As a solo traveler, the first piece of advice you’re often given for how to easily meet people on the road is fairly standard: Stay in a hostel, of course!
This is, without a doubt, excellent advice. Hostels are designed with socializing in mind; they’ve taken all the guesswork out of human interaction to make it so that even the shiest, most introverted, or socially awkward among us can make friends without even really trying. I can say from experience–it works.
But what if hostels just aren’t your thing? What if, like me, you’ve been on the road for ages and you crave a little bit more privacy and a little bit more seclusion than a hostel can provide? What if hostels simply don’t exist in your destination?
As a solo traveler, how can you still be social when the social environment isn’t handed to you on a silver platter?
I recently experimented with my very first Airbnb stay in Budapest, Hungary and it was amazing in so many ways. I had the privacy I wanted, I had a quiet environment to work in, I had a full sized bed and a kitchen and a quiet residential neighborhood I never would have seen otherwise. By all accounts, it was perfect.
But I’ll confess–as a dedicated hostel-goer, I was suddenly at a complete loss as to how to make friends during my stay. Budapest is world-famous for its nightlife and I wanted to experience it. I wanted to eat at a restaurant and have someone to converse with over a bottle of wine for once. I wanted to go sightseeing and have someone to share in my childish delight as I discovered a new city for the first time.
Left to my own devices, I knew I had to get creative. I came up with a handful of solutions during that stay in Budapest and have tested most of them since; I hope they prove useful to you should you ever decide to forego a hostel for something a little less…backpacker-y.
1. Join a group tour
Group tours are a surefire way to make new friends. Strike up a conversation with whoever happens to be seated/standing/walking next to you and see where it goes. If you don’t hit it off with the first person you meet, you’ll still have other options, so keep trying.
If you find someone you click with, see what their plans are for later that day, that evening, or for the rest of their stay in the city. Chances are, they’ll be more than happy to see you again or invite you along for something they already have planned. Just make sure you remember to exchange email addresses, phone numbers, or Facebook contacts so you have a way to get in touch later on.
2. Hang out at hostel bars
Just because you’re not staying at a hostel doesn’t mean you can’t still access their social spaces. Hostel bars are often open to the public; if this is the case, mosey on in, grab a beer, and pull up a chair next to any person you choose.
People in hostels are generally open-minded and quite receptive to welcoming others into their group, and no one will give a hoot whether you’re actually staying there or not. If the hostel holds nightly events, try to check out their schedule ahead of time. You may be able to join a bar crawl, a beer pong tournament, or anything else where excessive amounts of social lubricant will be provided.
3. Reach out on social media
Are you on Facebook? Twitter? Snapchat? I thought so. It’s time to put these social platforms to use. Let your friends and followers know where you’ll be traveling and see if anyone is around and willing to get together. You might be surprised by the responses you get.
I’ve been contacted by people I haven’t spoken to for years simply because we happened to be in the same part of the globe and they noticed through social media. I once noticed that my old roommate and I were in the same city when she posted a photo on Instagram. We went out for dinner and drinks the next night!
Do you have a blog? Tell people where you’re going! I was able to have dinner with a lovely group of people who noticed we’d be in Budapest at the same time after reading a post detailing my travel plans. If you’re proactive about it and give people some advance notice, you’re almost guaranteed to find someone to kick it with.
And don’t forget Couchsurfing–this is a great place to find locals to hang out with. Even if you don’t need a place to stay, CS hosts are often willing to go for coffee or show you around their city simply because they love meeting new people too. Lastly, though I’ve never dabbled myself, I’ve heard Tinder can be useful for meeting people on your travels as well. Tread with caution on this one, and try to avoid putting yourself in situations that make you uncomfortable.
4. Hang out with your host
If you’re a budget traveler and you’re not staying in a hostel, chances are you’re either Couchsurfing, renting an Airbnb, or using one of these Airbnb alternatives. Use this opportunity to hang out with your host! There’s nothing better than having a local to show you around.
With Couchsurfing this is usually a given; with Airbnb hosts, just ask! My hosts in Budapest were on holiday in Italy at the time of my stay, but their sister who was there to check me in was absolutely lovely. I regret not inviting her for a drink one evening, but I’ve learned my lesson for the future.
5. Chat up your bartender
There’s no shame in going to a bar alone. If it’s quiet and you can’t find any other bar patrons to talk to, try your bartender or server (of course, making sure he or she is not too busy to chat–a busy bartender is only going to be your “friend” if you pay them lots of money). Again, if they seem cool and you hit it off, don’t be afraid to ask them to hang out with you outside of work while you’re in town. As I like to remind myself: If you don’t ask, the answer is always ‘No.’
Meeting people outside of a hostel environment may require you to step outside of your comfort zone a little bit and put yourself out there in ways you’re not used to, but I promise you it will be worth the effort!
What are your best tactics to meet people as a solo traveler when you’re not staying in a hostel?