Along with taking in the beautiful sights, tasting the local cuisine and immersing yourself in the culture, meeting new people is one of the most exciting and enriching parts of travel.
But for some, making friends as an adult can be an awkward, uncomfortable and, quite frankly, scary undertaking.
“As a former introvert-turned-extrovert thanks to solo travel, I understand that striking up a conversation, or figuring out where to meet people to hang with, might be a little difficult and anxiety-driving,” Alyssa Ramos, blogger at My Life’s A Travel Movie, told HuffPost. “Trust me, it took years for me to build up the balls to hang at hostels or bars by myself.”
We asked Ramos and other solo travellers for their best tips to safely meet new people — locals or fellow wanderers — during a trip so you can make the most of the experience. Below, they dispense advice you can use whether you’re traveling with a buddy, a group or on your own.
1. Before you depart, join Facebook groups tailored to your community, destination or specific interests.
“I’ve traveled a lot throughout Southeast Asia, and there’s a group dedicated to people of colour (it’s called Blackpackers Southeast Asia) who are traveling or even better, living in the area. Whenever I pop into a new country, I write a little blurb letting the group know I’m in town and see if anyone is around for a coffee or drink. It’s also a great resource to have in case you find yourself in a sticky situation so you can reach out for help. You will almost always get a response from someone wanting to help or willing to point you in the right direction.” — Renée Cherez
2. Consider staying in a hostel or other accommodations with shared spaces.
“Do the research and be sure to read reviews. Go with a spot that speaks to you and you’re bound to bump into like-minded travelers. Plus, hostels are usually super affordable and often host fun events for guests that make it easy to mingle.” ― Anne Marie Crosthwaite
... But if you feel unsafe, know it’s OK to find somewhere else to stay
“Most of the friends I have met on the road, I’ve met while staying in hostels. It is probably the most tried-and-true way of making friendships while on the road. With that said, I found on some occasions hostels were a bit isolating for me as a black woman. I wouldn’t swear them off, but I would encourage being comfortable enough to leave a hostel if you ever feel uneasy. This applies to any situation that may cause you to feel uncomfortable. I’ve done this a bunch of times and always ended up in a better environment with accepting people.” — Cherez
3. And if you’re a woman, you might want to choose a female-only hostel dorm.
“I tend to feel a lot safer in such rooms, and they’re generally cleaner, calmer and more communal. There’s also a higher chance to meet other solo female travelers or female friends who are traveling in small groups who you can connect with and plan a day’s itinerary with. Some of my most memorable and fascinating solo travel friendships came out of these rooms.” ― Atikah Amalina, The Tudung Traveller
4. Sit in public or common areas when you’re reading, journaling, eating or having coffee.
“To make new connections with new people, you have to make yourself available to be connected with. This can be done by just having a coffee at a local coffee shop, reading down in the hotel lounge or eating in the hostel communal kitchen. I have made a lot of friends this way. It starts with a friendly smile, then a conversation and next thing you know, you are road-tripping with them two years later when they come to visit you. Now you know that people that sit in social areas often wouldn’t mind making a new friend either.” ― Eamon Wood of the Wayward Wheeler
5. Don’t be afraid to invite someone to join you for an activity or ask if you can tag along with them.
“Follow your instincts and be a ‘yes’ person. Say yes to an invite, say yes to inviting someone. I know not everyone is extroverted — myself included — but saying yes opens up a wonderful amount of experiences and connections.” — Wood
6. Take a class in something you already love to do.
“Do you like to dance? Are you into yoga? If so, this is an entertaining (and safe) way to meet new people interested in doing things you like to do. You can easily find out by googling ‘salsa classes’ or ‘yoga classes’ or by keeping an eye out for signs on bulletin boards in coffee shops or posted in the windows of businesses. You could ask around at any bars or coffee shops about salsa nights at lounges or bars in the area. You can also put out feelers in a Facebook group dedicated to the country you are in.” ― Cherez
