Striking up a conversation with a stranger in a foreign country can be daunting, especially if it’s your first time. Here are Culture Trip’s top tips for making new buddies while traveling alone.
Traveling on your own can be a great way to build confidence and see the world, but how do you meet people or even make friends? The beauty of traveling solo is that you’re forced to live outside of your comfort zone – making new mates is up to you, particularly when you don’t have a safety net of travel companions. Read on for some advice on making new buddies while globetrotting.
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If you’ve never stayed in a hostel before, don’t worry. Many hostel dwellers are traveling solo, too, so it’s a fantastic place to make new friends. The best hostels offer relaxed communal areas, with reading nooks, cooking facilities and maybe even an adjoining cafe. Chances are, you’ll be swapping travel tips with someone over a bowl of pasta in no time.
The easiest way to meet people when you’re traveling alone is to join a group tour. Whether you book for three days or three months, group tours offer you the flexibility of solo travel with the added bonus of potential new and like-minded friends. I made a lifelong buddy while overlanding in Tanzania – she shared her cookies with me on the long ferry ride to Zanzibar.
Locals are always ahead of the guidebooks when it comes to knowing the hottest street food spots or the best bars for scoping out live music. When you travel alone, you’re more likely to interact with local people, even if you’re not fluent in the same language. It’s amazing how far a friendly smile and a sense of adventure can take you.
Have you always wanted to master the art of making macarons in Paris? Perhaps you see yourself as a budding surfer? There’s no better time to learn than when you’re on the road. Seek out a day trip or join a small group tour with fellow newbies, and you will bond instantly over your newfound skills.
Volunteering while traveling alone offers you a completely different experience of the country you’re visiting. Do your research and pick something that you’re passionate about. If you join a group trip, you’ll bond even quicker than usual, as you’re all working towards the same goal of making a positive change.
If you want a genuine local experience, take part in something you love to do back home. Love running? Get up early and take your trainers with you. There’s something special about seeing an unfamiliar city waking up. You could even join a local running group or take part in a yoga class. Getting a haircut while traveling is highly recommended – hairdressers are a gold mine of local information and love to chat.
New experiences can be daunting, but they’re highly rewarding. I recently tried kayaking for the first time in Regent’s Canal in London. It was so much fun to see the city from a unique angle, and thankfully I didn’t fall in once. I bonded with one of my group buddies when I accidentally whacked her with my oar (no real harm done). She forgave me and we warmed up afterwards with a cup of tea and cake in a cafe down the road.
If you’re moving on to your next destination, there will probably be some fellow travelers headed in the same direction. I made a Dutch friend on a long-distance bus journey as we were crossing the border from Argentina into Chile. We buddied up and traveled together for the next three weeks, enjoying Holy Week celebrations in Northern Chile and even hosting an impromptu dinner in the Atacama Desert on Easter Sunday.
When I set out on my first trip, I had each day planned down almost to the hour. However, over-planning can leave no room for a change of plans. You might want to stay put for a few days to relax. While hiking the Inca Trail in Peru, I made a great group of friends; we all extended our stay in Cusco afterwards, because we were getting on so well. On top of that, we needed to recharge our batteries after those early starts and long hiking days.
It sounds so simple, but the number one golden rule to meeting people is to be open to it. Try not to be glued to your phone and you’ll find sometimes the most unlikely characters can make for fascinating travel buddies. I took a group boat trip around the Whitsunday Islands in Australia and ended up chatting to a couple in their 80s who were on a silver gap year. After swapping stories of our shared love of the Great Barrier Reef, we persuaded the skipper to arrange one last dive before we headed back to shore.
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