11 tips for making friends while traveling alone
Use these simple tips on your next solo adventure to make new friends with fellow travelers and locals while traveling alone.
May 07, 2019
I recently quit my day job to travel full time and chase my dream of being a freelance writer.
We've all been there, right?
You find a friend who is willing to travel with you, go back and forth for weeks about destinations and schedules, finally agree on the where, when, and what of your trip, get super hyped and begin making preparations, and suddenly your friend's brother is getting married that week or they read a news story about how your destination isn't safe.
You try to argue your case, accommodate more scheduling issues, but the trip never happens.
I went through that same general scenario several times before I gave up on traveling with friends and decided to take the plunge into solo travel. I had places to go and people to meet, and I didn't have time anymore to wait on someone to come with me. Don't get me wrong, I love a girl's trip as much as the next 20-something female. But 99% of my travels these days are done solo.
There are enough benefits to traveling alone to write an entire article in itself! I personally love solo travel because it brings me out of my shell, forces me to fully immerse in the place and local culture, and allows for freedom to do whatever I want, whenever I want.
When I'm traveling solo, I'm almost never truly alone. I've never had any trouble making friends while traveling or finding someone to grab a bite to eat with, join me on an excursion, or just have a chat. In fact, meeting new, interesting people is my favorite aspect of travel.
I've had incredibly enlightening discussions about global issues, laughed until I cried, and made unforgettable memories with people that I would never have met if I'd been traveling with a group.
That's why, when I read stories of people who went on solo trips and felt lonely the entire time, I feel really sad for them. Obviously, each of us are unique so no, solo travel may not be as enjoyable to some as it is for others. However, I really believe that with the right approach, solo travel is a social experience.
Anyone can make friends while traveling solo and have a richer experience for it!
So today I'm excited to share with you 11 tips for making friends while traveling alone. Let's dive in!
11 tips for making friends while traveling alone
1. Be approachable
Okay, this seems obvious, but if your body language is telling everyone to leave you alone, then guess what? No one is going to try striking up a conversation with you.
Here are some things to be aware of if you want to make new friends:
• Minimize use of electronics. If your head is stuck in your phone or computer or your ear buds are in, then most people will automatically stay away.
• Avoid closed body language. Crossed arms, crossed legs, angling yourself away from the other person, these are all things that signal to others that you want to be left alone. I'm guilty of doing a lot of these subconsciously, so I have to make an effort to be aware of these habits.
• Keep your head up. If your head is always down, you're missing more than just the scenery. Typically, people require some eye contact and a clear view of the other person's face to feel confident enough to start up a conversation.
• Don't slouch. Slouching tends to indicate to others that you are bored or disengaged, warding off potential new friends.
• Remember to smile. Research shows that people tend to view neutral facial expressions as slightly negative so don't be greedy with your grins.
2. Allow for spontaneity
This is a good tip for traveling, regardless of whether you're looking for new friends or traveling with a group.
If you plan every minute of every day of your trip then you're not just going to stress yourself out and be tired the entire time, but you're also going to lose out on opportunities.
If you meet someone cool at your hostel or on a bus and they invite you to do something with them but you've planned and prepaid for the rest of the day then you're probably going to pass and lose out on that social opportunity.
I usually go into trips with just a general idea of what I'd like to do while I'm there. I prepay and plan for activities that may book up fast or that are on my bucket list, but I leave as much room as possible for spontaneity.
3. Join online travel groups
I've found several really great solo travel groups on Facebook, where people share advice and can find and arrange to meet up with others who are local to or traveling in the same area as they are.
You should find and join communities that are specific to your interests, but some that I personally love are Nomads (primarily for digital nomads), Girls Love Travel, and GoWonder's Solo Female Travel Group.
4. Learn the language
If you really want to immerse yourself in the culture and make friends with the locals, having even a basic understanding the language can be super helpful. For a long time I was pretty embarrassed to even attempt speaking other languages because I knew how awful my accent was. I shouldn't have worried at all!
I've definitely found that people appreciate your effort, even if your skills are limited. Even if I suspect the person speaks English, I offer what I can in their native language first. Time to break out your Duolingo app and brush up on your language skills!
5. Use travel apps
There are apps and social platforms out there that aim to improve every aspect of your solo travel experience, but here are some great ones to help you make friends while traveling alone.
• SoloTraveller — SoloTraveller is a social platform aimed at connecting you to other solo travelers and backpackers near you. You can find new friends, people to ride share with, and can even build your traveler community and get updates from your new friends.
• Couchsurfing — Courchsurfing is an app where locals offer their homes to backpackers and travelers in need of a free place to stay.
• Showaround — Showaround connects travelers with locals who are willing to show you around their home cities. You can search for a good host match based on your interests and needs, making it easy to connect with like-minded people. Some hosts on Showaround do charge for their guidance, but there are plenty of hosts who are willing to share their knowledge and culture for free.
