be a few days or it could be several weeks long. Many of these types of set-ups are by bus but there are others which will take you by bicycle, motorbike or hiking on foot. All kinds of fun things to do are included along with all your transport and accommodation and not only will you have instant travel pals but you’ll be handing over the responsibility for the potentially headache-inducing process of planning and itineraries too.
9) Ditch a few concepts from back home
We get that it might be considered a little strange to approach some total stranger dining in a restaurant back home and ask if they want company. However, this type of scenario takes place all over the world every day between travellers because the truth is all kinds of things have a different twist while you’re out there on the road and exploring the planet. Most single travellers are super happy to find company at meal times for example and should you be a little too timid to come right out and offer your company, start by smiling when you catch their eye, perhaps go for one of the ice-breaker questions next and probably before you know it will seem natural to move to the same table. This is just one example of how things are different when you’re travelling – there are tons more – so just remember to wave goodbye to a few of those set concepts from back home when you set off on your adventure.