Meeting new people while traveling is often a more precious experience than viewing beautiful landscapes and visiting monuments. It is the people we meet while traveling that make travel special!
But how do you meet new people while traveling? And most importantly, how to find "your people" and connect easily?
When you get the opportunity to meet new people, how do you feel? Are you feeling comfortable or awkward talking to strangers? Have you experienced situations when you struggled with shyness and stood alone in the corner instead of mingling with others at a social event or party? Do you get nervous around strangers?
If these feelings are familiar to you, here's a quick guide on where to meet friends while traveling, how to overcome the fear of talking to others, and make meaningful connections. This article will be useful for solo travelers and anyone who wants to make more friends.
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How to meet friends when traveling alone: my recipe
I love to travel alone, but sometimes I really miss the company and feel lonely.
For me, an important part of traveling is socializing with locals and spending time with other travelers.
For example, during my solo trip to Portugal, I had a great time exploring this wonderful country, trying new food, going to the beaches, but all the time it felt like I was missing something. I lacked the company.
Yes, I was happy, sitting by the ocean, crunching local pastries Pasteis de nata, and gazing at the dramatic red sunset. But at the same time, I was a little jealous of couples kissing on the beach and groups of friends surfing together, falling into waves and laughing.
I had no one to laugh with.
But solo travel isn’t necessarily about being alone!
I decided to act, meet new people, and make new friends, without whom my travels would not be complete.
Here are 15 ways to meet people while traveling that I've tested myself :
1. Your social network
How to make friends while traveling solo?
My first way to meet new people while traveling: my social network.
Since I am quite active in social networks, I usually write in advance where I am going to travel or write an update on where I am now.
I ask my friends on Facebook and Instagram if they know someone in the city I'm going to. Maybe they have friends there?
A simple Facebook post "Who is your friend in the city X that I should meet?" makes wonders!
So, it turns out that my classmate, with whom I have not spoken for ages, has moved to the city where I am going, and is happy to show me around. Or another friend recommends meeting a good friend of his in that country.
Thanks to the power of the social network, even before the trip, I already have contacts of people with potentially similar interests that I will meet in a new city.
Therefore, do not underestimate your social network, even if you do not have thousands of friends and followers. Use it!
I have been traveling with Couchsurfing since 2008. To learn how Couchsurfing changed my life and how to use it, read this blog post:
On Couchsurfing, you can not only find a free place to sleep but also meet locals for walking around the city and join the activities.
Also, the Couchsurfing app has a "Hangouts" function that helps to meet other travelers and locals.
It is enough to write that tomorrow you want to go to Parc Guell in Barcelona and look for a company. Or that you want to go out for a beer tonight. Other travelers who are in the same city will answer and join you. You can also join activities of other travelers. For me, Couchsurfing has been a fantastic place to meet locals while traveling.
Sadly, in recent years Airbnb has become less authentic in many big cities and turned into soulless apartment rentals.
I often get the keys to an apartment in a box at the entrance and never meet the host.
But you can still find hospitable Airbnb hosts who will tell you about the city and maybe even show you interesting places. If you're not renting an entire apartment, but just a room, the host may be more inclined to share their culture and favorite places in the city. Homestays are the best way to dive into a country's culture.
If you're traveling solo and want to meet new people, stay in hostels!
You don't necessarily have to sleep in dorms and listen to someone coming and going and slamming the door all night. And you don't have to share a shower and toilet with other people.
Most hostels offer private rooms with separate shower and toilet - just like a hotel. Like this, you get privacy, but at the same time, you can easily meet travelers in communal areas and in the shared kitchen. Moreover, many hostels have their own bar and organize events and parties for their guests.
Well, Meetup is almost in every big city around the world.
Just install the app and start filling in your calendar with inspiring events and get-togethers.
If you have fear of too many people and feel uncomfortable at networking events, read the second part of this blog post:
If you plan on living in a new city for a while, then I recommend joining the Internations events. These events bring together expats, not travelers.
In addition to networking events, Internations organize various themed events in business and communications and even comedy shows. Internations events is the best way to meet new people in a new city.
7. Facebook events
Facebook events give you an immense opportunity to connect with locals and travelers while traveling. Just browse the events in your locations and join the ones you like.
When I was staying in Bangkok, I attended tons of events - from yoga in the park to language classes. Most of them were free.
8. Facebook groups
A great and easy way to meet new people while traveling is to join groups on Facebook. My favorite groups are Girls Love Travel, Girls vs Globe, Digital nomads around the world, and Digital nomads soulmates. I also join Digital Nomads groups in every city I visit.
