18 Ways to Meet People When Traveling Solo
Solo travel may sound like a solitary experience, but the logistics of navigating foreign situations on your own naturally leads to meeting new people.
From accommodations and transportation to meals and entertainment, the opportunities to bond with other travelers or locals is built in, as long as you keep your ears piqued and your mind open. And that shared sense of searching for experiences often leads you to like-minded explorers on the same path.
After two days of hopping between city walking tours and day excursions in Ecuador, I remember thinking, “Gosh, I haven’t had any ‘me time.’” So I planned a spa day to the Termas de Papallactas hot springs to truly get some downtime—and of course ended up meeting the most lovely fellow tourists relaxing in the pools there too!
When I took a small group tour to Cuba in February, the itinerary seemed sparse, so I brought a blank notebook, with grand plans of filling it with my every thought. Instead, I found myself trying to squeeze in enough sleep because I hit it off so well with my fellow travelers that we were constantly going out for more Cuban rum nightcaps… and in one case, another single traveler staying in the same casa particulares and I ended up chatting for so long that we didn’t get to bed until after 3 a.m. Incidentally, I did eventually pull out my notebook on the last day of the trip… to pass around the van to get everyone’s e-mail addresses to keep in touch!
Related: Hacks for Mastering Solo Travel
The beauty of solo traveling isn’t just in where you leave your footsteps, it’s also in the friends and connections you collect along the path. Here are 18 ways to ensure you meet people along your road to self-discovery.
Join a Free City Walking Tour
The first time I did a free walking tour was in Stockholm. I held back in the corner at first, slightly self-conscious about traveling alone. To my surprise, about 80 percent of my group was also solo travelers. In between stops, those of us who were on our own naturally chatted each other up—and by the end of the tour, four travelers and I bonded together and coordinated plans for the rest of our time in the Swedish capital.
Rent a Room
Whether it’s reserving a room in a home through Airbnb or Couchsurfing or staying at a bed and breakfast, stay at a spot where you can engage your hosts. Locals who are willing to share their personal space are usually interested in connecting with their visitors and can also provide tips on where you might be able to meet others based on their past visitors. If there are multiple guests, talk with your fellow travelers—chances are, if you were attracted to the same accommodation, you may share other interests too.
Grab a Meal at the Bar
A table may feel cozier after a long day of sightseeing, but a spot perched atop a restaurant’s bar stool offers one of the best opportunities to meet others. Try to snag a chair alongside customers who don’t seem to be in a group. The food, drinks, and restaurant’s scene will provide natural icebreakers to test the waters. And if connecting with fellow diners doesn’t do the trick, the bartender and waitstaff can also serve as mealtime conversation buddies.
Offer to Take Photos
While I was on the English-speaking guided tour of Marrakech’s Koutoubia Mosque, I spotted the perfect angle of a Moroccan tiled pool that I wanted to photograph. As I was struggling to capture the scene just right, a fellow traveler who had spotted the same backdrop asked, “Do you want to get in the photo?” After we played photographer for one another, he asked where I was from—and it turned out we were both from New York and on the same group tour starting later that day.
Chat Up Your Seatmates
Trapped on a long bus, train, or boat ride? That’s the perfect time to get to know the others on the journey around you. While sailing the through the fjords in Norway three years ago, I met a Winston Churchill Fellow from Australia studying global education in the Nordic countries, a videographer from Spain filming Spaniards living outside the country, and a student from Chicago studying in the United Kingdom—who I’ve since met up with again when she visited my hometown.
Take a Class
Let your interests lead you to travel companions. Maybe it’s mastering the language of the country you’re in through an immersion course, taking a cooking class to make an authentic dish, or learning the regional dance steps, so you can salsa or tango with the locals. Or perhaps take a hobby from back home on the road, like joining locals for a painting or yoga class.
Look Up Local Meetups
The Meetup.com community has more than 20 million members in 180 countries, so there’s a good chance there will be an event of interest during your visit. When I was traveling in Ecuador over Thanksgiving a couple of years ago, the site had multiple dinners posted, hosted by expatriates so that Americans could get a taste of home.
