There’s a million reasons why I like to travel solo. I get to do what I want. I go where I want and stay for as long as I feel like. I don’t have to engage in a discussion about where to eat three times a day with a travel companion. I stay in the budget range I’m comfortable with, not trying to keep up with a big spender or be as thrifty as a hardcore penny pincher. Not to mention I’m naturally a loner, and being around people all the time wears me down.
However, meeting awesome people is one of the main reasons I travel. When I first started an actual backpacking trip around the South Island of New Zealand, I was completely clueless. I hardly met any other backpackers on the road, except when I lived in a 13-bedroom house in Christchurch with other working holidaymakers. Over the years and the countries, I have come to realize why I wasn’t meeting people – and I’m still learning. Here are a few tips on how I’ve come to meet some of the coolest people on the road.
Tip #1: Sleep In Dormitories
This is an obvious one for experienced travelers. However, if you’re first starting out traveling, the idea of sharing a room with 7 other people might freak you out. But a dorm room is a great place to meet other travelers. When you first walk in to the room, be sure to say hi to everyone there – don’t wait for them to make the first move. Be happy, positive, and ask them a few questions about themselves. You’d be amazed at how quickly people will invite you on outings if you just make the effort to get acquainted with your new roommates.
Tip #2: Hang Out In Common Areas
Here’s another tip for those staying in hostels. I consider myself a fairly intelligent person, but I had no idea that I was supposed to make myself available in the communal areas. After dinner every night, I would climb into my bed and stay on the internet or read a book until I was tired. Big mistake!
A great way to meet other travelers is to be approachable and ready for conversation in a shared space. Read in a hammock, update your Facebook status in the TV room, or study the native language in whatever other spot is available. Look up frequently from whatever you’re doing and be sure to greet the people who come sit near you.
Tip #3: Cook Late
Accustomed to eating at 5 or 6 every night? Stave off the hunger pains for a couple hours more before you start cooking. Why? If you start cooking later, it’s more likely that you’ll be sharing the kitchen with a couple other people, as many cultures adhere to a later eating time. A conversation is inevitable. Next thing you know, you’ll have people to enjoy your meal with. You’ll also end up finishing eating and cleaning up later, so if it happens that you don’t end up talking to anyone, you won’t feel like a loser with nothing to do so early in the evening.
Tip #4: Bus Buddies
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met on the bus. Especially traveling in a country on the beaten path with a foreign tongue, you are likely to be one of many bewildered travelers on the bus. At the stop for lunch, strike up a conversation with the other foreigners. If you get off at the same place someone else does, ask them if they know where they’re staying or if they want to share a taxi/tuk-tuk/push bike/whatever local form of transport is available. If you end up staying in the same place, you have someone to talk to for the next 3 days or however long you all stay there.
Tip #5: Take A Tour
Honestly, I’m not a big fan of tours. However, there have been times I’ve indulged and have not only met other travelers, but have also got to visit a place without having to think so much (a welcome break after a longer stint on the road). A shared experience makes an easy foundation for a new friendship.
Tip #6: Border Crossings
This is yet another circumstance in which your general confusion will be felt by another backpacker. How many pesos to the dollar? Do you know how many days the visa lasts for? Do we have to pay to enter? All these are great icebreakers for starting a dialogue. Even better if you know the answers and you can help someone else that’s more lost than you!
Tip #7: Didn’t I See You In…?
So you notice a pair of friends in Siem Reap, a couple in Antigua, or 3 English guys in Australia, but you didn’t get a chance to talk to them. A couple cities later, you see those same people walking around with their nose in a Lonely Planet about to get run over by a motorbike. A, “Hey, weren’t you in Bangkok/Buenos Aires/Wellington the other day?” now leads to coffee, dinner, or drinks later.
How have you made friends on the road? Share your stories here.
Coming soon: How To Make Local Friends