Picture this: You’re backpacking through Southeast Asia, you meet a group of like-minded travelers, go out for a bowl of noodles and the next thing you know you’re all plotting your next destination together. I think deep down we all have this image in our mind when we think of solo travel. For some, this might sound like a dream; for others, this might seem like their worst nightmare.
Though I’m sure this does happen for some, my solo travel experiences have been a little different. For one, I’m an introvert, so meeting people doesn’t quite come as naturally for me as it may for others. And if these types of interactions do happen, they rarely fall in your lap. You have to be willing to put yourself in the position for them to happen.
1. Stay in Hostels
Most introverts are probably cringing at the very idea of a hostel. They either think of their shitty dorm room in college, sharing bathrooms with strangers and no sleep. But I’m here to tell you that hostels have grown up. A new wave of trendy, millennial-focused hostels has appeared as of late, with the type of “industrial-chic” that would make Kinfolk magazine cry. That’s not to say it’s automatically a good thing. It’s still important to do some research and figure out the location and vibe of the hostel you want. And sometimes bad experiences are just going to happen, as with any trip.
2. When you go out to eat, sit at the bar
Maybe one of the tougher things to get used to while traveling alone can be eating out. It’s inevitable, and you’ll probably feel uncomfortable at first. But once you realize that nobody cares and thinks you’re weird, it’ll come second nature. Plus, sometimes you can sneak into busy restaurants that have a random extra seat available that wouldn’t fit a party otherwise. And when you do eat out, sit at the bar whenever possible. There are several reasons why this is the way to go:
- Little to no wait.
- You can talk to the bartender. Usually, they can provide you with some good recommendations for what to do around town that you wouldn’t find in guides (yes, including mine)
- You’ll likely sit next to other people and make friends. It’s tough not to make friends when you’re at a bar. You’re tipsy, and they’re tipsy, nobody feels awkward anymore. Hell, you might even meet some Australians and wind up bar hopping with them after a few Pisco sours. The options are endless.
3. Take your headphones off
I’m a huge culprit of this, and I’ve already mentioned it in a related post. It’s too easy in today’s world to put your headphones on and zone out. But when we do that, it isolates and disconnects us from the world around us. It’s a social signal that kind of says, “leave me the fuck alone.” As such, it can dissuade people from striking up a conversation or interacting with you.
4. Just say hi
Another one I struggle with. But each time, I’m amazed how far a simple “hi” (ideally in the native tongue if possible) will go. Sometimes, especially if you see someone else alone, it’s just a social standoff. More often than not, they’re thinking the same things you are and would welcome an ice breaker. But once the ice has broken, the conversation will flow naturally. And, if not, it doesn’t matter at the end of the day.
5. Make sure to get his/her contact information
After you’ve followed the first three rules, it’s time to get some digits. You’ll likely need an app like WhatsApp or Viber, that’s the standard mode of contact outside the United States. Even if you never see that person again on the trip, who knows, there could be a time to connect in the future. I’ve met plenty of fellow travelers from around the world and wouldn’t hesitate to reach out if I was going to their neck of the woods.
6. Keep some time for yourself
Some days I’m just not social when I’m traveling. I love walking the streets alone, ideally on a brisk day with a hot cup of coffee. It’s a fantastic time for introspection and processing the atmosphere, which is one of the top benefits of traveling. And for introverts, it gives us a time to recharge. So, while it’s fun to break out of your comfort zone, feed your inner introverted self and spend some time alone.
Solo travel isn’t for everyone. For introverts it can seem especially isolating. However, I would absolutely recommend everyone do a solo trip at least once in their life. It’s an understatement to say that’s it’s been a transformative experience for me. With these tips and tricks in mind, I hope the prospect of taking on solo travel seems slightly less daunting.