One question tortured my poor introverted soul before taking my first solo trip – how to make friends when travelling alone?
But by the time I returned from three months of backpacking around South East Asia, I had made 100s of new friends from Sweden to Singapore. Plus, I gained dozens of followers on Instagram and Facebook (a nice little bonus).
My social life at home also improved – suddenly I had the self-confidence to speak to anyone about anything. And people found me interesting because I had a repertoire of funny, frightening and curious travel stories.
Ever since, I’ve continued to grow my list of travel buddies by using the 9 simple steps laid out below. Follow these steps and you too will be a travelling social butterfly.
And to make your life even easier, I’ve also shared 22 extra tips that will make you the most popular pilgrim from Paris to Perth.
Learn more about solo travel friends, dating and sex on Nomadic Yak!
How to Make Friends When Traveling Alone – My 9-Step System
1. Filter search results to find sociable accommodation
When backpacking, I always book my accommodation 1-2 days before arriving at my next destination. But before finalising the booking, I make sure that the accommodation meets two criteria – it’s affordable and sociable.
Whilst it’s already easy to make friends in hostels, here’s a trick you can use to make sure that your accommodation has particularly sociable vibes.
Using Hostelworld, search by city and filter search results by the following facilities:
- Swimming pool;
- Bar or nightclub;
- Restaurant or free breakfast;
- Common room.
These are shared areas where you are likely to meet strangers and strike up a conversation (e.g. ‘That’s an interesting meal you’re making there, what is it?’).
Don’t enable all these filters – just one or two. No accommodation has all these facilities.
I also read the description and the reviews. I’m looking for mentions of group activities like party nights, bar crawls, free walking tours, a games room, etc. Plus, reviews give you some idea of the demographic staying at the hostel and whether you will get along with them.
But how can you make friends on vacation when staying in private accommodation? Use a site like Booking.com and set the following filters:
- Fitness centre (great place to strike up a conversation);
- Spa and wellness centre;
- Restaurant or bar;
- Airport shuttle (see step 2);
- Swimming pool.
Again, read the accommodation description and reviews. It’s a benefit if the hotel or motel offers day tours leaving from the lobby – an excellent opportunity to befriend your fellow guests.
2. Start making friends on the way to your accommodation
The moment you step into the airport, bus depot or train station is the moment that you can start making friends whilst travelling alone.
Your fellow passengers are likely heading to the same destination and share similar interests (e.g. Cairo might attract history buffs whilst Hurghada mostly attracts scuba divers).
When a fellow traveller takes their seat next to you, say ‘Hello’ and ask something like: ‘Are you also going to (insert destination) to do/see (insert attraction)?’
Alternatively, comment on something they are wearing or a piece of technology they are using (e.g. a Nintendo Switch or a Bluetooth adapter for aeroplane earphones).
On my last flight from Singapore to London, I sat next to a lad wearing a t-shirt from the band The 1975. I said ‘I like the shirt’ and asked him if he caught their latest tour (which I also attended). We hit it off immediately and spent the flight discussing Formula 1, UFC and music festivals before exchanging details.
Some of your fellow passengers may even be staying in the same accommodation as you (particularly if you are waiting for the same bus or a taxi). Ask them something like “Hey, you aren’t going to the (insert hotel name), are you? I’m trying to find the right bus.”
If things go well, exchange social media details and make plans to visit an attraction or get drinks together at your destination.
3. Say ‘hey’ to your roommates as soon as you enter the room
It’s awkward walking into your hostel dorm room for the first time. The conversation comes to a halt and all eyes are on you – the intruder!
Walk in with a smile on your face and make it known right away that you’re going to be a fun-loving and carefree roommate – not a nasty nark.
Say ‘Hey, I’m (insert name)’ to the whole group and throw your bag on the bed. Immediately follow up with ‘What are your names?’ and give them a handshake or a simple wave.
Normally, the next question that everyone asks is ‘Where are you from?’. You answer and the conversation begins to flow naturally from thereon (see step 4).
If you act awkward and don’t make any effort to introduce yourself to your roommates, they’ll presume that you want to be left alone. It’s hard to recover from that.
But what do you do if there’s no one in your dorm room when you check in? Simply introduce yourself at a later stage or head to the social areas around your accommodation (see step 7) to meet new travel buddies there.
4. Follow this formula for a flowing conversation
When you travel alone, you’ll quickly find that 99% of conversations follow a set pattern. That may sound boring but it’s not – it actually makes socialising easy.
