How to meet people as a solo traveler when you're not staying in a hostel
Hungary, Travel Tips

How to Meet People as a Solo Traveler When You’re Not Staying in a Hostel

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.

How to meet people as a solo traveler when you're not staying in a hostel

My Airbnb rental in Budapest

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 it’s 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.

How to meet people as a solo traveler when you're not staying in a hostel

A coffee date is a low-pressure way to hang out with new friends

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 saw that my old roommate was in the same city as me when she posted a photo on Instagram, and we went out for dinner and drinks the next night.

How to meet people as a solo traveler when you're not staying in a hostel

Thanks, Instagram!

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 a home swapping service like Trampolinn.  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.

How to meet people as a solo traveler when you're not staying in a hostel

Local hosts are the best!

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!

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5 great ways to meet people when you're traveling solo but not staying in a hostel.

What are your best tactics to meet people as a solo traveler when you’re not staying in a hostel?

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23 Comments

  • Reply Katie September 16, 2015 at 12:47 am

    Good call on the hostel bars! Sounds like a best-of-both-worlds option to me — your own place and full-sized bed, plus all the social perks of a hostel 🙂
    Katie recently posted…A Photo Story: Cliff Jumping at Gantheaume PointMy Profile

    • Reply Leah Davis September 16, 2015 at 10:19 pm

      Yeah, absolutely! My Airbnb was a bit far from most of the hostels in this particular instance, so I just had to make sure I knew how to get back late at night by myself and that I didn’t get too inebriated to do so safely!

  • Reply Rachel September 16, 2015 at 7:04 am

    Ah, I so hear ya on these tips. Being in your LATER twenties is so crucially different than the early years. Aside from the exponentially worse hangovers, I sometimes need the space. I LOVE Airbnb and you’re so right about hanging with your hosts. We partied with the owner’s son at our stay in Oaxaca and he invited us to his bar to drink mezcal and craft beers at a place we never would have even walked into otherwise. I’m hoping to mix up my accommodations while traveling depending on how I’m feeling, ranging from yeah-I-can-totally-still-do-hostels to I-can’t-take-it-anymore-I’m-getting-my-own-room!
    Rachel recently posted…I’m Quitting My Job to Travel!My Profile

    • Reply Leah Davis September 16, 2015 at 10:22 pm

      Haha I still rely pretty heavily on hostels but only because of my budget. If I had my way, I’d be in Airbnbs all the time!! Late twenties me can’t hang like early twenties me could, and I value my alone time so much more than ever before. I can’t wait to follow your solo adventures!

  • Reply Steph September 16, 2015 at 8:06 am

    I love this! I’ve realized I need my space and privacy to relax and really enjoy my trip (and to get some sleep that isn’t interrupted by some Australian trying to get laid at 3am), but I still love to meet other travelers and have been struggling since I nixed my hostel addiction!
    I never thought to check out hostel bars. Great idea!
    Steph recently posted…Outbound Travel App – Meeting People While TravelingMy Profile

    • Reply Leah Davis September 16, 2015 at 10:24 pm

      Haha yes, I feel you! I recently stayed in a 14-bed dorm in Poland and I wanted to kill someone. People were snoring, vomiting, trying to get laid, etc. It was horrendous. The only downside of hostel bars is they do still tend to attract a quite young crowd, but sometimes that’s okay.
      Leah Davis recently posted…A Review of International Lifestyle: Moving abroad in your 20’sMy Profile

  • Reply Francesca @onegrloneworld September 16, 2015 at 6:59 pm

    I ran into this deilma on a trip to Puerto Rico I took recently. I decided to try airbnb some nights. I had roommates but they were super busy so I had to get creative! CS alway works, and a lot of your tips do too I’m sure!
    Francesca @onegrloneworld recently posted…5 Amazing Things You Must Do in Puerto Rico!My Profile

    • Reply Leah Davis September 16, 2015 at 10:25 pm

      The one I used most often was meeting people on tours! I did a LOT of walking tours in Europe. People were always up for grabbing a beer after 🙂

