Traveling isn’t just about the destination. Carry On is our series devoted to how we get away in the digital age, from the choices we make to the experiences we share.
Jet-setting solo does not mean you have to fend for yourself in a foreign country all alone. The days are long over where you’ll have to grit your teeth through cheap booze and find the clubbing district of wherever you’re headed in order to bump shoulders with other humans.
That said, we understand if you might be slightly freaking out as you pack your bags. It can suck to think about whether you’ll have to go on exciting excursions alone, or if the only people you’ll ever share your Parisian café latte with are your Instagram followers. (Unless you’re into that, in which case, work those lighting angles!)
Sure, it can be downright liberating for some people to choose their own path when abroad. Like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book of experiencing different cultures, you get to go at your own pace, surround yourself in environments that suit you, and not have to split the check.
But loneliness can definitely hit you like a bullet train if you’re going at it alone in an unfamiliar place. The good news is that if you have a phone, putting yourself out there in the world has never been easier. Apps and websites can be excellent ways to make new friends abroad, online and off.
So put the social back in social media. Globe-trotters packing a bag for one are on the rise, which means there are plenty of opportunities to connect with others on the experience of a lifetime. Here are our best tips for meeting some awesome explorers on your latest journey.
The fact that Meetup.com’s tagline is “the real world is calling” says it all. Get your butt out of the hostel! Ease yourself into meeting new people with a larger group activity. The massive platform works well at connecting people with common interests in a local community. Find a group that’s meeting in the area you’re staying, and pick your goal. Want to practice your Español at a local park picnic? Or is hiking and white-water rafting more your speed? There’s a wide variety to choose from, and Meetup is especially good for LGBTQ solo travelers looking for queer-friendly group activities.
2. Couchsurfing and Airbnb
You don’t have to use a room-booking app just to crash on some stranger’s couch anymore. Apps like Couchsurfing and Airbnb are branching out their offerings to allow you to actually, ya know, meet people in the area you’re staying in. On Couchsurfing you can create a profile and tell others who’ve checked in around you that you’re down to hang. If you don’t mind the confines of a paid official tour, Airbnb’s “Experiences” are still great to meet people (you never know if you might lock eyes with your new best friend while baking scones in a French cooking class.)
3. Facebook groups
If you only go on Facebook to get your daily dose of surreal meme groups, we completely understand. But there are still many, many active solo travel FB groups out there that can be totally useful. Especially for DFAB (designated female at birth) solo trekkers, it’s nice to connect with others on established groups like Girls Love Travel and Solo Female Travel Network (but there are definitely more general groups like Solo Travel Society.) Many of these networks host meetup tours, but don’t be afraid to message individual group members if you’re looking for a travel partner. Although, you may have to re-download the Facebook app, since it might’ve been a while for you people.
One of the first social media apps actually focused on meeting up with fellow solo travelers! You can do a lot with this app — discover other travelers nearby, join groups that match your interests, and match travel plans with people who’ll arrive at a destination the same time as you. Bonus points, it’s totally free! You can also tailor your results to find other people based on nationality, age, gender, etc, if you’re looking to vibe with a specific group. There’s also a social feed feature where you can post trip updates and photos, but let’s get real, leave it for Instagram where the real clicks are.
5. Dating apps
Trust us, you can totally shoot your friend shot on dating apps to score a new travel pal. While it might be an unconventional choice, you can finesse it — the key is choosing the right platform, and explicitly stating boundaries. Be upfront on your profile about the fact that you’re just a visitor, and that you’re only looking for a buddy (after all, people are horny worldwide). Bumble BFF is a great place to find platonic companions in your area of choice, and even though Tinder can be a garbage fire most of the time, Tinder Passport allows you to swipe through profiles anywhere on Earth.
Instagram’s already halfway a dating app anyway, why not use it to find a friendly partner to take to the salsa club or show you the best Irish pub in the area? Don’t underestimate the power of a polite DM or two to local bloggers (or even influencers) from the place you’re visiting. People’s profiles are (usually) much more of a genuine reflection of their interests and personalities than dating apps, and the pressure to escalate an interaction into romance is way lower. If you feel uncomfortable jumping straight into contacting people, a good hack is posting a pic and tagging it with location and travel tags (get as annoyingly extra with the tags as you want). You’ll never know who will like your photo! If you check out their profile and they seem like a friendly local, reach out. You might be pleasantly surprised.
Once you want to take it offline, there are some safety tips you should remember before you break out the paddle boats and off-the-beaten-path pad Thai with your new bestie.
Meet in a public space, and trust your gut. Trust your Spidey sense (or “Peter tingle”) when chatting up anyone online. Don’t ignore bad vibes if you’re getting them, and remember that it’s always better to meet up somewhere well-lit, local, and full of people (like a cafe or museum). Going way, way off the beaten path can be great, but be aware of people who immediately want to meet somewhere like the outskirts of a city, or where transportation, cell service, etc, are minimal.
Share your location (but also be careful sharing your location). Sounds like a Catch-22, right? But there’s a big difference — once you’ve agreed to go hit the trail with some Swedish backpackers or go grab a mojito with a Cuban local, share your location with a trusted friend or family member just in case. Location sharing that could get you in hot water would be checking in everywhere you go, or sharing what hostel or room you’re staying in with people you’ve just met. Again, Peter tingle it.
Consider video chatting before you meet up. The show Catfish exists for a reason. If you’re unsure about potentially hitting someone up IRL suggest you swap specific photos (the ol’ “how many fingers am I holding up?” trick) or video chat first. If the person on the other end vehemently objects, it’s red flag city.
Be aware of travel scams. Preying on unsuspecting travelers, no matter the gender, is a reality of many tourist hot-spots. Spend a few minutes before your departure researching local travel scams in the area you’ll be visiting. You won’t always be able to completely avoid being clocked as a foreigner, but knowing how to spot and avoid typical scams when you meet up with people gives you a lot of power.
But most importantly, have fun, and keep an open mind. It’s true that friendship can happen unexpectedly, anywhere, but you have the power to put yourself out there during a once-in-a-lifetime experience. After all, even if you’re traveling solo, you’re never really alone.