“Are you traveling by yourself?” the barista at the coffee shop asked.
I hesitated to reply, debating whether to lie or answer truthfully.
“Is he innocently asking or is he asking to assess how easy it will be to kidnap me later on?” I ponder. (This is what solo traveling girls have to worry about…..)
“…I’m traveling alone,” I finally replied.
“Wow, that’s brave,” the barista responded. “I would never travel alone.”
“Why?” I genuinely inquired.
“Because if I travel alone, I don’t know the roads; I don’t know the people; I don’t know where to sleep,” he replied. “So I stay in Bali.”
His answer probably resonates with many people who are afraid to travel by themselves.
Solo traveling sounds terrifying until you actually do it. Then you realize it’s not that bad at all. What sounded terrifying at first turns out to be exciting. Imagine all the places you could discover by getting lost and all the people you could meet along the way!
But how easy is it to meet people and make friends when you’re solo traveling?
Unless you’re a hardcore introvert and are extremely averse to talking to strangers, making friends on the road is easy.
Here are some tips to help you make tons of friends abroad. 🙂
1. Stay in hostels.
If you’re traveling alone, I highly suggest you stay in hostels. This is how you can easily make friends from all over the world.
Hostels are basically like lower-priced hotels with both dorm and private rooms. Different than a motel because there’s a certain social aspect to it. They’re very popular in Europe and SE Asia but practically unheard of in the US. Most people staying in hostels are young solo backpackers in their late teens or twenties.
Unlike hotels which only offer private rooms, hostels offer several room options. You can choose to stay in a mixed gender dorm (cheapest), a female-only dorm (slightly more expensive), a male-only dorm, or a private room (most expensive but generally cheaper than a hotel room).
With the dorm options, you’ll have a place to lock your belongings so you don’t need to worry about your stuff getting stolen. Most of the time there will be a box that’s a part of your bed or attached to your bed where you can store your stuff in. As for privacy, some hostel dorms have curtains that go around your bed.
For making friends, hostel dorms are the best. It’s so easy and natural to strike up a conversation with your dorm mates. It shouldn’t take long before you get invited to go out to eat or party. The beauty of staying in a hostel dorm is that most of the other people staying there are also solo travelers.
Just last week, I was staying at a hostel in Ubud. While there, I struck up a conversation with another girl who was chilling in the room. I asked her where she was from and what she was doing in Bali. She told me she was from the US and came to Bali to learn Reiki, which led to an interesting conversation. She later introduced me to an Australian guy who was also staying in our dorm. The guy had plans to go to a live music event with a couple of British people he had met earlier that day and invited me to come. BAM. New friends and plans for the evening. So easy.
If you’re staying in a private room at a hostel, you can still make friends, but it’ll be a little more difficult. Since you won’t have any random people in your room, you’ll have to purposely chill in the common areas to meet people. Hostels usually have a common area where guests can hang out and socialize. This may be a dining area, lounge, or pool. Hang out there and look friendly. Strike up conversations with other people around you.
Many hostels host events for guests to socialize. A hostel in Ubud I recently discovered has a movie night every Friday evening and a yoga class on the rooftop every morning. I considered staying there just for the free yoga class.
When it comes to hostels, there are generally two types: the chill hostels and the party hostels. Party hostels almost always have something going on. A party hostel I stayed at in Miami had events every single night. They even had a party bus to take us to these events! Even though my friends and I stayed in a private room there, we were able to meet a lot of people through the parties.
I would definitely suggest looking at the hostel reviews before booking. If you’re a light sleeper, you probably won’t want to be in a party hostel. And if you’re a party animal, you probably won’t want to stay in a quiet hostel. Do your research beforehand, and pick a hostel that suits you. I book all my hostels through booking.com.
[ And no, I have never seen the horror movie Hostel … ]
EXTRA TIP* If spending your whole trip in a hostel doesn’t sound appealing, just stay there one night. Preferably the first night of your trip. After you make some friends from the hostel, you can move your stay to a hotel and plan meetups with your hostel friends.