7. Or get out of your comfort zone by trying a new activity.
“When you feel safe in a destination, part of the joy of traveling is to get out and try new things and discover new interests, people or places. Booking a plane ticket and going somewhere new is the first step, but don’t just exhaust yourself and stay alone in your hotel or hostel. Go to the hostel bar alone, go to a drag show and meet the performers (that’s one of my top LGBTQ travel tips, actually), join a bungee-jumping excursion or try something new.” — Adam Groffman of Travels of Adam
8. Go on a walking tour of the city or town.
“Walking tours are usually tip-based, advertised heavily and the best way to be introduced to a new place. Hence many travelers turn up to these at the same time! Make the most of this and you’ll be able to easily strike up small talk with the other tourists as you go around. Why not suggest doing something together after and taking it from there?” — Alice Teacake of Teacake Travels
9. Find out where other travelers hang out.
“I backpacked solo across Asia for eight months, and every country I went to had a mecca of sorts for travelers. For example, in Bangkok, if you’re looking for travel buddies, head down to Khao San Road, or if you’re in Kathmandu, check out the bars in Central Thamel. How to determine where these magical spots are hiding? Easy. Snag a copy of the most recent Lonely Planet guidebook for that city or country. They are incredibly accurate about these things and full of other useful tips — I get one for every new country I go to.” — Crosthwaite
10. Or figure out where the locals go.
“My favorite way to do this is by talking to local taxi drivers, shop owners, my hostel or Airbnb host or just by wandering around. Especially when in more remote places, it’s highly likely that someone will ask you where you’re from and the conversation will go from there — often one that will lead you to the best local sights, stories, and maybe even gain you a new friend.” — Crosthwaite
11. Use an app like Tourlina to connect with other female travelers.
“Looking for awesome women to hang out with if you’re a solo female traveler? Tourlina is just like Tinder, but only for making friends who are local or traveling too! You can see if you have similar interests, match, then take it from there.” ― Teacake
12. Sign up for a nightlife tour.
“This allows me to have a drink or two with a group of people and better scope out my surroundings to see where I feel safe and comfortable. It’s also easy to make new friends on the tour who’ll let you accompany them after the official program ends.” — Jen Ruiz of Jen on a Jet Plane
13. Volunteer to give back to the local community.
“Whether you’re traveling for one week or one year, volunteering is the perfect way to use your skills while also making an impact. It not only gives you a better understanding of the culture, but it also connects you with other travelers who share similar values!
Sign up in advance on a website like Workaway and explore opportunities available in the countries you’ll be visiting. During my year in Latin America, I volunteered in earthquake relief and with children in after-school programs. I met one of my closest friends when we both worked at a summer camp in Quito, Ecuador. We lived together for three weeks, and when the program was over, traveled onward for nine weeks in Colombia.” — Asia Dawn Simonelli
14. Use dating apps safely and wisely.
“I know I know, using dating apps to meet people abroad while you’re traveling solo may not sound ‘cool’ or safe. But I’ve used them with good intentions and in smart ways numerous times, and have ended up getting awesome insider tips and tours, tons of new friends (both locals and travelers), and even some make-shift photographers!
“I usually use Tinder because it’s the most universal dating app, and I make sure to write on my bio something like, ‘World traveler looking to hear insights, tips and stories from locals or other travelers!’ Of course, with the casual disclaimer, ‘NOT LOOKING FOR HOOK UPS’ at the end, and maybe a shout out to my Instagram.” ― Ramos
... And if you do decide to meet someone from an app IRL, choose a public place.
“As a gay man, I’ve used Grindr when traveling to get a tour from a local of Manchester, England’s gayborhood; in Amman, Jordan, I used it to get a recommendation for an LGBTQ hotspot in the city; and in Prague, I used it to make a friend to visit the Pride parade with! Just use caution and make sure to meet new people in public places as often as possible, trust your instincts and feel free to always say no.” — Groffman
Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.