Six common ways to make friends and meet people when travelling

6 Ways to make Travel Buddies!

This article is primarily designed for first-time backpackers. Many people are put off the idea of solo travel because they hate the thought of being alone away from home and aren’t sure how to make friends and meet people when travelling.

These days though, in theory at least, it is easier than ever to make travel buddies and meet local people and this page offers six of the most common ways friendships are formed on the road:

1. Use Couchsurfing

how to meet people and make friend as a backpacker

Image via Alex Johnson, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Couchsurfing is perhaps the most guaranteed way to find someone to hang out with. You may already be aware of it but to summarise almost all towns and cities around the world have some form of couchsurfing community and many have thousands of people willing to let travellers stay for a night or two on their couch or in a spare room. The review system ensures it is pretty safe and as well as the obvious benefit of getting somewhere free to stay, you immediately meet a local person who will be able to advise you on things to see and do. Chances are they will also be willing to hang out with you and perhaps even invite you along to meet their friends so it’s a great way to meet some locals which isn’t always easy when you stay in hostels.

Even if staying with strangers isn’t necessarily your thing, then it’s still well worth joining the site. Most towns have regular couchsurfing events or evenings in local bars (which are advertised on the site) where you can just head there alone and meet both locals and other travellers. Meanwhile many members, who don’t have space in their home, just want to meet up and maybe show you some of their town.

Join couchsurfing here (it’s free!)

2. Stay in Hostel Dorms

In terms of meeting other travellers, hostel dorms are the best place to be. Most backpacker friendships are still formed that way. They are generally full of other solo travellers or people travelling in small groups. Obviously some people are friendlier than others but it’s highly probable that there’ll be other people in your dorm who are in the same position and will be keen to socialise so don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation.

Most hostels do have both mixed and male/female only dorms so you can take your pick. It’s certainly true that in many hostels and particularly dorms, there are people that are looking for a bit more than just friendship. You can always ask to move to another dorm if anyone makes you feel uncomfortable but generally speaking they are sociable places and full of potential travel buddies.

Read our Basic guide to staying in Hostels if you’re not sure what to expect from a backpackers hostel.

3. Use Apps that help you meet people.

Even over the past five years alone, the huge rise of mobile apps has made meeting people at home and abroad much easier. If you’re single then there’s no reason why you can’t use dating apps to find a bit of romance on the road as you might at home. Even if you just want to make friends, apps like tinder can be very useful to quickly get in touch with locals but it’s best to be very clear that it’s only friendship you’re after.

Meetup is another really useful site/app that lists events and gatherings going on in your vicinity and if it’s a reasonably large town you are in, there are probably many things going on through the day that you can get involved with and meet some people. Couchsurfing’s app is also worth downloading to your phone as it lists people who currently want to hang out.

Finally don’t forget about your current social media accounts. If you’re pretty active on them and have a reasonable following/friend circle and openly broadcast your travel plans, you might just be surprised to find friends or friends of friends who will be in the same area at the same time as you.

4. Sign up for excursions, trips, walking tours and bar crawls

Most towns of a reasonable size and almost all popular tourist towns and cities will at least have a free or very cheap walking tour that you can join. Ask in your hostel about this and it’s a great way to see the sights and learn more about them than you would doing it alone. Generally there will be a reasonably large number of people on the tour and it should be fairly easy to get chatting to someone, particularly if they also appear to be alone.

Where there’s a walking tour, there’s probably also a pub crawl (e.g. Pub Crawl Madrid). Many big cities and party towns will have nightly pub/bar crawls that you can join and that’s another very good way to meet other travellers. Whether you’ll remember anyone you met the next day is another question but it’s a good option if you want to have a fun night out, which is pretty hard to do if it’s just you.

If nature is more your thing than getting wasted with horny strangers then consider going joining excursions rather than just doing your own thing all the time. Again the hostel is probably the best place to ask about this. Most hostels work with other hostels in that town to organise excursions and trips to local places of interest so chances are you’ll be able to make some friends on them that you could potentially hang out with that evening or the following day.

5. Hang out in hostel or traveller bars.

making friends when travelling

Image via Steve Haslam, CC BY-SA 2.0

Like it or not, drinking is a pretty big part of the travelling and hostelling culture and bars tend to be the hub of the social activity. Even if you don’t drink or aren’t a big drinker yourself, heading to a hostel or traveller-geared bar is a decent idea as a last resort if all the other methods fail. Certainly if you are someone who prefers private rooms or are in a country where dorms aren’t that easily found, the bar is the next easiest place to potentially make some travel buddies.

