For those of us who are introverted or slightly socially awkward, solo travel can be an intimidating prospect. After all, if you aren’t regularly meeting people while traveling alone, it can get really lonely really fast. There’s no one single solution to this problem, but if you don’t want social anxiety to hamper your ability to see the world, we have a few tips for how to meet people.
1. Stay in hostels or Couchsurf.
A really easy way to meet people is to just put yourself in a situation where you’re forced to be around a lot of people. Hostels are one of the better social environments for travelers because they automatically put you in close proximity with a bunch of people who are doing the same things as you. This automatically gives you something you have in common to talk about. Also, many hostels have pre-arranged social events like pub crawls and tours that are offered, and that’s an excellent way to make friends with other travelers.
Couchsurfing gives you access to fewer people, but basically guarantees you a local host. Couchsurfing, as opposed to a service like Airbnb, is not the rental of someone else’s space. Instead, a local is inviting you into their home to crash. Usually, they will have a lot of tips and advice for stuff you can do around the area, and often, they will join you on their excursions. Also, it’s free.
2. Ask trip-planning questions.
One of the biggest curses for the socially awkward is getting bogged down in trying to think of what to say next. Skip trying to be witty or interesting — people are most interested in themselves anyway, so the best move is to ask questions. And as a traveler, you’ve got a perfect question ready to go: “What is your favorite thing to do around here?”
Also: “What is the one thing everyone visiting this city should see?”
“What’s the most underrated spot in town?”
“What’s the best beer here?”
“Any restaurants I should try?
And so on. People will start giving you advice and the conversation can flow naturally from there. You might even get them to join you in your plans.
3. Mind your manners (and learn the local ones).
Etiquette exists for a reason — it’s so people have a set standard of rules to follow in their social interactions. Manners were invented explicitly to destroy social awkwardness: if the standard in a country when greeting another person is shaking hands and everyone knows that, then there’s no awkward moment where one person goes in for a hug and another tries for a bow. It’s easy enough to do a little research ahead of time to know how you should greet people in a country, and there are countless forums, articles, and infographics on what is and isn’t rude in a certain place.
In a pinch, though, you don’t need to know all of the intricacies of local etiquette: just be gracious and kind and mind your p’s and q’s. That will take you a long way in getting people to like you.
4. Don’t worry about making a good impression.
This is the converse of the manners rule: you’re never going to see any of these people again. This is not where you live, and they are not coming back with you. So if they don’t like you, it does not matter. At all. There are much lower stakes to your social interactions while traveling, which makes it easier not to beat yourself up about embarrassing moments.
5. Tinder can work for finding friends, too.
Tinder doesn’t have to just be a hook-up app. Matador contributor Eben Diskin regularly uses it as a way to meet local people while traveling abroad. It doesn’t have to go somewhere romantic — you can just say, “Hey, I’m in town, I’m looking for someone to show me the cool spots.” It makes meeting people as easy as a swipe, though we should note that you’ll want to a) be super straightforward about what you want, and b) trust your gut about going into bad situations.
6. Go to classes.
You can also try to find a class in the area you’re visiting — language classes are the most obvious bet, but cooking classes, hiking groups, and Meetups will all do in a pinch — as a way to force yourself into structured social interactions. These, like the hostels, put you in a situation where you’re surrounded by people who you already know like the same things as you.
7. Take advantage of technology.
If it’s been a minute since you’ve actually talked to someone else, take advantage of the fact that we live in a world where there are tools like Skype and Google Hangouts and call someone you love back home. This won’t do much to cure homesickness, but it’ll help you get any difficult feelings off of your chest, and it’ll put you in touch with a sympathetic voice, which may make it easier to get out there and try again.