Where’s the weirdest place to meet new people? For me, it was in bed in Mexico (and involved exactly zero margaritas). I had woken up in my hotel room in Playa del Carmen, turned to my left, and there was a woman in the queen bed next to mine. While a stranger in my room would typically cue a freakout, this situation was different. I was on the inaugural Vaera Journeys women’s entrepreneurial retreat, and my roommate was scheduled to arrive late that first night. “Good morning,” I squeaked out, unsure if I was ready to make a good impression, let alone make a new friend, so early in the day. “Good morning! This is the first time I’ve ever met someone in bed before!” replied the stranger, who I’d later learn was Debbie Arcangeles, host of the podcast The Offbeat Life. Anyone who can crack a joke that actually makes me laugh before my first cup of coffee gets fast-tracked to my friends list, and we spent the rest of the retreat bonding (in bed, and out of it!), attending entrepreneurial mastermind sessions, chilling out on the beach, and brainstorming creative ideas for our businesses. It was a match made in roomie heaven. And lucky for me, I didn’t leave the friendship behind in Mexico. We still chat online and get together when we can in New York. She’s one of countless people I’ve connected with on the road—arguably one of my favorite places to meet new people. If you thought that loneliness is a way of life for solo adventurers, think again. Travel catalyzes friendship. Few experiences offer the opportunity to connect deeply with others like overcoming language barriers, getting around a foreign country, stepping totally outside your element, and taking in a different culture. Traveling is the best way to meet new people—if you’re open to it.
Why should you meet new people on vacation?
So you finally took the plunge and booked a trip, with absolutely no idea who your seatmate will be on your flight. It takes a lot of guts to travel solo—why would you want to ruin that by trying to meet new people on your journey? Think about why you were inspired to travel to begin with. You probably had an interest in changing the way you see the world. That shift in perspective gets even more dynamic when you throw a variety of new connections into the mix, says Molly Cowen, frequent traveler and editor at TravelPirates. “Not only have I had eye-opening discussions, but I’ve also had countless interesting conversations and genuinely fun adventures with friends of as little as a few hours,” she says. For me, visiting a Hindu temple in India alongside a British scholar, a Finnish taxi driver, and a couple of Aussie creatives was a much different experience than if I had gone alone. It made it more fun and more interesting to see it from a multicultural point of view. Plus, when we got lost, it felt adventurous—not stressful. We could laugh about it together as we found our way.Meeting new people abroad shouldn’t only consist of other foreigners, though. Befriending locals has its own advantages—you get an authentic glimpse at what it’s actually like to live in a particular place, and you learn cultural nuances you might otherwise miss as an outsider. When I lived and traveled in Indonesia, building tight-knit relationships with local women allowed me to ask otherwise taboo questions I had, such as why some chose to wear the hijab while others didn’t. Plus, the sleepovers we had were an instant cure for my homesickness. Finally, there are a lot of practical advantages to finding friends when you’re far from home. You can save money (and travel on a budget) by sharing hotel rooms, transportation, and meals. You’ll also build a support network in the country. Going somewhere a little sketchy, or trying out a daring activity (like bungee-jumping)? If your new pals don’t want to join you, they’ll at least take note of where you’re going and look out for your safe return.
If you want to make friends on vacation, you have to plan ahead.
The planning stage is the best time to increase your chances of meeting new people on vacation, and it starts with where you stay. Look for accommodations that foster a sense of community among their transient residents. “Hostels are a great way to meet new people,” says Viktoria Altman, travel blogger at Traveltipster. “Many people who stay in hostels tend to be more outgoing. Although hostels used to be only for young people, there are more and more older travelers who choose to stay in them, not in small part for the company.” Hostels aren’t for everyone, though. If you’re looking for more upscale lodging, skip the big chains in favor of small, family-owned guest houses, bed and breakfasts, and hotels. Charming, one-of-a-kind places mentioned in popular guidebooks (such as the Lonely Planet series) attract friendly travelers from all over the world, and often host events (like movie screenings, family dinners, and board game nights) that create atmospheres for budding friendships—even if you’re just staying a couple of nights.
Meet new people through the art of conversation.
When’s the last time you approached a perfect stranger for a casual conversation? That’s exactly what you’ll need to get comfortable doing if you want to meet new people on a trip. It might seem uncomfortable at first, but trust me when I say that the person on the receiving end of your greeting will probably be receptive. “Be friendly and read the situation. Don’t be afraid to chat up strangers and ask questions about the area,” says Nicole Faith, founder of the Digital Nomad Business Directory. “You can ask ‘Are you a local?’ and tell them you’re visiting. Ask for their recommendations and opinions—people love giving them! It’s a quick way to break the ice.” Every great friendship starts with a simple conversation. Fear of rejection is real, but try to suppress it for the few moments it takes to open up to someone. You never know where it might lead.
