The benefits of solo travel are well documented. Not only can the whole thing be liberating and character building, but tackling the big wide world alone can also open you up to new and novel experiences. From a more selfish perspective, it can be kinda nice to just do your own thing without having to compromise!
That said, the ideal of solo travel, of seeing new things, making lifelong friends and forming bonds with people from all walks of life, can seriously diverge from the reality. Indeed, exploring the world on the hoof and your tod can be an insular, isolated experience if you don’t throw yourself into it.
However, in a world where COVID-19 still looms large, as Conde Nast points out “Strangers-turned-friends are harder to come by, itineraries take extra planning, research, and flexibility, and social distancing means it’s a little more isolating than usual”.
We couldn’t agree more. With all that in mind, here are 7 ideas and tips on how to make friends when travelling solo.
Book With A Solo Travel Tour Operator
The experienced solo traveller will know that there are opportunities to make connections with people everywhere, from the airport lounge to queuing in line at a museum, all the way to the humble park bench.
However, with Covid changing many people’s travel behaviours, whether it be from fear of infection to people wearing masks in public making communication harder, it’s become difficult to interact and make friends with people. The answer? Book a trip with a solo travel operator.
The guys at Friendship Travel, who offer the opportunity to book solo travel holidays all over the world, tell us that one of the best things about about booking a tour with the intention of travelling alone but within a group is that you’ll be travelling with plenty of like-minded people to share your experience and memories with.
Indeed, a solo travel tour means that you get the best of both worlds when it comes to travelling on your own; a group of ready-made friends and time to explore on your own.
The idea of an organised group adventure also appeals in the fact that it’s, well, organised – it means that you don’t have to faff around with booking PCR tests, accommodation and transportation, leaving you to enjoy the trip and concentrate on making the most out of your solo travel experience.
Moreover, tour operators are seeing an uptick in solo-cation bookings as many more people are “taking the plunge to travel on their own” to make up for lost travel time. In other words, travelling alone is no longer a niche pursuit, meaning there will be lots more people to make friends with.
The idea of safety in numbers also plays a part, but we’ll return to that a little later.
Try Out Airbnb Experiences
Another great way to meet like minded people and engage with fellow sightseers and travellers is through Airbnb Experiences. The platform offers the chance to gain firsthand knowledge from experienced locals on all manner of subjects, whether that’s a mole cooking class with an indignenous cook in Mexico or horse whispering with an equine enthusiast in Barcelona (yep, that really is a genuine one).
Withlocals provides something similar; simply book a tour with a local and enjoy their insights on secret hangouts and hidden gems across the city. Approach the experience with arms and mind wide open, and you might just make a friend for life, too.
Put Your Phone Down
Those intrepid souls who book solo travel holidays are richly rewarded, if only they look up from their phones to appreciate the world around them. Let’s face it, many of the benefits of solo travel are lost if you spend your whole time messaging friends back home and scrolling Instagram feeds of other people’s holidays.
Holidays are meant to be about getting away from it all, putting the screens down, seeing a different way of life through the lens of reality, and learning to look up again. Try not to fall into the trap of falling back into your comfort zone via your phone, and you’ll open yourself up to new experiences and people.
Check Out Solo Travel Social Networking Apps
We know we just told you to put down your phone and look up, but we’re going to contradict ourselves here and recommend you pick it back up and download these social networking apps designed for travellers.
Hang on, you’re probably already on your phone, reading this. Ah well…
Tourlina is the first women-only travel app with verified female travellers from all over the world. Through their verification process, Tourlin provides a safer international female travel buddy experience. This is a great travel app for solo travellers or for women who just would like to meet up with other solo travellers. Each day hundreds of new users join Tourlina and become a Tourlista… Could you be one of them?
The Solo Travel Society is just as it describes; a society of solo travellers who can meet online or in real life. The Facebook page has more than a quarter of a million followers, all who share a love of travelling solo.
It’s easy to join this vibrant community of travellers – simply leave comments on the site’s posts, participate in the Solo Travel Society Facebook discussions and make connections with people. The site also features weekly posts on solo travel destinations and photos contributed by readers – ideal for some solo travel inspo, if nothing else!
There are also several apps that function much like dating platforms, with all the profiles, swiping and emojis that implies, but for friends. Some of the best include WINK, Bumble BFF and Meetup.
Be Open & Flexible With Your Plans
Travelling alone is one of the best ways to build better self-confidence, as well as helping you to make new connections and meaningful friendships. When you’re by yourself, you’re much more likely to strike up a conversation with a fellow traveller, interact with locals or try out new and surprising things, so get ready to lean into it.
Having a plan and a schedule is great as a solo traveller, as it gives purpose and meaning to your trip. What’s really important, though, is not to be too rigid in sticking to this plan. If you’ve met some great people who’ve invited you along to see the local temples, do it! Perhaps you’ve been invited to a local’s house for dinner with their family? You’d be crazy to pass up the opportunity! So, be open to making changes to your carefully laid plans, and you’ll end up having a much more rewarding time.
Step outside of your comfort zone and be open to the ebb and flow of spontaneous solo travel. In doing so, you’ll learn so much about your destination and yourself. What’s more, with a spirit of ‘arms wide open’, others will be drawn to you, and that’s why you’re here, right?
Find A Regular Haunt
The beauty of staying put while travelling on your own (a bit of an oxymoron, we realise) means that you can become a regular somewhere, whether it be a restaurant, bar, coffee shop, library, or all four!
Indeed, one of the best ways to integrate and socialise is by becoming a regular somewhere. Eat that bowl of Hanoian pho at the same shop a few days in a row, or have your night cap of mezcal in the same streetside bar in Guadalajara as a matter of routine, and soon you’ll have made friends with shopkeepers and patrons alike. Even having breakfast in your hotel every day is an opportunity to meet people, so pledge allegiance to a place and reap the rewards.
Brush Up On The Local Lingo
Making friends with fellow explorers is great, and part of the reason you’re out here on your own, but don’t just cosy up with other travellers for the duration of your trip or you risk missing out on seeing the ‘real’ culture of the country you’ve chosen.
Instead, learn a few (or better still, a lot of) phrases – some polite, some playful – of the local lingo to help you integrate with the people of the city; people who may well offer to show you around and let you in on the secrets and hidden gems of the place.
A Word On Safety
Of course, this spirit of adventure shouldn’t be lived in a completely carefree way. Wherever in the world you’re travelling, some precautions are necessary to ensure you’re keeping safe while you explore.
These include taking Uber rather than taxis off the street so your location is tracked, checking in regularly with friends and family so they know where you are, and always meeting new found friends in busy places. Also, be sure not to display your valuables too overtly, go easy on those mezcals we mentioned earlier, don’t announce to the world that you’re travelling alone, and most importantly, trust your instincts.
Harness the power of tech, too. As the Independent highlights “Apps provide another level of support for women travelling alone. Free ones such as Chirpey, RedZone, MayDay, Tripwhistle and Noonlight let women flag incidents and areas of danger, and contact local law enforcement”
You’re going to have a blast on your solo sojourn!