6 Steps to Making Friends on the Road

Some handy tips for solo travellers looking to make friends and companions while on the travel circuit.

Solo travelling does not mean travelling on your own. Solo travel does not mean dealing with feelings of loneliness. Rather, it just means that you travel without the friends and family you are leaving at home. In reality, solo travelling can be some of the most social times of your life. I don’t think there is a quicker way to making new friends, than turning up at a new hostel full of other solo travellers and making travel friends with them.

When you ask other travellers about travelling the world solo, they tell you that you have nothing to worry about. They say that you will begin to crave time to yourself such will be the richness of your social interaction. But how does it work in practice? What steps can you take to make sure that you have the same kind of enriched social experience as other solo travellers?

The people that you are most likely to make friends with while are other solo travellers. I am talking about the travellers that are on a gap year after college or university or have quit their job to see the world and are living out of a single backpack. So how do you find these people and make this easier? Read on!

1. Pick a Solo Travelling Hotspot

There are many regions, countries and cities in this world of ours that are highly desirable places to travel. Places like Paris, New York, Rome and London are very popular tourist destinations. However, if you want to be a solo traveller and meet other travellers to share your journey with, you need to travel to destinations that are popular with other solo travellers. It’s obvious right? The catch is, places that are top travel destinations are not always super popular with the solo travelling crowd. Furthermore, many destinations that attract solo travellers like moths to a candle don’t appear in many mainstream tourist bucket lists.

A great way to gauge whether a particular destination attracts solo travellers is to look at the number of hostels available. As an example I compared two neighbouring cities in the Balkans region of Europe, Mostar and Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik is a small but very popular destination for all tourists and receives thousands of tourists a day. Yet when I search Dubrovnik on Hostelworld and compare it to Mostar on Hostelworld, I find that Mostar has over 3 times as many hostels as Dubrovnik. As a percentage of total accommodation including hotels, the figures are even higher still. The results clearly show that Mostar is a solo travellers hotspot while Dubrovnik is a mainstream tourist destination. My experience in these two locations absolutely reflected this. I made lasting friendships in Mostar with other travellers while in Dubrovnik I had a great time, but no lasting memories shared with friends.

This same kind of test will show that South and Central America is more popular than North America. Central and Eastern Europe is more popular than Western Europe. Try it yourself! Compare the Hostelworld results for Rome with the super solo traveller friendly Budapest. My results returned 26 hostels in Budapest, and only 3 in Rome when filtered to a rating of above 9. The results are clear, not all destinations are created equal in the eyes of the solo traveller.

2. Pick a Solo Friendly Hostel

The people you want to look out for and make friends with are the other solo travellers. The accommodation type that attracts solo travellers more than any other are hostels. However not all hostels are made equal and you should look for hostels that offer opportunity to meet and socialise. Some make socialising a breeze while others can turn it into a real chore. You can assess this quickly by looking for hostels that advertise lots of free events, day tours and activities for their guests. You also want to stay in a hostel with large social spaces that serve as an area for you to meet other guests and make friends. If they aren’t provided or are cramped and uninviting, your task is much harder. A quick look through some recent reviews on hostelworld will normally indicate quickly whether a hostel is well suited for solo travellers.

It also helps to stay in shared dorms. You sacrifice some of your privacy and bringing a set of ear plugs is important, but the upside is that it enables you to immediately socialise and make friends with your dorm friends. The people in your dorm will often be the ones that you end up getting to know first and making friends with as a result.

3. Use the Hostel’s Common Facilities

When in a hostel, the other travellers you meet in your dorm are the easiest ones to make friends with. However, to have a larger pool of potential friends you should make the most of the common areas and facilities in your hostel. Sometimes it’s as simple as heading into the lounge or bar area with a drink and saying hello to the other people in the room. Grab some leaflets on local tours from reception and read them while sitting in a common space, it can be a subtle but effective cue to other travellers that you are keen for activities. Similarly, if you see someone else doing the same thing, don’t be afraid to pipe up with your own suggestions or questions, it’s a great ice breaker. If you are sitting on a couch reading about day tours you are telling people that not only are you keen to do things, but you aren’t currently too busy for a chat. They instantly have a reason to talk and more often than not you end up doing the activities together.

4. Put Yourself Out There

Questions like “how long have you been staying here” and “where are you from” are cliché traveller questions. But, there is a good reason why we ask those questions of each other when travelling. It’s because we are all trying to make friends and these are easy questions with easy answers that make great ice-breakers. Fellow travellers love to talk about their trips, where they’ve been and where they’re going. After you have exchange pleasantries, ask them some deeper questions. Why did they travel? Are they missing home? What did they give up to get this opportunity to travel? Engage. Offer to share your beer, food, charger or guide-book. The results will always be positive.

You’ll often see people in your hostel chatting in groups and they may look like old friends. However the chances are they are all solo travellers just like you. Jump in and introduce yourself. If you see someone sitting off to the side chilling out, introduce yourself and ask if you can join them. They were probably hoping someone like you would come along and do exactly that. If you’re a little shy, try talking to the hostel staff and talk about your plans for the day. Someone listening nearby may hear your plans and if they match? Bam! Instant friend.

5. Make Plans and Engage

So you are in the right kind of travel destination, staying in the right kind of accommodation, sitting in a common room and maybe chatting to a few other people. What do you do next? Well, it would be a great idea to suggest an activity that you and your new travel acquaintances can do together. These are a few really good options:

  • Are you interested in visiting that museum that we heard about before?
  • Are you hungry, I am thinking of going out for a kebab?
  • I am thinking of going out and buying some beer, would you like some as well?
  • I am going to go on the free walking tour that starts in 45 mins if you are interested?
  • Have you considered signing up for the bar crawl this evening?
  • Would you like some help with your bags?
  • Shall we head to the train station together since we are both heading the same way?

6. Overcoming Your Fear

The biggest barrier to making friends throughout your time on the road, will be your own fear. Back home, we often go out of our way to avoid rejection and disappointment. We worry about making ourselves look silly in front of our friends and families. Many people with introverted personalities would rather not be social, than to attempt to be social and then fail. The good thing about travelling is no one out there on the backpacking circuit knows who you are. No one is there to judge you and you have no reputation. And quite simply, you have to overcome any fear of rejection that might stop you from being social. Walking into a new hostel and being faced with a dozen new people to meet can be daunting. But it does get easier and eventually, if you keep at it, you will become a travelling social butterfly.

Take Your Friendships and Confidence Home

Travelling solo is a fantastic way to develop your social skills and is great way to boost your self-confidence. It can teach you to become more tolerant, understanding and empathetic with the world around you. We don’t go travelling in bubble, everything we do and experience is real and if you manage to master the art of solo travelling, you will form lasting friendships every time you go abroad. Travelling solo is a fantastic way to work on your social skills, skills that you take back home with you and apply to all facets of your life.

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