Hopping on a plane that will be hurtling hundreds of miles an hour over a vast ocean, towards a destination you’ve never seen, on a continent you’ve never set foot on, is . . . daunting, to say the least. Now, imagine you’re taking that leap all alone.
That’s kind of what solo travel is like, only the hundred miles an hour hurtling metal tube is like a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart. Some hate it, some love it. I, myself, crave that feeling. I’m comfortable being out of my comfort zone. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t get nervous meeting new people. The idea of making friends is just as exciting as it is terrifying, no matter how old I am nor how often I travel.
So, here are a few tips to make it easier:
1. Find a hostel with a bar
Even if you aren’t a drinker, hostel bars are a wonderful place to meet travelers. Everyone there is in the same boat as you are, usually alone, and have an insatiable thirst for wanderlust. You could meet your new best friend, a travel buddy that will tag along with you to your next destination, or even someone who will stick around for much longer than that ❤
Usually hostel bars host events as well, such as pub trivia, karaoke, and dance competitions. If crowds make you nervous, go early and strike up a conversation with someone sitting alone while the night is still young. Who knows what will happen?
* Things that have happened because of hostel bars for me: making next day plans with new people to explore the city (Camden Market, in particular), making plans with new people to explore another country (read all about my crazy, totally impromptu, adventures in Wales here), endless pub crawls, meeting new people I’ve reconnected with several times on my travels so far (Hi Kathleen! ;p), and spontaneous, late night photoshoots at Kings X.
2. Say hi to your roomies
If you’re staying in a hostel, you’re more than likely sleeping in a room that’s not just your own. Most of my travel friends were once my bunkmates. We’ve been through a lot together: obnoxious snoring roommates, broken ACs in the middle of a 100 degree summer (wasn’t fun), and late night pizza runs.
One of my roommates in Madrid ended up being in Lisbon the same time, almost two weeks later. Even though we were staying at different hostels, it was great to have a friendly face in an unfamiliar city. We got dinner a few nights and went on quite a spectacular pub crawl.
3. Talk first
Be the one who strikes up the conversation. A “hi, do you mind if I sit here?” will do. Anyone worth being friends with will smile and say yes.
4. Ask for help
It was 6:30am in Lisbon and I was on my way to the airport, about to board a flight home to the States after two months of lugging my backpack around. I had only a few hours left in Europe. There was one other girl eating breakfast who I didn’t pay much attention to (I’m not a morning person). I packed up my things and headed to the reception desk.
A few minutes later, as I was handing over my key, the girl from breakfast walked around the corner with her overflowing backpack. She asked the front desk how to get to the bus station. I said I was heading to the airport and the bus station was on the same line.
She smiled and, as we were walking the city streets at 7am, I found it funny that, even in my last few hours of solo travel, I was still meeting people.
5. Pay for those group dinners
Eating is a personal thing. Maybe that’s why backpackers open up so easily to one another – all we do is eat, drink, and see beautiful places. Group dinners are usually hosted by the hostel, so don’t hesitate to sign up. They are certainly worth the few euros!
6. Go on a pub crawl
Pub crawls are a fun way to get out and see the town at night, while also hanging out with a new group of people. If you’re nervous about showing up to a pub crawl with a party of one, book that group dinner. It’s a foolproof way of knowing at least a few faces.
7. Book a larger dorm
I like to think of it in terms of probability. Honestly, not everyone is going to be your next backpacker buddy. However, the odds of meeting someone cool, interesting, and just as travel-hungry as you are are higher when you stay in a larger dorm. I try to keep my dorms between eight to ten people, mixed or female.
8. Eat breakfast
If you can’t make it to the group dinners because you’re too busy seeing the city, head to the common areas when there’s bound to be as many people as possible. Finding a place to sit in a crowded kitchen full of strangers can be a bit of an awkward shuffle, but it forces you to take any empty seat you see. I’ve had a few random breakfast buddies tag along with me for the day, and I with them. It’s as quick as that. And then you don’t have to ask strangers to take your photos.
9. Put the phone down
Once, in London, a young man approached my friend (who I had met the day before at the hostel bar). He immediately said that the reason he introduced himself was because we were the only ones not on our phones.
It’s hard to approach someone new, let alone someone who’s very engrossed in their phone. If you’re in the common area with the intention of hoping to meet people, put the phone away for a little bit here and there. Perhaps bring a novel (books and beer are a wonderful combination), or strike up that conversation first.
Keep on traveling!
Until next time,