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Imagine walking into a bar and knowing nobody inside. Everyone is laughing and drinking and seems to have been best friends for ages.
Do you find that as terrifying as I do? God, it’s the stuff of nightmares!
I’ve talked a lot about how to make friends while traveling solo. But party destinations are a special case — you’re not here to take a walk by yourself in the early evening and photograph the city. You’re here to get crazy with other people — people who are strangers to you.
Maybe you’re heading to Koh Phi Phi, or Ibiza, or Puerto Viejo, or Koh Phangan. You’re traveling on your own, but you want to experience the legendary party scene for yourself.
I recently found myself in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua — and boy, is that a party town. A huge strip of bars, tons of hot Canadian surfers, and a massive weekly party. For me San Juan felt more like the atmosphere of Vang Vieng in 2011 more than anywhere else I’ve ever been.
I was lucky in that I didn’t experience San Juan completely on my own — my friend Alex was already there and we spent most of the week together. Going into bars full of strangers is far less intimidating when you’ve got a friend with you. But it got me thinking — how do you conquer destinations like these when you’re traveling by yourself?
Oh, it’s more than possible. Here’s what to do:
Stay in a party hostel. If partying is your priority, head to a party hostel, or at least a social hostel. A good benchmark is whether or not the hostel has a bar and whether the bar seems to be a happening place. Are there special deals or nightly treats at the bar? Then there’s a good chance that it’s a party hostel. These kinds of hostels are great places to start your night and meet new people.
Choose organized nightlife activities. Does your hostel have a pub crawl tour? What about a nightlife tour? Hostels are often a great resource for these. If you’re heading to a larger city, Google “pub crawl” or “nightlife tour” with your city name. Alternatively, if you book any kind of evening tour, whether it’s a food tour or an architecture by night tour, there’s a fair chance that some people will want to mingle and get a drink afterward.
In San Juan, I went out to a pub crawl one night and joined the infamous Sunday Funday pool party crawl. I was just part of the crowd and for that reason, it was easy to meet other people.
Check bar schedules. In San Juan, Bar Republika has different activities every night: trivia, poker, name that tune, even chess tournaments. Special events like these at bars are great ways to meet people and start your night without any awkwardness. Take a look at some local bars and see if they have anything scheduled.
Do activities during the day. In San Juan, I did yoga a few times and made a few friends there whom I ran into later in the week. But nothing was better for meeting people than the organized catamaran ride I took (which was pretty much a booze cruise). Cowgirls from Alaska, brothers from Michigan, a brilliant septuagenarian couple who used to own a hip-hop label in New York — everyone became friends as we sailed along the coast, sipped on mai tais, and jumped into the emerald green water.
When you do social activities during the day, you make new friends and plans could end up continuing into the night. And in a place as small as San Juan, you continue to run into the same people all the time.
Strike up conversations with both locals and travelers. Being talkative can sometimes feel like a struggle if you’re on the introverted side (which I absolutely am), but often people are just as introverted and need someone else to break the ice in order to open into a conversation. You never know — you could meet a friend that way!
Talk to everyone. Talk to the ladies who make your smoothies. Talk to people hanging out in your accommodation’s lobby. Talk to the jacked Canadian guys serving poutine at the Loose Moose Bar (that one may be specific to San Juan). Ask questions about the area. Or just introduce yourself. You never know what could lead to a friendship.
Check out Couchsurfing. I’m a big advocate of using Couchsurfing to meet locals, and it applies in party destinations just as much as it does everywhere else. Join your destination’s local group and see if there’s a calendar of events. If not, post a message in the group or reach out to people on Couchsurfing looking to meet people for “coffee or a drink.”
Use Tinder. I’m serious. I couldn’t believe how popular Tinder was in San Juan, and if you’re looking for a hookup, it can’t hurt. Plus, getting a match is great for your self-confidence.
If all else fails, just go into a crowded bar and start talking to people. I know. It’s incredibly intimidating. But when you’re visiting a party destination, people are there to relax and have a good time — and they’re a bit liquored up already and more open to talking. Go to the bar, order a drink, smile, and ask someone near you, “Where are you from?” Take it from there. If there’s chemistry, keep talking; if not, break away kindly and find someone else.
Other ways to break the ice when you don’t know anyone in a bar:
“I love your necklace/shirt/hair!” This is a great way to strike up a conversation with a girl.
“What drink is that?” Perfect for someone drinking an unusual-looking cocktail.
“How long have you been in town?” Everyone has an answer for that.
Watch your drinking. Yes, you do relax the more you drink, but please be careful not to drink too much. It’s important for any traveler, but especially so for solo travelers who don’t have friends looking out for them. Before you get another drink, always ask yourself, “Do I want to feel more out of control than I am now?” If not, have a water.
Feel free to pull the plug anytime you’d like. Don’t be afraid to leave and go snooze at 10:30 PM (I may have done that myself) or say goodbye to a guy you’re not that into or take a taxi home even if your accommodation is close by. It’s all about you — the beauty about solo travel is that you can do anything you want.