• Flip the Trip — Flip the Trip is similar to SoloTraveller, giving you the ability to search for people near you, but with Flip the Trip you can also search for a travel buddy for future trips.
• PartyWith — PartyWith focuses solely on nightlife, connecting users to other travelers and locals looking to party, whether that means going out for drinks with someone new or finding nearby house parties.
• Tourlina — Tourlina is an solo female travel app for women who are traveling solo and want to safely and easily connect with other women. Tourlina requires a verification process before users can begin chatting with others, offering some peace of mind about who you're meeting up with. Users can swipe through other women, deciding whether or not to connect with them plans based on their interests, language, age, etc. It's basically Tinder for female travel buddies.
• TripGiraffe — TripGiraffe makes it easy to connect with travelers from all around the world who share the passion for traveling. You can create a trip and invite other travelers to join you or you can browse thousands of existing trips and join the one you like the most. With TripGiraffe, finding a travel buddy for a trip has never been easier!
6. Volunteer or do a work exchange
Volunteer and work exchange opportunities through organizations like Worldpackers can be the perfect way to make new friends while traveling solo! I have remained in contact with many of the friends I met while volunteering, both locals and fellow travelers.
With Worldpackers, you'll be spending a whole lot of time with your fellow work exchangers and hosts, living and working together, so even the most introverted travelers will find it easy to connect with new people.
7. Stay in hostels
Staying in a hostel is your absolute best resource for making new friends while traveling alone.
Here are some ways to meet people through hostels:
• Hang out in the common areas.
Usually there's a good portion of the people in hostels who are also traveling solo and looking to meet new friends, but if you stay in your room all day then you'll only meet your temporary roommates.
• Join hostel activities.
Most hostels offer some sort of social activities or small group tours. All you have to do is show up and be approachable and I promise you'll be chatting it up with someone soon!
• Show up for breakfast.
Breakfast was my favorite part of the day for making friends when I did work exchange through Worldpackers at a hostel in New Orleans.
First of all, there were free pancakes and who would complain about that? Many hostels will offer some sort of sustenance in the mornings, even if it's just free coffee and fruit. Hang out in the kitchen or dining area for a while in the morning and ask the other guests about their plans for the day over breakfast.
Really, it's that easy. It's a great conversation starter because people are usually excited about their plans and more than happy to discuss them. If you see them later that day make sure to follow up and ask how their day went. These small connections will often turn into invites to hang out or deeper conversation, the basic formula for any new friendship.
8. Strike up conversations during transit
I've met some of the most interesting people while flying! I once shared a row with Elvis the Boston Terrier, an emotional support dog, and his owner while flying from Pittsburgh to New Orleans. I bonded with both Elvis and his mom during the flight and his mom and I exchanged contact information. When I moved to New Orleans about a year after that, I was able to reconnect with them.
People from all walks of life fly for a myriad of reasons so you never know who you might end up sitting next to. Maybe you won't always have such an adorable conversation starter as Elvis, but you do automatically have two stops in common, so there's a built-in opportunity for conversation. It's really as easy as asking, “Business or pleasure?” I know it sounds cliché, but it works!
The same logic applies to meeting people on buses, trains, etc.
9. Use co-working spaces
If you're a digital nomad then co-working spaces can be the perfect place to meet friends while traveling! You'll automatically have a lot in common with most people that you find there, even if you aren't necessarily in the same field.
You can build your professional network and make new friends while traveling at the same time. It's really a win/win.
10. Visit local hang outs
If you want to make friends with locals while traveling, ask around about favorite local hang outs. In bigger cities you may have to leave the neighborhood you're staying in to find them, but this will only enrich your experience.
Once you're there, don't be afraid to strike up a conversation with someone! Chatting with people who actually live in the place you're visiting is an excellent way to immerse yourself in the local culture and get insider tips!
11. Go on group tours
Now, I am personally not an advocate of total package vacations, where you're traveling with a tour group the entire time. However, I love to take walking tours when I first arrive in a new place.
It's a great way to hit the highlights of a city quickly and figure out where you'd like to spend more time. It's also a great way to meet fellow travelers. A simple “Where are you from?” or “What have you done since you got into town?” is an easy way to get conversation going.
There are so many connections available to be made while traveling. I hope you'll use these tips on your next solo trip to make some awesome new friends!
Please remember when traveling alone (or in a group, for that matter) to always use your best safety practices. Should you avoid strangers at all costs? Absolutely not! Unfortunately, though, bad intentions exist all over the world so always keep these simple safety tips in mind:
• Listen to your gut. Better safe than sorry!
• Don't go to secluded places alone with someone you've only just met.
• When using apps like Couchsurfing, always read and consider the host's reviews first.
• Never become lax about keeping your valuables safe from theft.