I am fortunate to have found a travel companion the majority of the time, with only a few exceptions. But not everyone is so fortunate.
I, too, had a few instances where I couldn’t find a companion to travel with, and that’s how I entered the world of solo travel. I now enjoy it more.
Making friends on the road is one of the many challenges that come with solo traveling. Everyone is not an extrovert, but that does not preclude you from making friends.
Over 20 years of international travel, I’ve honed the art of connecting with people. Believe me when I say it’s not as difficult as it appears. You can do it if I can.
I am delighted to share my experiences and tips on making friends while traveling alone.
1. Never underestimate the power of a smile
A smile is the most beautiful curve on your body, and it is also the quickest way to a stranger’s heart. It shows that you are approachable, friendly, and open to conversation.
The reason why you return a smile to that stranger on the street? It’s difficult not to. A smile spreads like a wildfire.
A simple smile to a stranger can result in a great conversation, and maybe even a new friend.
When I first meet a fellow passenger on an aircraft, bus, or train, I always smile. Sometimes I get one back, sometimes I don’t, and sometimes I even get a stare. But that’s OK; it’s my way of greeting people.
2. Don’t be a phubber!
We’ve all been there: we pull out our phones and start scrolling through social media. We’ve all been guilty of it at one point or another.
But when you’re traveling solo, it’s important to be present at the moment and engage with those around you. This is your opportunity to connect with people from all over the world, so make the most of it!
If you’re constantly on your phone, you’re missing out on some great conversations and potential friendships. It sends a signal to others to stay away from you.
3. Don’t slouch
It’s important to be open and friendly. When you’re out and about, make sure to keep your head up and shoulders back. This will make you appear more confident and approachable.
If you see someone who looks like they might be interested in talking, strike up a conversation. Compliment them on something or ask for directions. Once you start talking, it shouldn’t be too hard to keep the conversation going. And who knows, you might just make a new friend.
4. Break the language barrier
There are ways to connect with people even if you don’t speak the same language. There are many fun and rewarding ways to learn a new language.
If you’re traveling solo, it’s important to learn a few key phrases in the local language. This will show people that you’re interested in their culture and that you’re trying to connect with them.
Even if you only know a few words, it’s better than nothing. And who knows, you might just meet someone who speaks your language.
I usually keep a few foreign language words for “Hello,” “How are you?” and “Thank you” handy. I make an effort to greet a stranger in his native language, and it works wonders. Try it once and you’ll see the difference.
5. Stay in hostels and Airbnb or Couchsurf
When you’re solo traveling, hostels or co-sharing accommodations are a great place to make friends. You’re all in the same boat, so to speak, and you’re all looking to meet new people.
Hostels are social by nature, and there are always events and activities going on. It’s the perfect place to meet like-minded travelers.
I’ve made some great friends while staying in co-sharing accommodations. I once stayed in an Airbnb and shared common areas with an American couple and a Vietnamese family. Accidentally, we all end up in the kitchen together to cook our food. We worked around each other, shared our food, and had a great time.
6. Take advantage of transit time
For many people, airports are simply places to pass through as quickly as possible. However, airport transit areas and lounges can be great places to make new friends.
Since most people are traveling alone, they are often open to chatting with fellow passengers. Furthermore, the quiet and relaxing atmosphere of an airport lounge can provide the perfect opportunity for conversation. And since there is usually a wide range of people from all walks of life passing through airports, you never know who you might meet.
I always like to share a table with someone in the airport lounge, especially during peak hours. How many wonderful interactions and friendships I had in such a short time was beyond my comprehension. In an airport lounge in Oslo, I once met Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh, the famous Hollywood movie actor.
7. Join a voluntary walking tour
When I’m in a new city, I always try to join a free walking tour. This is an excellent way to see the sights and meet new people.
Walking tours are usually led by passionate and knowledgeable local guides. They are a great way to learn about the history, culture, and food of a new place. And since you’re walking around with a group of people, it’s the perfect opportunity to strike up a conversation and make some new friends.
8. Ask for a favor – don’t go overboard
When you’re traveling, it’s always helpful to have a local friend. They can show you around, introduce you to their friends, and help you with any problems you might have.
Asking for a favor is a great way to break the ice and start a conversation. But be careful not to go overboard. Don’t ask for too much, and don’t be too pushy. Remember, you’re just trying to make a new friend, not get a free tour guide.
I collect coins and often ask locals or people I meet while traveling if they can share their country’s low-value coins with me. I quite often reciprocate by exchanging a few Indian coins for them to keep as a souvenir. People are very appreciative of this and are very interested in learning more about my hobby. A globetrotting gentleman once shared with me all of his extra leftover coins from his travels, totaling $50 equivalent. With an embarrassed look on my face, he joked that he could now go light on his wallet.
9. Attend local events and festivals
Local events and festivals are a great way to meet new people. The festive atmosphere is perfect for socializing, and people are usually in a good mood.
Furthermore, since you’re both attending the same event, you already have something in common. This makes it easy to strike up a conversation, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you can make friends.
10. Use travel apps and Facebook groups
In today’s day and age, there are all sorts of travel apps and websites that can help you meet new people. Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram also have a host of travel-related groups that you can join.
Don’t compromise your safety
Do your research, read others’ experiences, and use your best judgment when choosing to meet someone offline. Be aware of your surroundings and trust your gut.
If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Use common sense, and don’t do anything you wouldn’t do at home.
While it’s great to meet new people when you’re traveling, don’t let your guard down. Be aware of your surroundings, and don’t compromise your safety for the sake of meeting someone new.