It is enough to write that you are going to the city X or are already there and open for meetings. There are great chances that one of the group members is in the same city and will be happy to keep you company.
9. Group excursions
If you book a day tour or an excursion, you can connect with other travelers directly. Therefore, if you are traveling solo, it is better to go on excursions on the first day of arrival in a new city. So, you will immediately meet new people with whom you can continue to travel or meet for some specific activity.
Also, a sightseeing tour on the first day allows you to get a general idea of the city and understand which places you want to explore in more depth and detail.
10. Apps that help to find a travel buddy
There are tons of apps that can help you to find a travel buddy: Backpackr, Travelbuddy, Travello, Travel friends & tips, GAFFL. It's easy and straightforward.
In fact, I'm not a fan of these apps and so far I've mostly used the forum on Couchsurfing. There you can also write about your travel plans, share your travel itinerary, and invite people to join you.
In this photo, I am in the company of strangers with whom I have traveled around Iceland. I found them on the Couchsurfing forum.
Thanks to this trip, these strangers from Australia, Canada, Russia and Iceland became my friends. Read about my adventure with strangers in Iceland and our itinerary here: ICELAND HIGHLANDS 10 DAYS ITINERARY | THE ALTERNATIVE TRAVEL GUIDE.
11. Workshops and masterclasses
I believe that a particular trip is especially successful when I learn a new skill. That's why, on every trip, I go to a master class or a workshop.
In this photo, I'm in a cooking class in Valencia, where I learned how to cook a traditional paella. As a nice bonus of the cooking class, I met new interesting people.
12. Ridesharing apps
With ridesharing apps like Blablacar, you are not only contributing to the ecological future of our planet, but you are also practicing talking to strangers.
The chances are high that within a few hours of chatting in the car on the way to your destination, your driver or other passengers will eventually become your friends.
13. Coworking spaces and coffee shops
I have been working remotely since 2016. Therefore, I often have to work when traveling.
In a new city, I always go to a coworking space or a cafe popular among digital nomads. There I always find like-minded people. It's a great way to meet people when traveling.
14. Attend night events such as pub crawls or salsa nights
If you are traveling solo, it is sad to spend your evenings alone. At the same time, it's awkward to come alone to a bar, nightclub, or disco.
A great way out is to join group activities such as pub crawls, salsa nights, or tapas evenings. My favorite place to look for such activities is Getyourguide or Airbnb experiences.
Have a look at what fun activities you can find there:
15. Group multi-day tours
Group travel is a great way to meet new people, make new friends, and visit a new country.
If you want to go somewhere but can't find a companion among friends, why not go on an organized group tour?
Probably, you now see a picture of a tourist bus that stops near the Eiffel Tower. Tourists get 10 minutes to visit the place and take photos of the attraction. And of course, they are accompanied by a boring guide who reminds you of a history teacher. Have you seen such tours and tourist buses?
Such tours still exist, but there are alternatives.
For example, tours on Tourradar. These are small group tours with fun and passionate guides, where it seems like you are traveling with friends. In fact, you become friends with these people after such a group trip.
By the way, the first time I went to Thailand many years ago was on a group tour. And it was a wonderful experience!
So, you go to all these numerous Couchsurfing, Meetup, Internations or Facebook events,
but then how do you make meaningful human connections when you are in the middle of an unknown crowd in a foreign country?
Here is Part 2 of my mini-guide for making new friends while traveling alone, and it’s about how to feel comfortable talking to strangers.
How to overcome fear of talking to strangers
1. Set your goal for the event or other social meeting
Let's take such an evening network event where I don't know most people.
I would like to find "my people" and make potentially "useful" connections related to my professional life or interests, but I also want to have a good time.
I don't need to sell anything. It's enough if I come off as a pleasant, interesting company.
But how to not be awkward around people?
2. Understand what is your image and self-image when you are around strangers
From experience, I know different categories of people:
an over-confident pushy guy that likes to hear himself talk,
or a shy nerd who goes into awkward silences,
or an overdressed woman who is seeking too much attention.
And, of course, many "normal" people who do okay. It is who I'd like to be: easy to talk to and talking to new people with ease.
But my horror is to be of the last category:
The one cannot connect, standing around alone, sheepishly smiling into a room full of groups eagerly engaged in conversation, hoping that someone has mercy and takes me in.
If you had similar experiences in the past, then probably out of reluctance, you developed one of these story-lines:
- "I don't know how to manage; I'm not confident enough."
- "Others are confident; I'm just too shy."
- "I'll force myself to go, tell myself that I can do it, it will be fine. I'll drink two beers and relax."