As with the bar crawls, alcohol naturally makes people a bit more sociable and even if you’re just sitting there on your own, reading a book or sending some messages/e-mails there’s a good chance you’ll find someone to chat too.

6. Speak to people on trains, buses & planes.

Some travellers are perhaps too quick to write this off as a way to make friends but the train/bus/plane into your next destination is actually a great opportunity to find someone to hang out with even before you’ve arrived!

It does help if you’re a naturally confident person but even if you’re not the task isn’t as hard as it sounds. Travelling for hours on end can be a boring experience so most people are welcome for any kind of distraction and it’s pretty easy to tell those who aren’t in the mood for a chat. In most places, locals will be naturally curious as to your experience in their country and will probably have many questions and recommendations.

Other travellers, who are probably heading to the same place as you are also very easy to spot. If you’re travelling on a train, you can just go up to people and ask them where they are heading or if they have somewhere to stay. With buses, generally there will be several stops at service stations or roadside cafes, when people get off and stretch their legs or have a cigarette. This is the best time to strike up a conversation. If you’ve not got accommodation sorted, you can suggest looking for somewhere together or head to the same hostel as them if they have something booked. Therefore in no time you potentially have someone to hang out with over the next few days.

 

If you are a first-time traveller, you can find more tips and suggestions in our Backpacker Basics section.

 


 This article was published in April 2017.


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Airbnb Reviewed

What is Airbnb?

Airbnb is a website which allows you to book short to mid-term accommodation in cities and towns around the world. However instead of staying in hotels or hostels, the accommodation on offer is beds or rooms in people’s homes or even entire private properties. Likewise if you have a room or a whole flat that is not being used, you can become a host and offer it on Airbnb where travellers can book to stay with you.


How does it work?

Searching for Properties

Like a normal accommodation booking site, you can search for properties and have a range of options to filter the results by price, location etc. You simply enter the dates you want to travel and your destination and you get a list of possible results and a map showing you the location of them.

The most important filter is the ‘room type’ which allows you to choose between a private room, shared room or entire home. For the first two options typically you will be staying in a flat/house with the host and whoever else lives there and possibly a few other Airbnb travellers. With the other option you will have the entire property to yourself but in this case you are more likely to be expected to pay a deposit, which will be returned at the end of your stay as long as you don’t trash the place. This should be detailed in the listing, where you can also see reviews from other people who’ve stayed there.

Some properties have a minimum stay but most can be rented for anything from one night to several months. The price you initially see will be a daily rate but if you are booking for longer than a week, you should see a reduction as most hosts offer weekly and monthly reductions.

Booking somewhere

To book on Airbnb, you need to set up a free account (see next section). The main difference with Airbnb from reserving a hotel or hostel is the actual booking procedure. Once you’ve found somewhere you like, you send a ‘request to book’, where you’re asked to provide a few details about your stay. The host then will typically reply quite quickly, in most cases within 24 hours either accepting or declining your request. Some hosts prefer people with a previous booking history and reviews while others will accept almost anyone. Of course you can also send the host a message prior to the request to book if you have any questions.

Once you send a request to book, you have to enter your payment details which will be charged in full for the period of the booking (unless it’s more than one month) once it is accepted. However this money is held by Airbnb until 24 hours after your check-in date so if the property doesn’t meet your expectations and is different from the listing you should be eligible for a refund.

They have also recently introduced an ‘Instant Book’ feature. If a property has ‘Instant Book’ turned on, you can book without needing to wait for the host to respond, which should speed up the process and is useful for bookings in the very near future.

Checking In

Once you’ve made a booking, the contact details of your host will be made available and they are obliged to contact you to sort out the check-in time. You can’t just show up at any time like you would to a hotel or hostel, so it’s important to communicate with your host. They should at the very least send you the exact address and arrange with you an arrival time. In some cases you won’t share a common language with your host but the Airbnb messaging system automatically translates which should make life a bit easier. The main thing is to agree on a time and be clear about the address.

On arrival, you should be given a key, brief tour of the flat and the opportunity to ask any questions about the property, local area, things to see etc.

