“You’re going…. alone?” This was one of the top questions I got over and over before starting my trip. Some even put it more bluntly: “That sounds lonely and… sad.”
Well, rest easy. Other solo travelers and I agree that we’re rarely lonely and just about as far from sad as we can be. I am constantly surround by people, chatting them up and making new friends. Some for just a few days and others who I’ve traveled with for weeks (shout out to lady Melanie!). When I want to be alone (and I do from time to time) I have to really TRY. It’s true that I’m probably a bit more outgoing than some people and will talk to anyone (and do), but you don’t have to be a social butterfly to make friends while you’re traveling. But if you still have doubts, here are my tips for getting’ in the friendzone – they all start with S’s which makes me wildly satisfied because #alliteration.
1. Stay in hostels – When I want to be alone I stay in guesthouses or hotels – and I am most definitely alone. So when that is not your intention, get out of your comfort zone and stay in a dorm – I promise it’s not that bad! This is the best piece of advice I can give you. If you want to meet other travelers you have to go where the travelers are. Duh. You sleep in the same place, shower in the same place, and often eat in the same place. I always try to pick a hostel that has a great common area for socializing – this means people will gather here to trade tips, make plans, have drinks and just hang out. This is your chance to pounce (or be pounced upon)! Ex: “I was thinking of going there today, too – maybe we can share a tuk tuk?”
2. Say yes – If someone invites you to go tour a temple, but you’re sick to death of temples… throw on your sarong and go. If they heard about a great local warung with cheap, delicious food but you’ve just eaten… eat again. Even if the loud-mouth kid says, “Hey America! We’re all going to the waterfall so get your shit!” Well then put on your suit and suffer through his bullshit for a bit. Maybe you won’t end up best friends with him/her, but odds are good that there will be other travelers around wherever you’re going so it’s a great opportunity to branch out and socialize (also I hate to say it, but the loudmouth is almost always the best person at meeting people and making friends). Now I’m normally not about doing things you don’t want to do when you’re traveling, but if you’re really trying to make friends sometimes you have to just say yes. It almost always turns out awesome.
3. Seek out backpacker and ex-pat bars/restaurants – This goes along with staying in hostels, but just gives you another opportunity to be around like-minded people (or if you’re completely adverse to staying in hostels this is your next go-to). Yeah, you wanna try the noodle shop where all the locals are, but when trying to make friends who you can potentially travel with, you need to go where the best candidates are. Make a friend (or five) and then take them to the noodle shop. Chances are they want to go too!
4. Start conversations – I am constantly eaves dropping on conversations and butting it. “I’m sorry, did I hear that you’re trying to get your visa to Vietnam? I was there earlier this year and I can help!” “Did you say you’re from Holland? I have lots of Dutch friends – which part are you from?” Or the old standby, “Hi – my name’s Margaret. Where’re you from?” I literally do this every day. I met an awesome Aussie during sunrise at Angkor Wat just striking up a little convo. Then we toured around a bit together and met later for dinner, drinks and some first-class people watching. And all you have to do is say, “Hi!”
5. Save the day – Ok, you don’t really have to “save the day,” just be helpful. Maybe you’ve been somewhere a while and have some tips to share. Maybe someone is doubled over in pain and needs your help (see my post about Selma). Their scooter is broken down? Pull over. They’re sick? Bring them water. They broke their phone? Buy them a drink. They’re alone? Invite them over! Offer toilet paper to those who don’t have it, give tips on how to get from point A to point B, and compliment that girl on the dress she had made in Hoi An (because you know you’re PB and jelly). Being there for others is a great way to start conversations, make friends and just be a decent human being 🙂
Finally, keep in mind that nearly everyone else is traveling solo as well. I’ve only met a handful of people who were traveling with someone else from the start. They’re in the same boat as you and want to make friends just as badly. It’s like college, but without the bullshit sororities (GDI 4LYFE!!!). So get out there and get social!