- "Actually, I shouldn't go; why should I force myself to hang out with these superficial people? My gut feeling is telling me the truth; this is just not for me".
It is also essential that you understand the body language you are speaking.
What does your body language transmit to others?
How do other people see you?
If you want to know more about your body language, I recommend the book What Every Body Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent's Guide to Speed-Reading People. This book is a bomb that revolutionized how I communicate with others and my understanding of people.
3. Deal with your negative expectations
Self-image and expectations eventually become real!
If you have developed and got used to this kind of thinking, you have a problem and a solution right there.
Time: When I figure out if I should go.
Place: In my head.
A fear of talking to strangers is a part of the negative expectation.
This negative expectation, story-line, or fantasy of what will happen set the stage for the following moody, hesitant, unrelaxed path into a meaningless and possibly drunk evening.
To make it very clear, following these expectations or fantasies is actually like going to a truth-teller and believing in the crystal ball's prediction.
It is a pure fabrication that relies on the power of self-fulfilling prophecies.
So, to believe that it will be an uncomfortable and awkward evening is the first significant step to create that very awkward evening.
It's crucial to see that this is true.
If you don't think it is, take the next typical network event, observe the mood and line of thinking you build up, and see yourself.
4. Develop a positive and realistic view of yourself
Of course this is not a new discovery. Self-help guides are eager to counter negative expectations and self-images and there are basically two ways to do it.
The first one is to replace a negative self-image and expectation with a positive or at least realistic one.
- “It’s not true that I’m a loser, or overly shy or have problems to talk to strangers. There are occasions where I do it easily, for example at work, or when I meet friends of friends”
When this kind of ‘re-structuring’ is done well and modestly it is actually helpful.
- I understand that my reluctance is exaggerated, remind myself of my strengths and see that I’m probably as capable as most other people.
The wrong way is to go too far with this attitude, developing a new persona of
- “I’m a winner! I will go there, be charming and work the room. I’ll set myself the goal to have ten new likes on my Facebook page after this evening” and so on.
It might work short-term, but after a while I would have to admit to myself that reality doesn’t agree with the grand new vision of myself.
5. Get rid of the inner pressure and let yourself enjoy the process of socializing
In contrast to this first way of creating positive thoughts and expectations there is a second way that I actually prefer, which is to have no expectations at all.
Why not to get rid of all the pressure?
- Maybe it will be a boring evening, maybe not, who knows. I don’t have to ‘perform’.
- The others don’t know me, so why should I bring all the garbage in my head into the picture?
- Nothing serious will happen if I just talk to some people.
- People are not perfect, neither am I, and people will probably see that, big deal.
- If it’s boring I’ll go early and try again another time.
This approach of reducing or getting rid of expectations serves one big goal:
TO FEEL COMFORTABLE WITH MYSELF.
When you finally find this feeling of harmony with yourself, you start to be charismatic!
You begin to attract other people like a magnet with your positive energy.
Think you have no charisma? It is not true! Every person has charisma. More information on how to develop your charisma here: The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism.
When I am free of pressuring myself into being ‘interesting’ or ‘confident’ it’s much easier and even natural to talk to people - I entertain myself with being unexpected.
It depends so much on each individual case! For some of you a simple guide like this one will be helpful.
Others are so used to look into the gloomy crystal ball of their negative self-image, are so shy or self-judgmental that they need professional support from books or an actual therapist.
If you want to overcome shyness and feel comfortable talking to new people, I recommend reading these two books:
How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships by Leil Lowndes, a communication consultant, and The Solution To Social Anxiety: Break Free From The Shyness That Holds You Back by Dr. Aziz, a clinical psychologist and one of the world's leading experts on social confidence. These books helped me to understand what is blocking me in communicating with others and improved my self-esteem. They are loaded with practical information and exercises that you can immediately apply and see the effect.
Either way, it’s good to remind oneself that every friend and successful contact we ever had was a stranger at some point.
And if you need inspiration,
go to a kids playground and watch the pros connecting to strangers with ease.
I hope this article gave you the answers on how to meet people when traveling alone and overcome fear of talking to strangers. I wish you many happy moments with your new friends who you will meet soon!
Sasha from The Alternative Travel Guide
I wrote this article together with my friend Gabriel Ellis, a professional psychologist living in Warsaw, Poland.
Gabriel eclectically applies different therapeutic approaches and prefers pragmatic brief therapies. Next to elements from cognitive, systemic, and narrative therapy Gabriel utilizes his long experience with mindfulness and Buddhist meditation to not just get rid of problems but to develop an actual well-being.
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