I got this idea from a British guy I met at my homestay in Canggu. He stayed in a hostel the first few days of his trip before switching to a private room at my homestay. This is genius because you get the best of both worlds. A quiet place to chill at during the day and friends from the hostel to party with at night.
2. Look approachable when you’re out alone.
If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you might have seen the two Bali videos I posted. These videos were filmed by Dmitrii, a guy I met in a restaurant I frequented often. I was having lunch alone one day when he randomly sat across from me. Turns out, he broke his phone and wanted to find someone who has a GPS to travel with. Since I have a GPS but no motorbike skills, I agreed to travel around with him. It was a friendship made in heaven.
On another day, at that same restaurant, I befriended an Australian girl and Dutch guy who also randomly sat across from me.
Aside from restaurants, I’ve also made friends by sitting alone at bars. If you’re a girl, just sit alone at the bar and order a drink. It shouldn’t take long before someone joins you.
A hostel I stayed at once in New York City offered a complimentary glass of wine at their bar. While drinking my free glass of wine, a German girl who was also solo traveling started talking to me. Not too long after, two British guys joined in on our conversation. The four of us spent the next few hours talking.
In addition to the bar, the girl’s bathroom is also an easy place to make friends. (Only works if you’re a girl…) I know that sounds kind of weird, but there is always a long line where you can stand and mingle. I have a few random friends on Snapchat and Instagram whom I met in the bathroom while at the bar or club.
How to seem approachable:
- Don’t have headphones on.
- Don’t look like you’re too busy working on something.
- Don’t be glued to your phone.
3. Join Facebook groups.
This is how I made a couple of my friends in Bali. I joined several Bali-related Facebook groups and posted to see if anyone wanted to go explore and take photos.
I’ve discovered that having photography skills really helps you make friends. I set all of my photography work on my personal FB page to “public”, so it’s the only thing you can see on my page if you’re not my FB friend. Whenever I post in FB groups, people from the group will creep on my page and then message me asking if I’m a photographer. You’ll find that people are quite keen on befriending photographers.
Here are things I check when deciding whether to meet someone from FB:
- Photos – I only meet people who have photos of themselves on FB. This is so I can judge to see if they’re around my age group. I don’t feel comfortable meeting people who are too much older or younger than me.
- Interactions – If they have public posts on their page, I will look at the interactions on their posts. Are their friends or family commenting? And what are they saying?
- Friends – I’m more inclined to meet someone if they have a decent sized friend’s list. If they have too few friends on FB (under 100), then it seems a bit suspicious. I start to wonder whether it’s a fake account.
There are tons of FB groups you can join. Here are three Bali-based groups that I joined and made friends through:
4. Go on sharing tours.
If you’re traveling alone, I recommend doing sharing tours. A sharing tour is basically a tour where they group you with other random people. This is cheaper than doing a private tour and also gives you a chance to make new friends.
I made a lot of friends in South Korea this way. There are several different tour groups in Seoul that host trips almost every weekend. I went on a handful of hiking trips and met so many great people.
When I was solo traveling in Saipan, I booked a tour to see the Forbidden Island. Since I was alone, I was grouped with 6 younger Japanese guys. They kindly adopted me into their circle even though they didn’t speak English very well.
5. Use Tinder or other dating apps.
ONLY RECOMMEND IF YOU’RE ACTUALLY SINGLE!!!
If you’re strictly looking for platonic friendships then I would skip this tip because Tinder is a dating app after all… But some Tinder dates can result in friendships instead of romance. I’m still friends with some of my Tinder dates who I ended up not dating.
You can meet cool people off of Tinder. Contrary to belief, not everybody on Tinder is looking to hook up. I’ve had wholesome daytime Tinder dates with just coffee and conversation.
Many people use Tinder when they travel as an easy way to meet locals and other travelers. I’ve used it a couple of times in Bali and have met interesting people through it. Haven’t met my future husband yet, but that’s alright.
There ya have it!
Those are all my tips on making friends while solo traveling. Of course, try to make good judgment when meeting strangers. Be smart, trust your intuition, and you should be fine. 🙂