Hands up if you have always thought traveling solo was a lonely experience.
Yep, I used to think so too.
However, my first big solo trip to New Zealand and Australia (6 weeks from Jan-March 2013) proved me SO wrong. I made so many friends, several of which I’m still in touch with 10 years later! It was so nice to have friendly people to explore together and go out for beers in the evenings, to chat about home, our different cultures, our hopes/wishes, etc. Since then, I’e made friends every time I travel solo and it’s become something I truly look forward to doing!
Here is what I’ve done to make friends traveling solo:
1. Stay in hostels.
YES, HOSTELS. They’re not the scary, cheap, gross things the media usually portrays them to be – especially now. When I started traveling solo and staying in hostels 15 years ago, I learned how welcoming, clean, comfortable, and rewarding good hostels really are. Most of the friends I still have I met at the hostels I stayed at in Australia, New Zealand, and Europe, where hostel culture is very big (and safe!)
Use hostelworld.com to research amenities and read reviews before you choose one – it makes all the difference! You can even stay in a private room w/ en-suite bathroom to enjoy all the perks of privacy and still benefit from a social atmosphere in the common spaces. That’s what I do now, too! Hostels also generally host group activities & tours you can join for a discount (or free!)
2. Join group tours.
You can pick up free walking tours in most cities (even if you don’t stay at a hostel!) This is a great way to introduce you to your new environment, get acclimated, and yes, meet new people – you’re not the only one looking to make friends traveling solo. 😉 If budget allows, I also am a big fan of adventure tours like ziplining, sailing, etc. This year, I met another solo traveler on a ziplining tour on Big Island, Hawaii and we instantly connected! We partnered up and took photos of each other and had someone to talk to during the tour, which made it all the more special.
3. Use traveler meetup apps.
I personally don’t use Facebook meetups for safety reasons, but I love Couchsurfing & Travello! They’re great tools for meeting new people, and they have to be vetted beforehand. As always, though, you should exercise caution and common sense before meeting up with a stranger you meet online, and always do so in a public space.
4. Go to bars & cafes and strike up a conversation!
This is just one example from last year: I randomly sat next to a girl with a cute dog at a bar in Breckenridge, CO and found out we were both traveling alone. Within minutes, we discovered we were both longtime solo travelers, both in marketing, and both loved hiking. We ended up going out to dinner afterward, making for a 6-hour evening of great conversation and now we follow each other on Instagram!
5. Use your existing contacts.
Ask friends and family if they have friends/contacts in the city where you’re going. This is an easy and low-risk way to meet new people!
Solo travel really can be a very social experience, if you want it to be – you just have to put yourself out there a little. One of my absolute best takeaways from over a decade of solo travel is the people I’ve met and friends I’ve made. I treasure them and the influence they’ve had on my travel experience, and becoming part of each other’s lives after we’ve gone home is so special!