Meet new people in a class or group activity.
Shared experiences instantly give strangers something they can both relate to—and hopefully bond over. Trying out a new activity or signing up for an interesting class present ample opportunities to meet new people when you don’t know anyone. “I met a friend while on a haunted house tour in Scotland and another friend on a four-hour swimming cruise in Greece. If you are looking to meet people, join all kinds of activities. You can find some really fun ones on Groupon and Viator,” says Altman. Taking a local cooking class is a travel ritual for me; I sign up for one on nearly every trip I take. Not only do I get to learn new recipes, but I also get to connect with others over a mutual love of culture and cuisine. And sometimes, the classes come with surprises—like the time my Turkish cooking teacher helped me crash a wedding in Istanbul…but that’s another story.
Meet new people while traveling? There’s an app for that.
Technology has made it easier than ever to meet new people, especially while traveling. Social media helps digital nomad and travel vlogger Andrea Valeria find friends in every city she calls home. “There’s a misconception that you’re bound to get lonely when you’re traveling full time, but I haven’t experienced that yet,” she says. “That’s mostly thanks to social media. When used with purpose, it helps you connect to people you wouldn’t otherwise meet in your vicinity.” She’s had the most luck with Instagram and Twitter, as those platforms facilitate connections based on mutual interests. It often starts with exchanges of likes and comments, before moving into private messages, and eventually over to chat and text, says Valeria. When you’re both at the destination, set up a time to meet in person, perhaps over coffee or lunch. “This year, I traveled to an island in Mexico with two girls I met on Instagram that I had been talking to for over a year, and it was one of the greatest trips I’ve done in a while,” she says. “If you’re careful and strategic, social media can lead you to your next best friend.” Traditional social media isn’t the only way to meet new people with digital tools, though. Travel writer Tracy Kaler recommends trying Bungee Girl, an app that helps solo female travelers find gal pals wherever they go. Try out a few platforms to see what works for you—and who you happen to come across.
A retreat or group tour is a great way to meet new people.
All the planning required while you’re on a trip can preoccupy you, consuming precious time you might otherwise spend meeting new people. Wellness retreats and organized group tours take care of that structure for you, leaving you free to get to know other travelers, says Jill Bowdery, travel blogger at Reading the Book. “I always make friends on these tours, even the shorter ones,” she says. “My Facebook friends list is littered with people from all over the world who I connected with. Some are people I shared two weeks of intense experiences with, while others are people I only knew for a day but hit it off with well enough to want to keep that connection. All of them make life more interesting!” Plus, the shared itinerary will give you tons of opportunities to socialize during exciting experiences.
Meet new people by learning a language.
Every traveler has struggled with a language barrier. But building a language bridge might be the easiest way to meet new people around the world, says Stephanie Montague, travel blogger at Poppin’ Smoke. “If you’re in a foreign country, chances are there’s someone who wants to learn English and would love to meet you for coffee. If you are interested in learning the local language, all the better,” she says. “Try posting a message on bulletin boards at local universities or through organizations serving foreigners. Online classifieds are also a good resource to find a local with which to practice the language.” It’ll pay off with some helpful vocabulary, and hopefully a new amiga.
Stay in touch with the new people you meet.
Success! You found a companion and spent days wandering around an exotic place together. But now it’s time to part ways—how can you keep the relationship alive when you live far away? Whenever you meet new people, get their details right away, says Goldie Chan, a frequent traveler and founder of Warm Robots, a social media strategy agency. “Add them immediately into your phone, WhatsApp, or on to your favorite social network and send them a picture of the two of you. This ensures that you have their contact and not just a scrap of paper,” she says. Then, use the info! Budding friendships aren’t as resilient as your long-term buddies back at home—they require regular attention to blossom. When you meet new people, continue to connect with them over social media and email. Sending them a postcard, snail-mail style, will show special care. Growing the relationship ensures that it’ll be there for the long term. Who knows? Maybe you’ll even plan your next trip together.
A Word of Caution: Be safe when you’re meeting new people.
No matter how lonely you get while traveling solo, don’t let your desire to meet new people put your safety at risk. Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind when you’re trying to meet new people on vacation: Meet new people only in public places. There’s little to no reason to go into the private room or car of someone you’ve only known for a short while. Tell someone you trust where you’re going and who you’re meeting. Zap an email to your friends and family back home, and let the staff at your hotel or hostel know what you’re up to. Secure your valuables. Carry no more than the amount of cash you need for a day, put locks on your bags, and definitely stash your passport in a safe place. Know your own limits. That goes for alcohol and physical activity. Pushing yourself to the point of insobriety or exhaustion leaves you vulnerable. Always trust your instincts. They can save you from a lot of trouble. Taking a few basic safety precautions gives you the peace of mind you need to meet new people. Go ahead, traveler, mingle your way around the world. Let us know how it goes!