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One of the questions I get asked most often is how I make so many friends while traveling on my own. I travel solo most of the time, and while you think it might be lonely, it’s not. I’m able to meet so many people on my travels.
Here’s the truth — I’m not the most social person in the world. I’m an introvert who always has her nose in a book and needs a few days to recover after a party. Most readers who meet me say I’m much quieter than they expected, and making friends isn’t the easiest thing for me.
You can meet people while traveling, even if you are an introvert. If I can do it, you can.
For the past ten years, I’ve been teaching women how to travel the world on their own safely. Over the years, my travel style has changed — while I used to be all about the party hostels and social dorms, these days I don’t stay in dorms at all and tend to pick more high-end places.
How to Meet People While Traveling
I originally wrote this post in 2011, back when I was a hardcore backpacker, and times have changed since then. I’m still able to meet people while traveling — but it’s about more than just beer-soaked hostel bars and boozy river tubing.
That’s not to say hostels are bad. Far from it. Hostels today are SO much better than they were ten years ago, and they’re for all kinds of travelers. They’re not the only thing that has changed since then — the internet has become more advanced and now it’s easier to meet people all over the world, based on what you’re into.
A lot of people think that if you travel solo, you’re alone nearly all of the time. And that’s not necessarily true — you’re only alone if you want to be. I like to be alone for some of my travels, but I LOVE meeting new friends, too.
This post was last updated in January 2020.
Here are some of the ways I make friends while traveling solo:
When I think back to where I’ve made the most friends while traveling, multi-day trips come to mind. Sailing Croatia, snorkeling Belize, exploring Australia’s Top End. When you have a few days together with the same people, eating meals together, doing activities together, being trapped on long bus rides together, that’s when friendships happen!
What is a multi-day trip? It’s a group tour, essentially, but only for a few days. Tours that last a few days and are part of a longer trip. I find that adding a multi-day trip helps me make a lot more friends while traveling.
Still, if you’d like to travel friends for even longer, I recommend joining a group tour for your whole trip. I highly recommend tours with G Adventures, and they have trips all over the world. Whether you want to hike to Machu Picchu, sail Croatia’s islands, or go on safari in Tanzania, they’ve got adventurous small group tours on seven continents!
Stay in a social hostel
Yes, I mean it, even if you’re over 30 — staying in a hostel is NOT just for twenty-somethings anymore. Please hear me out. Hostels these days are SO much better than they used to be, and a social hostel is very different from a party hostel. Most hostels have private rooms these days, and lots are adding luxurious amenities. They cater to mid-range and budget travelers who like getting good value for money.
And you know what? I haven’t slept in a dorm since I was 30. But I do continue to stay in beautiful, interesting, even luxurious hostels. And many of these hostels have been some of the best places to meet people while traveling. I stay in a private room but I hang out in the lounge and sign up for activities through the hostel.
That picture above was taken at Gallery Hostel in Porto, Portugal, one of my favorite hostels on the planet.
Gallery Hostel is absolutely gorgeous and has the most comfortable beds — but where they shine is the group activities. You can join in a cheap group dinner, or do a port tasting, or go on a free city tour, or have a cinema night at the hostel.
There are plenty more — I loved the social atmosphere at Los Amigos Hostel in Flores, Guatemala; the tapas tour at Oasis Backpackers Sevilla; the bagel breakfasts at The Green Tortoise in San Francisco; the rooftop celebrations at Vietnam Backpackers Hostel in Hanoi.
How do you find hostels like these? Start by taking a look at The Grand Hostels: Luxury Hostels of the World, written by my good friend Kash Bhattacharya, aka The Budget Traveller. Kash coined the term “luxury hostel” and for years he’s been writing about the world’s best hostels on his site.
Hostel lounges are where I met so many of my friends. And whether you hit the hostel bar or join a local activity, it’s an easy way to meet fellow travelers.
Just one thing: do your research and try not to book a notorious party hostel, like Kabul in Barcelona or The Flying Pig in Amsterdam. Unless that’s what you’re looking for…
How I made friends while traveling in social hostels: I first spent time with Chris, Jon and Mona at Monkey Republic in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. We then ran into each other at the Garden Village bar in Siem Reap, and after that, we traveled together to Bangkok, Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang! They are one of my favorite groups I’ve ever traveled with.
