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:
How to make friends when travelling – 6 Ways to make Travel Buddies!
1. Use Couchsurfing
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.
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.
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.
This article was published in April 2017.