After your Stay

Following your stay both parties have some time in which to review the other. You can provide a rating for numerous things such as cleanliness, value, location etc and can write a summary of your experience, although none of this is compulsory. Likewise they can give a review of you, which unless you tear the place down, should make life easier booking other properties in the future as with a couple of positive reviews, you will seem more trustworthy.


Sign Up & Get Free Travel Credit

To book through Airbnb, you need to set-up an account, which doesn’t cost anything and doesn’t take very long. One of the good things about them is that by recommending friends both they and you get €30 free credit (or the equivalent in your currency).

Use this link to sign up & get €30 free Airbnb credit

Once you’ve got the hang of how Airbnb works and if you have a bed or room free in your apartment you can start hosting. It’s a good way to make some extra cash whilst meeting people from around the world.

Use this link to start hosting and receive €47 free credit after your first booking!


Airbnb Reviewed

Advantages of using Airbnb

Airbnb is a nice option for people sick of staying in hotels and hostels all the time. It enables you to experience life in a real home in the country of your visit which can be interesting and often you’ll get the chance to get to know your host and they’ll be able to share their local knowledge on cool places to see and things to do. In some ways an Airbnb stay is somewhere in between the one you get with staying in a hostel/hotel and the one you get when Couchsurfing. If staying on a stranger’s couch doesn’t appeal, but getting a more ‘local experience’ than a hostel/hotel can provide does, then it’s a good option.

Perhaps the people who will benefit most from Airbnb are those looking for short to medium-term options of anything from say 4 days up to a few months. If you’ve more than a few days in your destination, you have a bit more time to take it easy and really get to know a place and the ‘local experience’ that an Airbnb booking provides suddenly becomes an appealing option while the ability to do your own cooking is another big plus on staying in somewhere without self-catering facilities and will save you money on eating out.

Airbnb also works really well for anyone moving to a new city as it enables you to take a room for a few weeks while you look for your own flat. Staying in a hotel for this period of time can get very expensive while spending weeks on end in the same dorm isn’t ideal so Airbnb is a really nice compromise. Likewise it works well for those who are spending just a few weeks or months either studying abroad or on a short work placement. It takes the hassle out of looking for accommodation and you don’t have to sign up for any form of longer term contract which landlords often require.

The booking system and website is quite simple once you are used to it and although hosts are free to set their own prices, typically you can get good value using it. Certainly a bed or room booked on Airbnb is likely to offer better value than one booked in a hotel or hostel and most cities have quite a wide range of options.

Airbnb Problems

Airbnb does have its down-sides though and there are circumstances when there are probably better options. For short-term bookings of just a day or two for example, booking through Airbnb can seem like more hassle than its really worth. If time is of the essence, it’s probably simpler just to do a quick reservation in a hotel or hostel in a central location and get out exploring rather than go through the effort of conversing with a host and trying to find his/her apartment.

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of Airbnb is the chances that your booking could be cancelled, potentially at the last minute. This is relatively rare but when you are dealing with individuals rather than a big place with lots of staff, one problem or change of plans for the hosts could lead to your booking being cancelled. Hosts are discouraged from doing this and have to pay a cancellation fee and you can see on their profile pages if they are regularly cancelling bookings. Ordinarily you can simply book into another place if this happens however at busy periods such as New Year or during local festivals, you can be left with precious few options as the better places typically sell out at such times. Therefore at times like that, perhaps Airbnb isn’t such a good idea and if you do go for it, be sure to book with a host that has lots of positive reviews and seems reliable.

Other people have reported Airbnb’s customer service is quite poor in the event of problems with your booking. We’ve never had any issues with a reservation so have had no need to deal with them but there are reviews floating around the internet that suggest its an issue that could be improved on.

One other disadvantage is the need to pay for your booking in full at the time of reservation whereas most hostel booking sites allow you to just pay a small percentage as a deposit and the rest on arrival.


Overall Verdict

Airbnb will never be the definitive solution to booking accommodation but there and again will anything? The key to finding the best solution for your trip is having a variety options and Airbnb certainly offers an interesting alternative to the hordes of hotel and hostel booking sites out there which essentially all do the same thing. Once you get used to the way the site works, it’s quite simple to use and there are certainly times when booking through Airbnb is the best approach to take.

