If you are anything like me, you don’t really want to be spending a lot of time by yourself when you are travelling. I enjoy my alone time but I also need a bit of social interaction to keep me from going insane. When I am by myself I read books, sort through photos or work on this website, which is fine, but eventually I get that itch and I really need to have a conversation with a human. Sightseeing by yourself is usually very boring, no matter how impressive the place is that you are visiting. I recently went to the Taj Mahal by myself which was an amazing experience (it’s the most impressive building I have ever seen and famous for a good reason), but it would have been a whole lot more fun if I had a friend or two to go along with.
That was an exception to the rule however. It’s pretty rare that I need to go sightseeing by myself or even eat alone. This is because I put a lot of emphasis on finding and meeting new people when I am travelling by myself. The greatest thing you can do whilst travelling to meet new people is to choose the right kind of accommodation. If you are able to find somewhere that people like you want to stay, they you will meet them organically and end up going sightseeing or eating with them and even planning onward travel together.
The problem is that the perfect hostel does not always exist in the location you wish to visit. At the time of writing this article, I am sitting in a great hostel in Jaipur, India. I am happy to be here because for the last three days before this I have stayed in guesthouses and have been the only guest because it’s low season here. Fortunately I had a lot of work to do as well as things to occupy my time so it wasn’t too much of a problem. It was actually the longest I have gone on the whole trip without meeting any other new travellers. It’s all changed though since arriving at this hostel.
The previous example aside, there are many other ways to meet people besides at a good hostel. For example, I first touched down in India at around 4am in the morning. I had no accommodation booked and it was my first time in India. After hearing all the horror stories that you read online about India, I was in need of a friend. I decided to sit down near the exit and wait till it got light then head in to one of the places recommended to stay in my guidebook. I barely waited half an hour, I didn’t realise it but I was sitting next to the only ATM in the departures hall. Mumbai is a place where many people start their trip in India and one of the first things everyone has to do when they get off the plane, is go to the ATM. I met about 10 people as they came to get money out, found some people to share a taxi with and another guy who I shared accommodation with and travelled for my first 3 days. As we were planning to go our separate ways I spent an afternoon in Starbucks, Mumbai which seemed to be the only place in the city where the public could use wi-fi. It was full of foreign tourists. I started chatting to some people there and before long I met 2 girls who I ended up travelling with for 3 weeks.
When I said goodbye to them I was in Varanasi. They were heading to Delhi and I was going across the border to Nepal. I was staying at a guesthouse by myself and I figured I wouldn’t even bother trying to meet anyone new since I was leaving the next day, but sometimes it just can’t be avoided. I started chatting to an Australian and two Japanese guys who I walked past out on the street and ended up spending the afternoon with them. I visited a famous Lassi (Popular Indian Yoghurt type drink) shop and met a couple who were catching the same train as me and heading to Nepal via the same route. It was too easy, and I wasn’t even trying!
In reality there are some times when you really want to meet people but you can’t seem to find someone, but even in India they are few and far between (In Europe and South America they have great hostels everywhere and its even easier).
Pretty much every traveller and his dog has a copy of lonely planet, so if you are really struggling to meet people you can get yourself a copy (buy it online even) and just go to the most highly recommended places to eat, sleep or shop. You are bound to run into some other tourists who you can meet.
One of my most successful strategies for meeting people has been by signing up for multi-day excursions or tours of some kind. Generally I am against organised tours but in some instances – such as the Machu Picchu trek in Peru – it’s much more practical to join a group and it can even be the only way to do it safely or legally. The biggest benefit of this is that you spend a lot of time with people and get to form some pretty decent friendships. I have visited people I met on that same Machu Picchu trek when I got to their home country in Europe many months later. When I was in Nepal I trekked the Annapurna Circuit with some people I found through trekkingpartners.com and some more we met on the trail. All 6 of us travelled together for more than a week afterwards and we are still in touch today. The same thing happened on my treks in Torres Del Paine, Chile and the Lost City in Colombia. I also sailed from Panama City to Colombia with a group of 25 people and we all travelled together at various times afterwards.
What goes without saying, but I will say anyway, is that once you find someone you want to meet, you still usually need to make first contact with them in order to start a conversation. This is very easy, I promise. I always make a joke or try to guess which country they come from based on their accent. If you can’t think of anything funny then just say hi and ask where they are from. Everything else will be easy from there on out.
These tips are all relevant no matter which country you are visiting.