  • Reply Rashaad September 16, 2015 at 7:44 pm

    It’s interesting you mentioned chatting up the bartender as a way to meet people. In some places, the people in the bar will chat you up.
    Rashaad recently posted…Home Sweet Home – GraduationMy Profile

    • Reply Leah Davis September 16, 2015 at 10:26 pm

      I used this one a lot recently and met some really cool people because of it! Bartenders know how to be social, that’s for sure 🙂

  • Reply Amanda | Lesson Plans and Layovers September 17, 2015 at 4:57 am

    These are great tips! I especially agree with the group tours! I’ve only done group tours when travelling with others before, but I’ve met solo travellers when doing so. It seems like a really great way when travelling by yourself, because you’re still surrounded by people and have opportunities to be social. I would most definitely consider a group tour when I go to plan my first solo trip – makes it less scary when you first take that leap too I would think!
    Amanda | Lesson Plans and Layovers recently posted…Over the Sea to SkyeMy Profile

    • Reply Leah Davis September 17, 2015 at 11:34 pm

      Yeah I agree Amanda! For new solo travelers especially, tours are a great, low-pressure setting to meet people in. I hope my tips are useful when you take that trip! 🙂

  • Reply Dalia September 17, 2015 at 8:56 am

    Great tips, Leah! I hope we will find each other in the same city soon so we can be travel buddies 😉
    Dalia recently posted…Cabo da Roca Portugal – A quick trip to the westernmost part of EuropeMy Profile

    • Reply Leah Davis September 18, 2015 at 12:07 am

      Thank you Dalia! Where are you traveling right now? I’m in Thailand until the start of November 🙂

  • Reply Lavi September 17, 2015 at 10:26 am

    Great tips, Leah! Sometimes when I stay in Airbnbs I worry about this too! I’ll be keeping these in mind for sure as I’m in between hostels and private rooms struggling for human contact!
    Lavi recently posted…Bohemian Island Harem Pants: The only pants you need for travelMy Profile

    • Reply Leah Davis September 18, 2015 at 12:08 am

      Thanks girl! I think I may have to put some of these to use soon, because I’m renting a room by myself on Koh Tao and I’m craving a night out! 😀

  • Reply Alana | Paper Planes September 19, 2015 at 1:28 pm

    LOVE this post – such good ideas in here, Leah!
    Alana | Paper Planes recently posted…50 of the Best Cafes in Chiang MaiMy Profile

  • Reply Raphael Alexander Zoren September 20, 2015 at 4:34 pm

    Couchsurfing meetings are also a great place to socialise and meet other travellers! Expat bars are also cool options and in some cities (such as Buenos Aires), there are special promotions for foreigners (there was this bar that gave a free cocktail to non-Argentinians every Wednesday just by bringing a copy of your passport).
    Raphael Alexander Zoren recently posted…The Romance of Solo Travel in ParisMy Profile

    • Reply Leah Davis September 22, 2015 at 3:21 am

      Great ideas Raphael! I only recently created a CS profile so I’ve never been to a meeting, but I’ll keep that in mind for the future 🙂 And speaking of expat bars, that reminds me–language exchange meetups would also be a great way to meet people, especially if you’re trying to learn a local language in the process. Thanks for sharing your tips!

  • Reply Probearoundtbeglobe November 8, 2015 at 10:15 am

    I wanted to say couchsurfing meetups too. So +1 for that tip. Or hang out at hipster cafe. Or join on communial tables in certain restaurants.

    • Reply Leah Davis November 8, 2015 at 11:01 am

      Hey, communal tables is a cool idea! Hadn’t thought of that 🙂 Any idea how to locate restaurants that have these? Cheers!

      • Reply Probearoundtheglobe November 8, 2015 at 12:49 pm

        I’ve read a blogpost about it. Basically google “communial tables in…” Your city of choise. I can always ask at couchsurfing fora or, if you’re in a city longer, chrck the local newspapers. Many japanese tepan yaki restaurants here have communial tables which is great if you dine alone.
        Probearoundtheglobe recently posted…5 Easy tips to make the most out Olympic travelMy Profile

        • Reply Leah Davis November 8, 2015 at 3:58 pm

          Cool! Thanks so much for sharing, I’ll definitely keep that in mind! 🙂

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