Solo travel is an experience in itself, and it presents a totally different vibe to traveling with friends. Going solo doesn’t necessarily mean you’re seeking that Eat, Pray Love experience, but maybe you’re looking for some space to learn about yourself as well as others. Or perhaps you’re challenging yourself by getting out of your usual comfort zone; it’s something I’ve certainly done and learned a lot from it, and I always meet characters along the way. You’ll find that people who often travel solo are good at making friends pretty naturally because they’ve had to put themselves out there. Those new to solo travel may feel quite anxious about stepping off that flight alone but fear not, there are plenty of ways to cultivate companionship along the way.
Book a hostel
My accommodation preferences may change with age, but when I backpacked throughout my 20s, I took the hostel approach, booking all my accommodation through Hostelworld.com. There was no AirBnB at the time, so this was my go-to and it was a fantastic way to travel and to meet people. The online platform provides ratings and reviews, as well as loads of photos to check out before you book, so you know what you’re in for before you arrive. And once that’s all sorted, you can relax into it and mix with people at the hostel – there are often communal areas for hanging out and cooking, and if you’re staying in a dorm then you’ll meet people there too. It might not be the most luxurious way to travel, but if meeting people is what you want to achieve, then this is a very easy and cost-effective way to make that happen. You’ll meet so many like-minded people along the way, and everyone’s in the same boat, looking to meet people and share experiences. Trust me, the friendships you build through backpacking will be some of the most meaningful and long lasting.
Get involved in a group tour
Embarking on a tour with a group of complete strangers can of course be a little intimidating, but it can also be very liberating. Throw yourself into it, learn about new people and learn more about yourself and how you engage and interact. We are constantly growing and changing, and the people we surround ourselves with will impact that growth. Participating in challenging activities will further deepen these experiences, because the more challenged you are, the more you rely on the people around you for support. Try a hike, white water rafting, camping – something that changes your surroundings and takes you outside of your comfort zone. It might not always be a fluffy rose-tinted experience, but it will definitely be eye opening. Hop-on-hop-off bus tours are such an easy way to travel, and you can either choose to stick with your tour group, or hop off at one of the stops and wait for the next coach-load of crazy (or not so crazy) travelers.
Make the first move
You could be chilling out in the hostel lounge, or checking out the bargains at the local bazaar, and then you spot a fellow solo traveller. It’s incredibly likely that they are in the same mindset as you, looking to meet people and create fun, meaningful experiences. Don’t hold back, you have very little to lose in this situation, so my advice is to go up to them and strike up a conversation. It’s better than the alternative of sitting alone all night wondering if they will approach you first. And if it does go pear-shaped, it’s not as though either of you will be there forever, so just man up and make the first move.
Use travel apps
Yes I know, the whole idea of travel is to explore the world for it’s natural beauty and to disconnect from the all-consuming world of social media. However, when traveling and meeting lots of different people, it’s so simple to swap social media details, rather than relying on phone numbers (which will change with every destination). There are also quite a few cool travel apps to help you connect with people in advance, so you’re set up with friends before you even get there. Try Backpackr, Meetup and CouchSurfing to get started.
Join a local meet-up
The Meetup community has almost 30 million members in 184 countries, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something of interest in the country you’ve landed in – whether it’s wine tasting, hiking, surfing, reading that you’re into, there’s a community for pretty much everything on there. A meet-up is a really good way to break the ice, and just settle you into your travels, so I would recommend something like this at the beginning of your trip, so you see how easy it is to meet like-minded people, even in a country totally foreign to your own. Once you settle into things you’ll feel more confident with the solo gig, mixing up your alone time with group activities along the way.
Check out the ‘voluntourism’ scene
As much as volunteering is a great thing to do, and can help out a local community, you’ve got to do your research first, as there have definitely been instances of ‘voluntourism’ projects doing more harm than good. But I like that your intentions are altruistic to begin with, that’s a good approach to take on your travels, as you’ll be more involved in the local community, working directly with people to create something that will help to improve and sustain that community in some way, shape or form.
Ask your fellow travelers for recommendations on where to go next – have they explored places you haven’t yet? Do they have any favourite local dishes that you have to try out? Can they give you tips on that hike you’re looking to do in the morning? It’s these questions that will simplify your trip, and get you involved with others interested in seeing similar places. I actually found that along my travels, I would often bump into a lot of the same people at various destinations along my world tour, and we became travel buddies in the process – meeting up in numerous countries over the few months that we all traveled. It didn’t matter that we all had totally different backgrounds, it was about the experience of exploring a new place together and taking from those experiences whatever we wanted to.