I’m often asked about whether or not I get lonely when travelling alone. Of course I get lonely, but generally I enjoy my own company a good deal. I don’t really understand how people get bored when on the road. Even if I’m just sitting alone at a sidewalk table drinking a beer and writing postcards, isn’t that something special in a foreign country?
But it can prove to be challenging. I’m a bit shy too, believe it or not.
I do feel that when travelling alone, people are more open to striking up a conversation with you than if you’re surrounded by a group of friends. Most of the people I meet while on the road happen to be solo travellers too.
So here’s how I do it.
Staying in Hostels
The most obvious one of them all, right? I admit I really struggled with dorms on my trip around Italy. I didn’t sleep well at all. People seem to have lost all good manners about keeping quiet in the super early hours of the morning.
But you really can’t beat the social atmosphere of hostels. Hang out in the hostel bar or lounge for a little while, and you’ll likely have new friends in no time.
I appreciate the efforts that hostels go through to make the experience more social. My hostel in Rome had a big party meet-up twice a week with a neighbouring hostel, which is fine if you’re into taking a lot of shots in quick succession and having young drunk people all up in your face. But my hostel in Naples (Hostel of the Sun) hosted a really cool free dinner twice a week, with endless sangria. I met some cool people there because hey, sangria and free food.
If you’re reaaaally not into the dorm thing, a private room might be worth it. Often they’re as good or better than hotels. My friend Trish visited me in Berlin and stayed at the Circus Hotel in a sweet suite, and used the hostel’s social app to find other fun people to hang out with. We had wee bit of a party overlooking Berlin’s radio tower.
Meet-Up.com and Couchsurfing.org
In most cities, you’ll find lots of meet-up groups designed specifically for travellers or expats. I’ve used both Meet-Up.com and Couchsurfing.org in the past to connect with people, and always with awesome results.
Even if you’re not a Couchsurfer, it’s worth it to join the community to see what events are on while you’re visiting. Berlin hosts a Späti beer crawl every week, for example, where visitors hop from one corner shop to another to drink cheap beer and hang out on the outside tables.
Meet-Up.com tends to run a massive variety of events. When preparing for my Camino, I signed up for the Hikers in Berlin group and joined a 24-kilometre Sunday morning hike on the outskirts of the city. I met a ton of cool people in the process, and got to enjoy a part of Berlin I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. My friends Adam and Cheryl also run a Make Friends in Berlin group here.
Search for Facebook Expat Groups
If you’re staying in a city for awhile, a simple Facebook search for expat groups will help you locate a ton of options. In Berlin, I’m a member of Canadians in Berlin, Girls Gone International (Berlin Chapter), and a handful of others.
These groups regularly organise events and let you connect with others, and they serve as a wonderful fountain of information for newcomers with questions. Girls Gone International especially has answered SO MANY of my questions while living here in Berlin.
Hop on a Guided Tour
Some of the coolest people I’ve met while travelling has been through guided tours.
I know it might not be your thing, and that’s fair. But even an afternoon walking tour or a food tour will connect you with other travellers. I love the food tours especially, as they tend to be more interactive and you’ll also get to meet locals in the process.
For guided tours, I do recommend small groups. A lot of solo travellers opt for this route, especially if they’re new to travelling.
Here’s my most unconventional tip – Tinder! Meeting locals can be really hard, but I’ve actually been really successful with Tinder. I’m usually upfront about it in my profile, with a note saying that I’m just visiting and hoping to meet a local to take me out on a friendly basis. Chatting with a match will give you an idea pretty quick of what the person’s intentions are.
On Capri island in Italy, I met a lovely Italian man named Andrea who took me for a sunset cocktail. Another guy on Big Island in Hawaii showed me some of his favourite places. In Prague, I met an American traveller and we somehow ended up at a salsa bar. I’m still in contact with many of them, in fact.
There are several other apps I enjoy using as well, including Bumble.