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How To Make Friends When Traveling Solo
Eat Alone At The Bar
It may sound strange, but eating alone at a bar is actually a great way to meet others. While eating alone at a table may not help you make connections, eating by yourself at the bar makes you approachable. Additionally, you're more likely to encounter other solo travelers doing the same. And if all else fails, you'll still have the bartender to talk to.
When I travel solo, CouchSurfing is my bible. I don't use it to stay on people's couches, but instead to connect with locals and other travelers. There are forums where you can tell people when you're arriving in a city, see what other people have planned and browse events in the area. Likewise, Meetup allows you to find like-minded people and attend activities that match your interests, like hiking, meditation, philosophy or spicy food.
Stay In Hostels
While obvious to some, there are still many who are apprehensive about staying in hostels. They picture the movie "Hostel," with dirty, dingy rooms and creepy guests and murderers lurking the halls. In reality, hostels are usually clean, with friendly staff and myriad activities to help you get to know the city. Look for properties with common areas like kitchens, TV rooms, bars and BBQ areas.
Take Walking Tours
Many cities offer free or affordable walking tours. When going on one, it's almost impossible not to strike up conversations with other travelers. You can discuss how interesting the sites are, and then segue into what other tours they plan on taking. From there, making conjoined travel plans is simple.
Strike Up Conversations On Transportation
Taking public transportation is a great way to meet other travelers and locals. You can ask the person next to you about where they're going, and about where they came from. For example, on a train journey through Germany, I met a young artist from Holland who was traveling the world indefinitely. Not only did he tell entertaining stories about being arrested for doing graffiti in New York, but we also ended up exploring Munich together.
Use The Currency Exchange
All travelers need money, so what better place to meet people than a currency exchange? This is where I met one of my closest friends from traveling. The line was long, and when he saw I was wearing a backpack like he was, he struck up a conversation. We ended up traveling together for two weeks, and still visit each other in our home cities.
Volunteering is a worthwhile way to spend your time in any city. Not only will you be helping a community in need, you'll also be immersing yourself in a culture and getting to know locals and volunteers. A good idea is to do a homestay, as this helps you get an authentic experience of a place while becoming close with the people you're living with.
Book Organized Trips
While doing excursions on your own will save you money, booking an organized tour will help you meet others. You'll not only be interacting with the travelers on the tour, but also the local guide. Many times I'll ask the guide about interesting places to see and fun places to go out, which leads to groups of people making plans to explore together.
When traveling, don't be afraid to ask questions. Ask other travelers about their trips, a local baker about how they bake fresh bread, a cab driver about the types of people they encounter or a hotel owner about what inspired them to begin a business. Every person you encounter is an opportunity to learn something new, and make a new connection.
Be Open To New Experiences
If a stranger invites you to go dancing, if a local wants to bring you as a guest to a wedding or if you get invited to dinner at someone's home, take the opportunity. Again, it's a great way to have an authentic experience while getting to know locals. That being said, always trust your gut. If you get a bad feeling about someone, get away immediately.
Use Social Media
Social media isn't just for sharing funny pictures and telling the world how you're feeling; it can also be used to meet other people when traveling. A lot of times when I'm going on a trip, I'll put a tweet or Facebook status out telling others my plans. Even if nobody else will be in the city I'm traveling to, they may have a friend or family member who will be.
Host A Party Or Get Together
You don't need to wait to hear about an event from someone else. Instead, plan one yourself. It doesn't need to be anything lavish. Even having people get together at a karaoke bar or advertising a language exchange can get people excited. When in Mendoza, I was traveling solo and didn't know anyone in the city. My birthday was coming up, so I decided to plan an event that included going to an asado restaurant and then out dancing. I posted a message on CouchSurfing, as well as put a note up in my hostel, and ended up having a group of about 12 people come along.
This is especially effective in Europe, where picnicking is popular. Go to the market and pickup some cheese, bread, fruit, cold meat, wine and a blanket, and head to the nearest park or square. You can offer to share food with other people, or find other picnickers to share with.
Hangout In Parks
Not only are parks great for picnicking, they're also the place where people go to do all kinds of activities. Hangout with people playing live music, get in on a game of frisbee or play some chess with a stranger. When I was at a park in China, a group of girls saw me watching them do traditional dance, and they asked me if I wanted to learn. I had a great time trying something new, and got to meet some really nice locals.
It's almost impossible not to make friends on a pub crawl, especially since the alcohol will make you less nervous about going up to strangers. Moreover, the extremely social setting and outgoing guides help to get people mingling.
[images via ms.margie, Jessie on a Journey, Michael de'Oz, Jessie on a Journey, Jessie on a Journey, Jessie on a Journey, aherrero]