Before I started traveling, I never thought of myself as an outgoing kind of person.
I mean, I’m friendly, polite, and nice (most of the time, tooo nice for my own good). But I’m not naturally outgoing. I’m an introvert. I don’t just strike up conversations with strangers and I hate being the center of attention.
So when I found myself on the road alone, I was really worried about being lonely all the time and hating traveling solo. I was afraid I wouldn’t make any friends since I don’t stay in hostels. Sharing a room with partying strangers and having to make dumb travel small talk in the common room… sounds like a nightmare to me.
I’ve been truly traveling alone for 9 months now, and I’m actually really enjoying it. And you know what? What they all say is true: when you’re traveling solo, you’re never actually alone.
Soooo… how exactly does one make friends when you don’t stay in hostels?
Here are some ways I have made friends! These are somewhat in order of effectiveness.
*Note: I’m usually looking to make genuine connections with locals. Not temporary drinking buddies. Not that I don’t like other travelers (okay some backpackers are really annoying), but I’m just looking to gain more local knowledge about a place’s culture, food, and traditions.
1. Book Airbnbs where you stay with the host
This is the best way and always the first thing I’ll do in prevention of loneliness.
Back when I was traveling as a couple, we specifically looked for entire homes because we wanted the privacy. But now, I always look for a spare room rental in the host’s house.
Not only is the cost significantly cheaper, the experience is almost always better too. If you’re living in a whole home, you’re most likely dealing with a ghost host whom you’ll only see for 5 minutes during check-in and check-out. But when you’re living in the host’s house, sure you sacrifice some privacy (can’t walk around in your undies!), but you can talk to them, get insider tips, and gain knowledge about the city/culture you’ll only get by talking with locals.
I read the reviews carefully to see what kind of hosts they are. I take special note of whether previous guests said the host hangs out with them and takes them around, or if they barely see the host. If you can find a good host who loves showing travelers around, that’s a built-in friend right there! And because you live with them, you’ll never be lonely.
I’ve been really lucky with good Airbnbs lately. Some were more temporary friends good for a chat or two, while others have turned into true friendships. In my opinion, a good Airbnb will make or break your entire experience.
2. Use Tinder to meet locals
Don’t laugh. I actually use TInder to meet local friends. And with great success too, may I add.
This one, you do have to be a little careful. We all know what Tinder is for. But there are actually decent people on there who are happy to make a new friend. And especially a new cool traveler friend from another country.
You need to be specific that you’re visiting and just looking for someone to hang out with. And since I’m just looking to make friends, I’m not so picky on the “attractiveness” of the person. Instead, it matters more to me what they write in the profile. I look for people who seem fun, genuine, and kind. People who are looking to expand their social circle and someone to eat with.
I have to say that my best friends in Kuala Lumpur are all made through Tinder. Over the months, they have included me into their groups and taken me to do fun things (and even took my sister too when she was here!). I will forever be grateful for my friends who invited me to their Christmas and New Year parties so I wouldn’t be alone. And I will always remember the fun day trips and exchanging of stories.
Even though we met on Tinder, I know these are now friends for life.
And if you do happen to hit it off with someone, well then, that’s just a bonus. :P
3. Meet up With blogger friends
I’ve had the chance to meet up with quite a number of blogger friends this year. I still keep in touch with all of them on a pretty regular basis and definitely have plans to meet up again on the road.
If you can coordinate some meet-ups with bloggers, then that’s automatic friends to explore with. The good thing about meeting up with blogger friends is that before you even meet, you already feel like you know them so well, and then when you finally meet in person, it just seamlessly transitions to a real-life friendship.
And a plus – bloggers love to take pictures so you wouldn’t feel weird taking a million pictures or spending time arranging your food.
Now, I know some of you reading this may not be a blogger. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make blogger friends! Bloggers love knowing that the hard work they put into blogging is worth it and that people are reading. For me, this is the reason I continue to do it.
If you happen to be traveling to a place where a blogger you read lives or is also traveling to, message and ask if they’d like to meet up. If it’s a really big blogger, you may not get a response back, but you may have better luck with small-time bloggers (like me!). In fact, I’d love it if a silent reader told me they want to meet up!
I think I said “blog” (or variations of it) like a hundred times in this section… so moving on!
4. Share language with Conversation Exchange
I’ve used conversationexchange.com before with great success. This is a site where you can meet locals who want to practice English (if that’s what you speak), and you’re supposed to practice their language as well. But a lot of people on there just want to expand their social circle, while practicing English at the same time. So don’t worry, you don’t need to know the other language.