Sign up for an Airbnb account today & claim your free travel credit


 


Note – This is NOT a sponsored post. It is an honest review of the pros and cons of using Airbnb. If you set up an account by clicking on any of the links in this article, you receive €30 free travel credit to spend on your first booking and so do we. It’s a win-win deal and one you can repeat by inviting friends with your own invite link that you’ll get when you sign-up. No BS. Thanks.

 


This article was published in November 2016.


Visa Check Tool

Use this simple tool to check if you need a visa for any country in the world.

Simply enter your nationality and where you want to go and you’ll find whether you will need a visa.

 


If you follow the link you will reach VisaHQ which provides visas for most countries. The service they offer will generally be more expensive than going via an embassy of the country you wish to visit but may be quicker.

Factors to Bear in Mind

Even if a visa is not required, you need to consider how many days you are likely to stay in the country. In cases where no visa is required, you will receive an initial stamp in your passport usually giving you somewhere between 15 and 180 days visa-free (every country has different rules on this). If you think you will need more time then you may still need to apply for a tourist visa or alternatively leave the country before your time is up and return.

A tourist visa does not give you the right to work in that country. Although cash-in-hand jobs are often easy to come by in some countries, others have sticter rules and if you intend to find a job, in most cases you’ll need to apply for a working visa.

Some countries offer either a ‘visa on arrival’ or an E-Visa. These options are much less hassle and it’s usually worth going for them where they are available.

Travel Resources – Visas


QUICK RESOURCES FOR PLANNING TRIPS

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Visas

Depending on where you are from, you don’t need a visa to visit a huge number of countries. The ones you do, often now have a visa on arrival services where you can just show up at the border and pay a fee on the spot to obtain the visa. However some countries do not and you may need to arrange visas well in advance of your trip which can be done by contacting the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to visit.

If you are in a rush or can’t be bothered with the hassle consider using:


visahqVisaHQ

We’ve included their visa check tool on our website and it’s a very easy way to find out the entry requirements for any country. They offer a visa service (for a fee of course!) where they will save you the hassle of having to go through embassies to sort it out yourself. It will most likely be quicker and less time-consuming particularly if you choose their express service.


Travel Resources – Budget Travel Guidebooks


QUICK RESOURCES FOR PLANNING TRIPS

flights | hostels | backpacker insurance | group travel | travel gear | shoestring guides | visas


Budget Travel Guidebooks

Believe it or not, it is possible to go travelling without a guidebook and it can lead to a much more fascinating trip. That said almost everyone leaves with home with some kind of guide and having a decent budget travel resource can be really helpful in terms of saving money and deciding where to go.

There isn’t a huge amount of competition in the shoestring guidebook market.

Here are three options:


lonely planetLonely Planet

For most budget travellers their search for a decent guidebook starts and ends here. Lonely Planet have a range of shoestring guides that provide an in-depth look at budget travel in Southeast Asia, South America, Central America and Europe. The travelling hardcore cringe at the mere mention of LP and it can come across a bit pretentious and preachy at times but thousands of travellers wouldn’t dream of leaving home without the latest edition so I guess they must be doing something right!

For an hilarious parody of their guides check out Phaic Tan – Sunstroke on a Shoestring.


rough guidesRough Guides

Rough Guides provide the main competition to LP and they also cover the same regions with their ‘Rough Guide to …………. on a Budget’ range. Truth be told they lag a fair way behind in terms of popularity but do still have a loyal legion of fans. Rough Guides perhaps appeal more to slightly older travellers and are similarly priced to Lonely Planet and offer a comparable amount of content.


funky guidesFunky Guides

Our guides are considerably cheaper than the others but far less detailed. We aim to cut the content down to just the important stuff rather than providing 800 pages of info. We might be more Maidstone United than Manchester United at the moment but we’re upwardly mobile so Lonely Planet you better watch out!

More guides will be posted here as we publish them.


 

Travel Resources – Group Travel & Backpacker Tours


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flights | hostels | backpacker insurance | group travel | travel gear | shoestring guides | visas


Group Travel and Backpacker Tours

While many people enjoy the freedom of travelling alone it is certainly not for everyone. If the fear of going alone is putting you off the idea of travelling, then a group backpacking tour might be just what you need, at least to get you started. You will join up with a group of other travellers and explore countries or regions with much of the hassle of solo travel taken away from you and a bunch of other people to share your experience with.

