I meet truly amazing people as I travel solo. Making this happen begins with the choices I make when planning my trip and carries through to my time on the road.
Traveling alone opens doors to conversations that don't happen when traveling with others. When traveling with companions, you are typically focused on them rather than the conversation opportunities around you.
With a little effort, I have developed some skills that make this happen easily. While we are all raised not to talk to strangers, learning how to do so safely while traveling results in some of the most interesting travel moments.
These travel moments deliver cultural insights, political understanding, and, typically, some great practical advice.
The 1,2,3 of Planning Your Trip to Meet People
The choices you make when planning your trip really affect the number of people you will meet.
When traveling independently, this includes the accommodation, the form of transportation, and the activities you choose.
Book yourself into a small inn, B&B, or hostel to put yourself into a community of travelers. Use the lounges or common areas to have a cup of tea, meet people, and share your experiences of your destination. Stay for a few nights and you may develop relationships and even have a traveling companion for the next day.
Use local, public transportation to connect with more people than taxis or Ubers offer. On a local bus, you can strike up a conversation with someone who will help you find your next stop. If the ride is long enough, you will learn more about your destination as well. When traveling longer distances, a train is a great way to go. With many hours or days, there will be great opportunities to meet people. Observation and bar cars are a great spot for this.
Plan to take a cooking, art, or language class on your trip. Each will connect you with people of shared interests. Plan for day trips or book yourself into dinner events or cruises where they will naturally place you at a table with other people.
Plan your trip so that you will meet people while traveling solo.
7 Tested Ways to Meet People While Traveling Solo
Everyone has their own ways of meeting people while traveling solo. Below are two stories to show how differently Tracey and I do it. Here are some ideas that anyone can try.
1. Go to restaurants with communal tables.
Communal tables are becoming popular in restaurants. They solve the problem of one person taking up a table for two. For the solo traveler, it's an opportunity to sit down with locals, strike up a conversation, have a laugh or learn more about the destination.
2. Take a free walking tour on Freetour.com.
A walking tour is the first thing I do when I get to a destination. It gives me the lay of the land and the basics behind its history. On walking tours you meet others. On one in Paris, I left the tour with a woman as the rain started to come down and we went for lunch together. Over lunch we traced our experiences back to a woman we both knew in Toronto.
3. Spend time at coffee shops where local freelancers are likely hanging out.
As a writer, I often go to coffee shops to work. When the freelancers take a break, that's when the social scene happens. It's an opportunity to meet people. Many coffee shops also have evening entertainment making it a place to go at night.
4. Go onto Meetup.com to see what events are happening that you could join.
Meetup.com is a wealth of meeting opportunities. Drop into the one for your destination, put the dates you'll be there in the calendar, and see what comes up. There will often be many to choose from.
5. Find a language exchange drop in.
In countries where English is not the main language, English speakers are usually very welcome to language exchange dropins. Go to BlaBla Language Exchange to see if there's a drop in at your destination.
6. Join other travelers and eat with a local.
This is such fun. Search eatwith and you will find a number of opportunities in cities around the world where you can see who is offering what kind of meal and social experience. The hosts are vetted. There are also more and more communal dining events you can access, such as Toronto's Communal Table, which are designed to connect people over food.
7. Sit still and watch for opportunities to talk to people.
Below are two stories, one by Tracey and another by me, about different ways we meet people while traveling solo. Read this story for one fascinating, uplifting person I met: Positive Thinking and Solo Travel.
Five Conversation Starters for Solo Travelers
When you want to share a chat with a stranger, approach people who appear to have the time for a conversation. Remember that they may be wary of your approach. After all, you are a stranger to them. Let them decide how long your chat will last. Once they’ve discovered that you travel solo, an opening question will often start the conversation you want.
- Locals: Open with a question that lets them know that you travel solo, such as, “Are there any restaurants with communal tables nearby?”
- Other solo travelers: You’ll notice who is traveling solo by the place settings at a table or a book as a companion. But just because they’re alone, don’t assume that they want company. Open with something easy like a comment about the weather or a question about where they are from.