Hang Out in Hotel Lounges
While staying at the Kolping Wien Zentral hotel in Vienna, Austria, in 2012, my search for a strong Wi-Fi signal led me to an upstairs lounge area… where I found solo travelers had congregated. Even if there isn’t a gathering of people, opt for spending downtime in a public spot, like poolside or in a courtyard, where organic conversations could match you up with friends on the road.
Listen for Your Native Language
Keep your ears piqued at all times for anyone speaking your language. While I was in Quito, any time I heard anyone speaking American English, I simply asked them where they were from—a natural conversation starter. I ended up befriending a pair of older travelers outside a museum who happened to be staying in my hotel and invited me out to dinner, a middle aged couple at a local craft market who were from my home state, and two young travel bloggers at the table next to me at dinner, who I still keep in touch with today.
As with anything else, there’s an app for meeting people. TravBuddy and Tripr help you meet people ahead of time who will be traveling to the same destinations, Planely connects you with others on your flight, and Skout helps you find people who are already around you. For 50 more great apps and websites for travelers, click here.
Volunteer Your Time
Give back and gain contacts! Whether it’s an organized volunteer trip or an afternoon of volunteer work through a community project (try searching for one in your destination on Couchsurfing or Meetup), bond over the shared experience of paying it forward.
Embrace the Hostel Community
Whether or not hostels fit your travel style, check out the websites for larger ones in the cities you’re visiting for their events schedules. Since they often serve as a hub for individual travelers seeking authentic cultural experiences, many will host classes, tours, dinners, pub crawls, and events, where the international language of adventures requires no translation. Read more on the best new high-end hostels (seriously!) here.
Hail a Rideshare
Go to Festivals
The mix-and-mingle mentality of festival culture is the perfect spot to scout out new friends on the go. Whether it’s a music festival, like England’s Glastonbury Music Festival or Tennessee’s Bonaroo, or a local celebration, like the Coney Island Mermaid Parade or German Christmas Markts, the themes dictate the fun. Bone over shared love for a band, or make friends while you’re waiting in the (inevitably long) line for the restroom. Also look for active gatherings, like the Color Run fun runs or Wanderlust 108 mindful triathlons (5K run, yoga, and meditation), where a support system for strangers is built in as everyone tackles the same challenge.
Find Local Hangouts
After a filling meal of Argentine steak and empanadas at Buenos Aires’ La Penia Del Colorado, the live music starting winding down—and that’s when the real harmony began. All of a sudden, diners started belting out songs together, some even breaking out instruments. As all the tables joined in, conversations and friendships struck up between groups. Even after 2 a.m., locals were still arriving with guitars in hand, ready to share music with anyone at the peña—by definition a meeting place for musicians and artists.
Sign Up for Day Trips
While figuring out how to get to the surrounding sites in Ecuador, like the Otavalo Market and equator line, I found a day tour through Gulliver Expeditions that was $45 for a nine-hour tour. The group ended up being only four people—all single travelers about my age—from England, Argentina, and Hong Kong. We had instant chemistry and were laughing up such a storm that both our guide and driver couldn’t believe we had just met.
Travel with a Small-Tour Group
After going on family trips with tour groups as a kid, I started to associate them with pre-dawn wake-up calls, middle-of-nowhere hotels, gigantic busses, and flavorless food halls. But after attempting to navigate traveling to the Galapagos on my own, I stumbled upon a new genre—small group tours, focused on authentic experiences that give back. Now with several Intrepid Travel and G Adventures tours under my belt, I’ve left behind the safety, language, and transportation concerns of traveling solo and experienced behind-closed-doors adventures (like having lunch at G Adventures Planeterra’s AFER women’s collective in Meknes and getting private performances at Conjunto Artistico Korimacao through an Intrepid Cuba tour), while gaining lifelong friendships (our Morocco group is currently planning a reunion trip!).
Get Social with InstaMeets
Shutterbugs unite! Join a photowalk, or for the more social networking-inclined, Instagram InstaMeets, where snap-happy people follow a guide’s path, taking pictures along the way. And this isn’t just for professional photographers, as many show up with just a cell phone. The hashtags allow you to see each others’ work and keep in touch. I’ve joined three in various parts of New York, one with hundreds of people and the others with a few dozen. And look for the #WWIM or Worldwide InstaMeets dates that spring up, when Instagrammers unite around the globe for the love of Likes.