Tours, activities and excursions
Whether you do an adventure sports activity, like bungee jumping in New Zealand, or a food activity, like a pastry tour of New York, you inevitably end up getting to know some new people while traveling.
Where do you find activities? Lately I’ve been a big fan of Airbnb Experiences — they are tours given by interesting locals who love sharing the world, and it’s a lot less corporate than the big tour companies. Other than that, you can find a ton of tours and activities on Viator.
I find that some activities are better for making friends than others. Physical activities, especially adrenaline-rushing activities like whitewater rafting or bungee jumping, have a way of bonding you as a group! Alcohol-focused activities like cocktail tours add a lot of social lubrication, too.
Find a tour or activity that interests you, learn people’s names, and keep hanging out. It seems like tons of activities naturally progress to the bar afterward. And if they don’t, you can always see if someone wants to get a drink or a coffee.
How I made friends through group tours: I made friends on a fashion tour in Tokyo, I made friends on a fruit tour in Medellín, I made friends on a local food tour in Asheville, I made friends on a free historic walking in Munich, I made friends on a rafting trip in Montenegro, and a few months ago I befriended my photographer from an Airbnb Experience in Florence.
Join the Party — Safely
If you’re looking to party while traveling solo, but have no idea how to go about it when you don’t know anyone, there are ways to do so. Towns like San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, or even New Orleans can be a lot of fun solo!
I recommend looking for organized bar crawls or cocktail tours to join. These will help you meet people in the same mindset, and alcohol makes most people more talkative and friendly.
Otherwise, look for scheduled events — like the Sunday Funday party in San Juan del Sur, which is part pool party and part bar crawl on the laziest day of the week. Some bars have trivia nights or poker nights; others have theme nights. And don’t forget about booze cruises, which turn into day parties themselves.
As always, it’s important to watch your drinking when you’re traveling solo. Drink less than you usually would, keep an eye on your drinks, and continuously ask yourself, “Do I want to be more out of control than I am now?” And remember that there’s no shame in heading back at 10:30 PM.
One last thing — some of the best friends I’ve ever met have been late at night in the ladies’ room at the bar. Of course, we never see each other again, but I LIVE FOR THOSE HEARTFELT CONVERSATIONS.
Couchsurfing is WAY more than just free accommodation! The Couchsurfing community is most famous for letting you stay in people’s homes for free, but that’s just a small part of what they provide.
Couchsurfing is a great resource for local meetups. These meetups are for both locals and whoever happens to be passing through, and most major cities have a weekly Couchsurfing meetup. Whenever I’m visiting a new city, I take a look at the local Couchsurfing group to see if any meetups are going on. They are a great place to meet well-traveled people.
Beyond that, most people who have Couchsurfing profiles are interested in meeting new people. It’s completely fine and expected to drop someone a note, mention that you’re visiting their city soon, and suggest meeting up for a coffee while you’re there.
How I made friends Couchsurfing: My first solo trip ever was to Buenos Aires in 2008 and I was nervous about meeting people while traveling. Before I arrived, I connected with tons of Couchsurfers. Once I landed, I was invited to club nights out, birthday parties, concerts, and even a Thanksgiving dinner! I met tons of people the first night and was treated like a long-lost friend the rest of my time there.
If you’re a Redditor, I don’t need to explain. If you’re not a Redditor…well, maybe you’re best off not getting into Reddit, because it is an addictive site that will consume your waking hours.
That being said, destination subreddits are a great place to meet people while traveling. Look up the subreddit for a city you’re visiting, whether it’s Lisbon or Denver, and see what people are posting. If it’s a larger city, they might have a subreddit specifically for meetups, and you can post anything — even “Hey, I’m visiting this weekend and I’d love a museum buddy” or “Looking to join a bar trivia team this week!”
New York, for example, has a subreddit for impromptu meetups, as well as a weekly meetup at the Peculier Pub that all are welcome to join.
As always, read through the sidebar before posting in the group. There are usually rules and you won’t want to break one right off the bat.