- Other tourists: Chatting with a couple or small group of tourists can be fun too. Look for the person in the group who is the organizer–they'll be carrying a map or leading the pack. Open with a question for them but be sure to engage their gregarious companion (they usually come in pairs). They'll be the one who really chats or even invites you along.
- In a hotel, restaurant, or club: Sit at the bar. This is more social than a table. Choose who you want to speak with carefully. Comment on the band and ask about the music scene in town. It will be obvious that you are a tourist, which makes you interesting.
- Anywhere: If you are really, really curious about something, spot a person you’d like to speak with and ask your question. There is nothing better than genuine curiosity to engage people.
Solo Travel Safety
Letting people know that you are traveling alone is fine. But by sharing this information, you also reveal that you are somewhat vulnerable. There are two keys to safety here:
- Choose who you speak with carefully. Most people are safe, but look for clues that tell you they are.
- Stay in public. When you don't know the people you're talking to it's always safer to stay in a public space–a coffee shop or pub, for instance–rather than a private one.
Two Stories: Unique Ways to Meet People While Traveling Solo
Janice's story: He was due for his annual hair cut. Yes, his white hair was past his shoulders and his beard was down to his chest. Definitely a character. I walked up to him and said, “Mr. Steel, I understand that you’re the person I have to meet.” He was somewhat surprised but not really taken aback. He seemed to know that he was the unofficial cultural liaison for St. Andrews by-the-Sea, New Brunswick.
Jamie Steel is at the center of the music scene in St. Andrews by-the-Sea. He is the type of person I look for in every small town I visit. People really worth knowing but who are rarely tripped over. They are typically found through others. I find them by simply asking.
I was in a tartan shop (there is a rich Scottish heritage in New Brunswick) chatting with the owner, when I asked her the question: who's the person in town I really have to meet? She thought about it for just a moment, then said, “Jamie Steel.” When I asked where I would find him, she stepped out of the shop to point out the pub I should go to that evening and there he was, walking in, at that very moment.
Off I went and, as I told you, I walked right up to him and introduced myself. He invited me back to the pub that evening to see Adam Olmstead, a local boy who made good in Nashville and was on his way through town to play at a festival in Nova Scotia. He would play at the pub that night with the Nashville String Band that includes a number of Grammy Award-winning members.
I returned after dinner that evening, listened to the music, and met the entire band. I don't usually play the groupie but this was a fabulous evening!
Tracey's story: While visiting Bermuda, one day I decided to take advantage of the weather and some free time and eat my lunch in a small park at the water’s edge in St. George’s.
Earlier that morning, I had taken a walking tour of the town led by Allison Outerbridge, a descendant of one of the oldest families on the island. Her knowledge of the area is seemingly encyclopedic. Following the walking tour, I watched a re-enactment of The Ducking of the Wives, a tradition that involved punishing women for gossiping and nagging by humiliating them in front of a huge crowd in the town square, then plunging them repeatedly into the harbor. Although the performance is presented in a dramatic and humorous way, it does leave you with some food for thought.
So off I went for some quiet time by the water. I found a bench under a tree and sat soaking in the beauty of St. George’s Harbour, enjoying the breeze, and sharing my lunch with the birds. I was soon joined by a woman decked out in so much silver jewelry that I became aware of the sound of her clanging bangles before actually seeing her. We chatted for a few minutes. I discovered that she was on her first solo cruise and had just disembarked from the ship to have a stroll around town. Solo travelers are everywhere!
A short time later, along came a four-legged local and his two-legged companion. I was pleased to make the acquaintance of the apparently famous Smokey the Dachshund. Smokey is an award-winning show dog, and his owner told me all about his many accomplishments. He also shared his theories about 9/11, the financial collapse, American politics, China, and the internet. It was a pretty wide-ranging discussion – well, more a monologue, really – but incredibly entertaining.
I'm so glad that I plunked myself down in Bob Burns Memorial Park that day. After exploring the town on foot with a group, by sitting still on my own in a public space, I opened myself up to meeting new people. In this case, I met both another traveler and a local, which not only added some color to my day, but also makes my memories of my visit to St. George’s a little more special.