One of the questions I hear the most often from friends back home is, “How do you meet people while traveling?”
First I want to confess something. When I left San Francisco to solo travel around the world at the beginning of January, I felt afraid of feeling lonely 24/7. Growing up as an only child, I felt comfortable with keeping myself entertained, but moving thousands of miles away from my friends and family would be a new challenge for my independence.
I have good news: traveling through 6 countries over the last 5 months has shown me that my fears were completely unfounded. Meeting people while traveling has been the top highlight of my year of adventure. It’s also never been easier in our increasingly interconnected world. My goals with this article are two-fold: 1) clear the air so that this fear of being alone never stops you from pursuing the adventure of your dreams and 2) share a few strategies for meeting people that may help you along the way.
While I still occasionally feel lonely on the road, it’s no more than I did when I lived in San Francisco. Maybe even less. The biggest reason why, and what I want to share with you first, is the mindset shift I experienced after starting to travel long-term.
Start Your Journey With an Open Mindset
No matter how long your journey is going to be, it’s important to approach traveling with openness. You never know who you might connect with during your journey, and appearing closed-off risks shutting down a new connection before it even starts to flourish.
In other words, set the right intention and honor it. If one of the things you want to get out of your travels is to meet new people then you need to create space in your life for this purpose. For example if you’re looking busy in the hostel lobby due to constantly checking your work Slack messages, Instagram, texts, etc., others are going to assume you’re not interested in making conversation. They won’t approach you.
As a former (hopefully reformed) workaholic, I easily fell into a pattern of busyness when I first started my year of adventure. I got caught up in my schedule, checklist of attractions, and goals — which meant I didn’t leave myself as open to spontaneous encounters and connections as I would have liked.
It took a few weeks to fully break away from this pattern and engage myself in the present. Once I did, however, I felt much lighter, conversations went more smoothly and humorously, and I got better and faster at moving a new connection from awkward first-encounter to a real relationship.
Pro tip: Unplug completely. Free up your headspace so you’re 100% present in situations where serendipitous connections can happen. Create your own luck.
Strategies for Meeting People While Travel
After five months of solo traveling, I have discovered a few strategies for meeting people on the road that have consistently worked for me.
Stay at hostels, not hotels and Airbnbs
My hostel is usually the first place I look for meeting new people. I’ve found that hostels are generally filled with down-to-earth, friendly backpackers who are eager to meet other like-minded travelers. Unlike most hotels and Airbnbs, they have common spaces — lobby, rooftop, cafe, etc. — that are conducive to chatting with other guests and staff.
One of my luckiest breaks was meeting a fantastic group of backpackers in my Bagan hostel, a couple of whom I became good friends with and still keep in touch with today. Ironically, the hostel was a party hostel which I’m not typically a fan of (see how I filter them out below).
One thing to keep in mind is that different types of hostels attract different clientele, so you should filter your accommodation searches by your criteria. For example, I always start my booking.com searches with filters for 8+ rating and hostels, sorting by ascending price. Then since I’m interested in meeting slightly more mature travelers, I’ll look through the photos and reviews (searching for words like “social”, “community” and “people”), filtering out ones that look like party hostels or only hosting teenage guests.
Pro tip: During your accommodation search, look for hostels with photos and reviews that hint at a community-oriented atmosphere. Filter by the type of people you’re interested in meeting.
Join a free walking tour
I love joining a free walking tour whenever it’s offered in a new city I’m traveling through. Frankly, because it’s 1) free aside from a nominal donation and 2) attracts a subset of curious travelers who are interested in culture and history like me.
It’s easy to start a conversation with someone during the tour because you already have many things in common to talk about: the tour, traveling, culture. Especially if they’re a solo traveler like you, they’re probably also interested in meeting new people! Then at the end of the tour, exchange contact info (Instagram, Facebook, Whatsapp, etc.) and invite them to another activity you’re planning on doing later.
For example, recently in Osaka I did the Osaka Free Walking Tour and met other travelers I got along well with, so I invited one to lunch and sightseeing with another hostel friend the following day.
Pro tip: Do a walking tour and invite other travelers you meet to another activity you’re planning on doing later that day or week.
Sign up for a co-working space
Some cities have co-working spaces that double as community hubs — hosting dinners, parties, outings, etc. on a weekly or monthly basis. You’ll typically meet digital nomad-type folks at these events who are freelancing, consulting, or building on a business while they’re traveling.
For example, in Bali I enjoyed working for a couple weeks out of Hubud which offered a new members lunch, day trips and weekend karaoke during my time there. I was fortunate to meet a couple good friends through their events who I created some fond memories with.
While co-working spaces range in pricing, long-term memberships might be expensive and out of your budget. In that case I’d recommend signing up for a day pass, meeting new people throughout the day, and making plans with them outside of the co-working space later that week.
Pro tip: Sign up for a day pass at a co-working space to check out the vibe and meet people at their events. If you like the community and can afford it, extend your pass.
Participate in a language exchange
Language exchanges are one of the best ways to meet locals if you’re interested at all in learning a new language. Even if not, there are also English practice groups filled with locals who are excited to meet a new English-speaking friend they can practice their English with.
I have personally joined a language exchange only in Japan so far on my travels because I was curious about learning the Japanese language. The environment was surprisingly intimate and talkative though, considering Japan’s reputation for shyness, and I met a couple likeminded locals who I plan to meet up with.
While my experience with this strategy is limited, I look forward to joining more language exchanges when learning Spanish later this year. Several friends I’ve spoken to have also had success with this strategy in other countries.
Pro tip: Join a language exchange or English practice group via meetup.com. The description will usually state whether foreigners are welcome or not.
By no means is the above an exhaustive list, but by using one or more of these strategies on your next trip, you’re bound to connect with at least a handful of cool new people. I can nearly guarantee it.
Don’t Hesitate to Pursue Your Adventure
In the end, if you’re like me, your most cherished travel — hell, any — memories are the ones that you’ve shared with other people.
Traveling solo for the last five months wouldn’t have been the same if it was not for the good friends I made along the way. I feel extraordinarily grateful for these serendipitous relationships.
At the same time, I no longer let my fear of being alone on the road drive my decision-making, and neither should you. I hope this article has convinced you to pull the trigger on your own travel adventures and connect with some fantastic people along the way.