Traveling solo doesn’t mean you have to travel in solitude. But if you believe that bars and hostels are your only options for making friends abroad — and you’re not into the bar scene, and would prefer more comfortable accommodations than a hostel — you’ll find yourself pretty limited. To make solid connections, and maybe get a few good stories out of it, you’ll have to think outside the box. Here are seven ways to make friends while traveling solo, sans hostel bunkmates and crazy bar scenes.
Since group tours, hikes, volunteer projects, etc. connect people through a shared interest, it can be a great way to meet people. Many of your group mates might be there in couples, or with friends, but that doesn’t exclude you from speaking to them, and learning what you have in common. Whether it’s a multi-day group hike to Machu Picchu, a tour of Edinburgh Castle, or a free city walking tour, there are plenty of options to suit every interest.
On my first day studying abroad in Edinburgh, I took a tour of the Edinburgh dungeons, where I met a fellow student who was also on the tour solo. It turned out that he lived in my building, just one floor below me; we stayed friends the rest of the year.
You don’t have to get drunk and go to the bar to find international romance. Tinder might be the most convenient way to meet someone abroad, especially if you’re not looking strictly for friendship. It’s always advisable to exercise caution when you meet someone online, so be sure to meet in a public place first, or plan to do a fun activity together.
Thanks to Tinder, my friends and I once got a free tour of Quebec City, and been shown the ins and outs of the nightlife scene in Sofia, Bulgaria. Locals are often eager to meet new people and show them around the city they call home.
This one requires a bit of luck. Usually, people in Ubers are just trying to get to their destination, and don’t want to make best friends with their ride mate. But if you’re using Uberpool, a function that allows you to share the ride with a stranger for a cheaper rate, you might find yourself sitting next to someone interesting, who will probably be going to a destination near yours.
Free public events
Free public events, like crafts fairs or farmers markets, can be a great place to meet other travelers. Because these events are free, there’s a ton of foot traffic from both tourists and locals alike — a good opportunity to connect with people over common interests.
In Geneva, I stumbled upon a medieval crafts fair and reenactment in one of the city’s parks. It was pretty easy to find something to talk about with others who had also wandered into the park while watching the make-believe jousts and the archery contest.
While this may sound counterintuitive because most people in airports are usually going somewhere you’re not, it’s actually one of the best places you’ll ever find for meeting new people. Logistically, it’s perfect. It has people from all over the world, often waiting for hours for their flights, bored, with very little to pass the time. If you look at it from a social perspective, airports are basically bars without the sloppiness. Obviously, some people just want to be left alone or are really into their audiobook, but most — once they get over the shock of someone actually speaking to them in an airport — would rather pass the time talking to a fun stranger than trying in vain to nap.
Play the dumb foreigner card
This doesn’t mean that you should act stupid and culturally insensitive. It means that you should not be afraid to approach someone who looks local and say, “hey, I just got here today and I could use some advice. Any good restaurant, park, sightseeing, etc. recommendations?” Most locals will be more than happy to help, and may even invite you to pull up a chair and join them.
In Malta, I was sitting at a cafe and asked a few local students for a restaurant recommendation for me and my friends. That question turned into me following this group of students around St. Julian’s, trying various Maltese snack foods that they insisted were essential to my visit.
While this might sound a little suspect, especially if you’re not a big gambler, it really is effective. Nothing brings people together like losing money. Everyone at a casino is there for the same reason, which creates a natural sense of community. Whether it’s commiserating over your losses with your neighbors at a blackjack table or sharing the jubilation of winning with others at a craps table, gambling can be a great bonding experience.
At a roulette table in Monte Carlo, I met another American who happened to be traveling by himself. I was there with a friend, and the three of us shared the highs and lows of the table for a few hours before parting ways. The guy ended up joining us at the bar the following night, and we’re still in touch.