How I made friends from Reddit: While I haven’t used it for my travels yet, I have made friends from reaching out to people on the AskNYC subreddit who were going to the same political events as me and asking if they wanted to get a coffee beforehand!
Ask your friends for contacts
If you’re planning a trip to a certain conversation, ask your friends if they know anyone living there. This may be a bit more challenging in, say, Mongolia, but if you’re visiting a popular city like London or San Francisco — or even a popular expat spot like Chiang Mai or Bali — it can pay off.
I recommend keeping things casual. Reach out and say you’ll be visiting their city on your own, and offer to take them out for a cup of coffee while you’re there.
My fellow introverts, I know making a request to a stranger like that can be terrifying! But this gives them the ability to choose what they’re in the mood for. If they offer to give you suggestions over email instead of meeting up, that’s fine, it’s their decision. But many people will be down for a coffee, and if you hit it off, sometimes they’ll invite you out with their friends later.
How I made friends through contacts: My friend Amelia’s husband is from Colombia, and when I planned to visit Colombia, she offered to connect me with his cousin Mario in Bogotá. I dropped him an email and he invited me out dancing!
Find your community abroad
This all depends on what you’re into — and I have to admit that this is much easier for me as a travel blogger. I’ve been building a community around the world for a decade. But there are lots of different ways to do this.
If you’re part of a global community or international organization, do some research and see if you can meet up with potential members.
And if you’re simply a person with hobbies, meet people who are into those hobbies! I find that Meetup is a great resource for that, whether you’re looking for a hiking group, a collection of political activists, or just some people to play DND with. Some cities have Meetup groups called “I wanna do that, just not alone.”
How I meet people who are into the same activities: Wherever I go, I meet up with fellow travel bloggers — and sometimes even my readers.
Tinder and other dating apps
Can you use Tinder while traveling? Absolutely! Is it safe for a woman to use Tinder and date while traveling? It can be, but it’s smart to take more precautions. Here is what I recommend:
Decide what you’re looking for and what you’re comfortable doing with a date. Clarify to yourself what your expectations are before you start swiping, and remember that you can always change your mind.
Get a local SIM card. It helps to always be able to call an Uber or cab if you need one, and not rely on wifi.
Keep a friend at home up-to-date on your plans. Get the WhatsApp or other contact info of your date, and send that to her along with his photos. Check in before, during, and after the date.
Meet your date in a public place. Bar, restaurant, coffeeshop, park, etc.
Keep an eye on your drinks. Only take drinks from the bartender, keep an eye on it, and don’t leave it when you go to the bathroom.
Have condoms. Better to be overprepared than to risk an STI.
Remember that you can always say no. Even if he paid for everything. Even if it’s late. Even if he seems like a nice guy. Even if you felt like it earlier but you don’t anymore. If you’re not enjoying yourself, it’s okay get up and walk out. It’s not like you’re ever going to see this guy again.
How I’ve used Tinder to meet people while traveling: Once when I was with a bunch of friends in Guatemala, we decided to use Tinder to invite as many guys to the bar as possible. It actually turned into a really fun night!
Travel somewhere friendly — and be open
This one is a bit tougher to implement — sometimes you’ll meet friends by chance, and sometimes you won’t. But there are places around the world where it’s incredibly easy to meet new people.
You’ll find nice people all over the world, but not all cultures are outwardly friendly to visitors. That’s not a knock on those places; it just means you need to make more of an effort.
Some places where I’ve found particularly friendly, easy-to-befriend locals are Ireland, Lebanon, Newfoundland, Scotland, Bali, Colombia, Australia, and Asheville, North Carolina.
Some places where I’ve found it more challenging are England, Finland, Paris, and New York. In these places, you can absolutely make friends — I just recommend going with one of the previously mentioned methods.
How I’ve made friends while being open: In Colombia, I ended up hiking in the Valle de Cocora with two girls who asked me for directions. In Newfoundland, I gabbed up a storm with a couple I met on a dining adventure. In Bali, I met a local girl and she invited me out to a white party with all her friends. You can’t predict it, but it’s serendipitous when it happens.
Have you made friends while traveling solo? What do you suggest?