Top 5 ways to meet people as a solo traveller.
I have been on my own travelling in South America for almost 4 months now and I have never been happier.
When I speak to people at home and have given them an update on the weather, the food and the price of everything, the question I most often get is:
“What is it like being on your own all the time?”
At first the question took me by surprise. “But I’m not on my own,” is always my reply. And the truth is that I rarely am.
For me, solo travel is a conscious choice, not a last resort. While there are days when I prefer to enjoy my own company, more often than not I find some companion to share all or part of my day. Finding people to hangout with, site see, or hit the town is really doesn’t have to be a chore, and can be a lot of fun if you know where to meet the right people.
Here are my top 5 ways to meet people when I'm travelling solo. They are tired and tested, have been a lot of fun, and I have made some really great friendships, some that have lasted for many years.
Finding a way to volunteering when you are abroad is now really simple as websites like Workaway, WOOFING and HelpX becoming more and more popular. One of the main draws is the food and accommodation you receive in return for your time, but the best bit is that you will also meet other travellers who are in exactly the same position as you. Most places will want you to stay for a week minimum, whilst others will offer opportunities that are anything from a few days up to 6 months. However long you stay, you are going to meet some fun people.
Watching the Olympic Opening Ceremony on Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro.
I started my South American trip by spending 8 weeks volunteering in a favela in Rio. It was by far the cheapest way to stay in Rio during the Olympics, and I there were a ton of people around to enjoy them with. I was living with eight girls in a two bedroom flat, and there were another 15 or so volunteer who also worked at the school. When you work, live and socialise with complete strangers, you get to know them really well, really fast.
The Oxjam Dalston Team, London 2013.
I made some of my best friends volunteering in London too. In 2013 I was part of a team that ran the Oxjam Festival in Dalston, and met some truly amazing people from around the world. One of the Oxjam girls moved to Chile a few years later, and so that gave me the perfect excuse to visit Santiago on my South American tour.
Couchsurfing is not just a free alternative to AirBnB!
It is full of locals wanting to meet up and show you around their city, or people passing though who want some company like yourself. You can’t stay with everyone, but you can hang out with a different person every day! The app lists events in your area that are hosted by the CS community, and there is also a ‘hangout’ feature where you can search for people in the area who are on the same vibe as you, be it grab a beer, visit a museum, hit the beach.
The first time I passed through Buenos Aires I used the app to find some drinking buddies.
A guy from Columbia who had been in Buenos Aires for 5 years, a girl from Maryland who was chaperoning her 100 year old grandfather on a visit to home to Argentina , and little old me, all strangers, met in for a few pints and then hit a salsa club where we danced our socks off until the early hours of the morning, (pictured below). On the same trip I had dinner with a couple of locals who took me to a milonga and tried to teach me to Tango, albeit unsuccessfully.
Killed the salsa. Murdered the tango.
3. Free walking tours.
When you arrive at in a new town see if you can find out when the free walking tours run. In most places that I have visited I've been able to find a tour that is in English and are given by a local guides working only for tips. They are usually quite interesting characters.
This can be a really good way to orientate yourself to the area, learn something about the pace, and pick up tips on where to go or where to avoid. Increasing I have found that other solo travellers are doing the same, and that is most people want to chat more or grab lunch once the tour comes to an end.
Note: FREE walking tours are actually free, but the tour guides will as for tips at the end of the tour. The guides are, more often than not, students or travellers like yourselves, so if you have enjoyed yourself and learn something, then please remember to put your hand in your pocket.
Before I discovered the wonders of the Couchsurfing hangout feature my go-to meet-new-people app was always Tinder. Yes, freaks and weirdo’s are still ten a penny, but if you make it clear that you are just passing through and not on the look out for the love of your life, you can actually meet some interesting people, or a the very least have some funny stories to tell your friends as I've found is always the worse case scenario with any dating app.
The first time I used Tinder as a meet up tool was on a trip to San Francisco a few years ago. I matched with someone on the same night I was going to embark on my first solo gig to see The Fratellis at The Regency Ballroom. Randomly he was also going to the same gig and so we went for a drink after the show and go on famously, having at the very least the gig we had both just seen to talk about.
Day out at the Exploratorium, San Fransisco.
The following day we met up again and hung out for most of the day. We checked out the science museum, played on vintage arcade games at Musée Mécanique, drank cider at Café Vesuvius... Although we met on Tinder, there was no expectation of either side other than to have a few drinks and explore the city. I should also add that this was the first time I heard the expression “Netflix and Chill”… but lets be honest, I would have been disappointed if he hadn’t have at least tried to chanced his arm.
5. Just say ‘Hi’!
Old fashioned I know, but the old ones are the best! Not everyone has Tinder, or Couchsurfing or will be volunteering their way around the world… If you walk into a crowded restaurant, ask if it’s ok if you share someones table; if you see a person with a copy of the Rough Guide hanging out of their pocket, ask them what they are planning to see while they are in town; if you hear a familiar accent ordering a pint of John Smith, make a bee line for them and introduce yourself. There really is no excuse to spend any more time on your own than you have to. Leave the selfie stick at home and ask a stranger to take a photo of you; talk to the person next to you on the train and find out their story. It really is that easy to meet people as a solo traveler.
My first long trip was to India in 2006. One day I met a couple in Pushkar who happened to be walking out of the guest house at the same time as me and my friend. “I love your accent” said the guy, “Are you from London too?”
Alas we were not from London! But we ended up spending all our time in Pushkar together enjoying the week-long Holi parade. We all travelled together for a good few weeks after Pushkar, getting up to all sorts of mischief that I'm sure no one would want to read about in this blog.
Now ten years on, Nikki, Adrian and their two children are as close to my heart as if they were my own family, and this is all because we just happened to say “Hello!”