Here are some companies that offer group backpacker tours:


xtrem gapXtreme Gap

They are very popular with young travellers who want to hang out with other people for the duration of their trip. The name is a bit deceptive as there is nothing all that extreme about what they offer but they have a range of different travel styles and cater for the most popular regions such as Southeast Asia, Australia and Latin America. If you’re nervous about solo travel then joining one of their shorter tours may help you meet some people who you could continue travelling with once the organised part is over.


more coming soon….

Travel Resources – Best Backpacker Travel Insurance Companies


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flights | hostels | backpacker insurance | group travel | travel gear | shoestring guides | visas


Backpacker Travel Insurance

Finding travel insurance is an easy enough task but finding insurance that is tailored towards and provides good value and cover for backpackers is much tougher. Getting travel insurance before your trip is one of the most important things you will do and it is crucial you choose a reputable company and package that will cover you against the sort of activities you might get involved in and problems that could potentially come up.

These are two companies we recommend because they provide excellent cover geared specifically towards backpackers:


backpacker travel insuranceWorld Nomads

Insurance companies often have a pretty bad rep but a quick browse on World Nomads website and it’s clear they are not your average travel insurance firm. They are a relatively new enterprise (starting in 2002) and are directly targeted at backpackers, independent travellers and those with a thirst for adventure. As well as offering excellent deals on travel insurance they run a number of travel programs and scholarships, work with numerous charities and have some engaging and interesting blogs on adventure travel.


columbus travel insuranceColumbus Direct

The second company we are happy to recommend is Columbus Direct. They are one of the few companies to offer specific backpacker insurance and have some of the best prices in the industry. It’s actually quite surprising how little it can cost to be covered for travel in the entire world for up to a year!


There is more info on why you do need to get travel insurance here.

If you’ve had good experiences with any other travel insurance companies then feel free to get in touch and let us know. There are contact details at the top of this page.

Travel Resources – Find a Flight!


QUICK TRAVEL RESOURCES FOR PLANNING TRIPS

flights | hostels | backpacker insurance | group travel | travel gear | shoestring guides | visas


Flights

If you rarely travel then the internet can seem like a minefield of flight finding, fare comparing nonsense. That’s probably because it is but in reality most of the comparison sites and travel agencies provide basically the same service although some are considerably better at it than others.

Here are some of the sites and companies we recommend using:


 

skyscannerSkyscanner

Skyscanner is a great tool for finding the best deal on flights and is the first point of call for many travellers. If you’re flexible on dates it is brilliant as it lets you compare prices across a whole month or even the whole year and will help you find the cheapest days to travel. You can even use it as a source of travel inspiration by leaving the destination field blank (or typing ‘everywhere’) as it will show you the cheapest prices to all destinations on any given day or month.


 

farecompareFareCompare

This is another flight comparison site but it works differently to skyscanner which shows up actual fares that people have found as opposed to live prices. Farecompare searches a wide range of travel agencies and links to other flight engines meaning you can quickly get a wide range of prices up for flights on any given day. It lacks the flexibility on dates but is a decent alternative as skyscanner can sometime draw blanks for less popular routes or dates further in the future.

 


sta travelSta Travel

This student travel agency often has special deals for students and Under 26’s that don’t show up on flight comparison sites. They also specialise in round the world trips although you have to be careful that you fully understand the terms of the deal as sometimes they can be quite inflexible.

 


 

budget airBudget Air

These often do live up to their name by providing some of the best fares in the business. With branches in numerous European countries you can get good deals on flights to or from the continent.

 

 


 

expediaExpedia

Expedia is another flight booking site that has a worldwide presence and is popular for booking flights from Europe to Asia or Australia. It’s booking service is relatively simple and reliable so if there’s little difference in fares on long-haul flights (often almost all the agencies have very similar prices) they are a safe bet for making big bookings.

 


 

qatar airwaysQatar Airways

One of the best airlines in the business and their service and prices often put leading European and North American airlines to shame. If you’re flying from Britain or Europe to Southeast Asia you can get some really good deals on flights to Bangkok via their hub in Doha and may even arrive well rested and entertained. It’s usually cheaper to book through an agency like expedia rather than on their site.

 


 

You can find more details here on how to find cheap flights in different parts of the world.