I’ve made a couple of good local friends from this site when I was in Taipei. We would meet up about once a week and do something new, such as exploring a night market or checking out a new cafe.
This is not a hook-up site, so the quality of people on there are higher. They are serious about meeting a language buddy. I also like it because I can make friends with girls too.
5. Attend Couchsurfing events
Everyone knows what couchsurfing is, right? Most cities will also have a couchsurfing group where there are meetups and activities. You don’t have to be sleeping on a host’s couch to join. Any visitors can go (as long as you have a couchsurfing profile, I believe).
This is actually a VERY good way to meet people. The only reason this is lower on my list is because I’m quite shy. So I do not like the idea of just showing up to a meetup with a bunch of strangers. I much rather prefer one-on-one interactions.
I’ve only been to couchsurfing events in Penang. Laia and I had plans to meet in Penang and she was there for almost a whole month before me. She attended the couchsurfing events and by the time I got there, she had already made us some friends. In Penang, the couchsurfing community has a cafe/dinner meetup every Friday night. Laia also set up Spanish classes with some of the local hosts who were interested. These events were really some of the best parts of that month.
Usually, the locals are some of the NICEST people since they are all people who open their homes to travelers from the good of their heart. It may be intimidating to meet a bunch of people at once, but they genuinely love meeting new travelers. You’ll also meet other expats, travelers, and backpackers at the events.
I know cities also have Meetup groups, but I haven’t tried any yet. Like I said, I’m shy to walk into a group of strangers! But back home in Los Angeles, I was involved in a Meetup group in my area and made a lot of friends from there. This is another similar option that could work really well too.
6. Join Facebook groups
Love it or hate it, you have to admit that Facebook does a good job at connecting people. You can join a travel group and ask who else is in the same place you’re going to. I’ve met a couple of people this way.
My favorite group is Digital Nomad Girls. It’s a super helpful group with a lot of supportive girls. It has a huge membership, so if you have any questions, you’ll find the help/support you need. When I needed help with freelancing taxes, I was overwhelmed by all the responses and help offers I received.
I’ve met a couple of girls through this group. The most memorable one was when Deesha came to KL. We clicked as friends right away and spent about a week hanging out, working, shopping, and exploring. When she needed a new place to stay, I recommended another unit in my same condo building so we ended up being neighbors for a while. It was super fun!
The good thing about this is that since you’re in the same group, you already have something in common. This is a good way to meet quality, like-minded people.
7. And just randomly!
As a solo female traveler, I could not believe how easy it is to talk to people. When I was traveling as a couple, we hardly talked to anyone because no one wants to come up and talk to a couple. But as a solo person, you are so much more approachable. People will wonder why you’re traveling alone as a girl, where you’re from, if you need a guide, etc.
I’ve made friends before just at shops/cafes I go to. I met Khee in Taipei randomly at the store she worked in. Later, we took a day trip together and a couple of years later, met up again in Malaysia.
In Ubud, I met Sri when I stopped and asked her where I can buy a phone data card. To my surprise, she offered to take me to the shop on her scooter. After that, I ate at her cafe practically everyday and we would chat while I eat. Also on the same trip, I met Ketut when I bought a scoop of ice cream at his shop, and later we took a scooter adventure to the volcano.
But of course, you have be careful too as some may be creepy guys! There was the Uber driver who harassed me so much over text afterwards that I filed a report with Uber. There was the barista who made me so uncomfortable that I had to stop going to my favorite cafe for working. And of course, there was the man in the souks of Dubai who followed me and planted an unwanted kiss.
I also think some countries are just easier to make friends than others because the people are friendlier. I’ve only been in Asia since traveling solo, and Asia generally has very friendly people. I hear it’s harder in Europe… anyone has any input?
Final note / other ideas
Here are some other ways to make friends when you don’t stay in hostels (though I haven’t tested most of these yet):
- Join the Nomad List community (D and I met a couple of people through there that I still keep in touch with)
- Work at co-working spaces (other friends I know have had great success with this one)
- Sit at the local Irish bar (Andrea told me this one and it’s a rule she follows! And yes, every place seems to have one.)
- Join a church/cell group
It’s really not hard to make friends as a solo traveler, even for a somewhat awkward introvert like me. But as a girl, you do have to exercise caution too. Don’t carry on talking with anyone who you don’t feel comfortable with, and extract yourself as soon as possible. I also don’t drink with anyone new or go to their homes. But as a whole, I have had much much more good experiences than bad, and I have learned that there are good people everywhere who are genuinely looking for true friendships.
Tell me, if you’re an introverted solo traveler, how have you made friends?