There’s some debate as to whether technology truly connects us in an otherwise lonely world, or in fact makes it difficult for anyone to get to know the real you. When you travel, you’re exposed to new languages, new cultures, and a new world of people who grew up with both of them. Even if you’re only planning to stay abroad for a few days, there are a few ways dating apps can help bridge this gap and let you meet people without hanging out at a bar or getting a bunk in a crowded hostel.
1. Choose the closest big city.
Even if you’re not planning to spend the majority of your trip in a major metropolis, choosing one as your location (even before you arrive) maximizes your chances of meeting more people and crossing paths with fellow travelers. You might be lucky enough to find a match in the middle of the Sahara, but why not tip the odds in your favor?
2. Know the distance to the airport and the name of the area.
There’s a good reason for this. Many travelers have a stopover and log in to their apps from the airport wifi to catch up on messages, but not to actively search for people. Nevertheless, the app records the most recent location as someone new in your area, and might match you with them. Chances are you’re just catching flight attendants and those on stopovers to another country rather than someone you’ll meet soon.
3. Know what you’re looking for: language exchange or dating?
I’m personally not a fan of dating apps being overrun by people looking for language exchanges (or just free English lessons), but there’s no denying it’s an option for meeting people abroad. Just be aware that while some locals are using a language exchange as a pretext for meeting someone new, there are plenty who aren’t even open to the possibility of dating. For newbie travelers, being used as an English tape recorder might be fun if it means you can still engage with people you wouldn’t otherwise meet, but it gets a bit repetitive after a while. If someone says they’re only interested in learning English, it’s best to take them at their word rather than assume it has the potential to develop into a relationship.
4. Learn to spot the fake profiles.
No one who writes three-word sentences on their profile is a real person who wants to hook up with you that night. That supermodel cannot write perfect Cantonese, as much as you’d like to believe it. And who in their right mind would include their number, Kik ID, LINE ID, WeChat ID, or contact info for whatever the favorite texting app is in a country? Broken English and poorly written words in the native language are to be expected, of course, but there is not much of a chance that attractive blonde woman in the cropped-off University of Wisconsin sweatshirt grew up in Jakarta.
5. Just as at home: safety first.
If local men and women are looking on dating apps for language exchange, it’s a safe bet they don’t limit themselves to finding foreigners online. I’ve heard from far too many foreign women in Japan who have had to avoid new “students” trying to follow them home after a private lesson in a café.
Dealing with unwanted attention is something we have to face at home from time to time (some of us more frequently than others), but being abroad makes us stand out and be more vulnerable when we may not be able to speak the language, approach the police, or have the support of someone we completely trust. Scammers and predators don’t have to trick you into clicking on a link in the app when they can just meet you, wait for you to lower your guard, and then swipe your wallet… or worse.
As always, meeting in crowded places and letting someone know where you are is a reasonable precaution. For women, this advice is probably second nature, but men may be unaware of the need to be careful when there’s not always an easy escape in a foreign country. And remember: trust your gut.