Here is how most of my conversations go when I’m trying to make friends whilst travelling alone:
- Me: ‘Hey, I’m Harry.’
- Other traveller: ‘Hey, I’m (insert their name). Nice to meet you.’
- Me: ‘Yeah, you too. Where are you from?’
- Other traveller: ‘I’m from (insert their home country).’
- Me: ‘Oh, nice. I’ve never been there. Should I visit? Is there a lot to see?’
- Other traveller: ‘Yeah, it is nice. We have (insert attraction). What about you, where are you from?’
- Me: ‘I’m from Australia.’
- Other traveller: ‘Oh, wow. I haven’t been there either. But I would love to see the Great Barrier Reef.’
- Me: ‘Yeah, it’s amazing. Are you into snorkelling or scuba diving?’
- Other traveller: ‘Yes, I love diving. I went to Egypt last year and saw turtles and sharks and…’
All it takes is a few basic questions to get a conversation going (see my tips below for more examples). You will quickly find that you have lots in common with your fellow traveller and can talk for hours.
However, if you’re struggling to find interests that you share, try asking a question about your travel destination:
- ‘Have you been in (insert destination) long?’
- ‘Which route are you taking around (insert destination)?’
- ‘What’s been your favourite part of (insert destination) so far?’
- ‘What are you most looking forward to seeing in (insert destination)?’
5. Plan your next get-together
After having a fun and insightful conversation with your new travel buddy, don’t just leave it on a cliffhanger.
Instead, suggest that you get together (now or later) to:
- Go for a drink or a bite to eat;
- Explore the local area on foot;
- Catch a sports game or music at a nearby bar;
- Visit a local attraction;
- Go for a smoke;
- Explore the hostel/hotel;
- Hang out in a communal area.
This helps to cement your friendship.
But if they’re too busy to hang out right now, suggest swapping socials or contact details (see step 6).
6. Exchange socials and contact details
People are always coming and going from hostels and hotels. If you don’t exchange details with your new travel buddy ASAP, you might never see them again.
So don’t leave it up to chance. Exchange your social media and contact details during your first conversation.
Tell them to shoot you a message if they want to do something later.
Most travellers use the following apps for communication, so make sure you’ve got them downloaded and ready on your phone before you leave:
7. Make even more friends in social areas around your accommodation
Remember in step 1, when I told you to book accommodation with lots of social areas (e.g. swimming pools, games rooms, shared kitchens, dining rooms, etc.)?
With your new dorm buddy/buddies (or by yourself), head to one of these social areas and quickly scan the room. When you spot a group of people you like the look of, ask them if you can join them in whatever they’re doing:
- Sit with them whilst eating;
- Cook dinner at the same time;
- Challenge them in a game of ping pong;
- Join them for a drink;
- See my tips below for more ice-breakers and ideas.
It’s easier to approach a group of people if you are with someone else (i.e. your new travel buddy). But don’t be afraid to go it alone – it shows that you are sociable and fun to be around.
After a brief introduction, the conversation will likely follow the formula laid out above in step 4.
8. Continue your travels together with your new friends
Wondering how to make friends to travel with?
50% of the friends you make whilst travelling solo will be heading in the same direction as you.
Where possible, combine your itineraries so that you book your accommodation and transport together. Having a good travel buddy can make for some lifelong memories!
But don’t lose sight of the advantages of solo travel (it’s 2x better than group travel in my opinion).
And as for the other 50% of the time, when your new travel buddy heads off in a different direction – well, it’s sad. Plain and simple!
But try to stay in touch. There have been numerous occasions when I’ve been in a neighbouring country 2 months later and found my old travel buddy wandering the streets by chance.
Plus, I’ve visited many of my travel buddies in their home country years later and enjoyed their warm hospitality.
9. Rinse and repeat
At some stage, all of your travel buddies will have gone their separate ways and you’ll find yourself all on your lonesome again.
I’m not going to lie – this feels rough. And now, you’ve got to make new friends and start from scratch.
When I find myself in this situation, I usually treat myself to a night alone in private accommodation. I mope around, binge Netflix and feel sorry for myself as everyone else in the hostel parties the night away.
But the next day, I get right back on the horse. I check into a dorm room, head to a social area or join a day tour and meet new friends.
The cycle starts over again. That’s the beauty and the pain of making friends when travelling alone.
How to Make Friends While Traveling – 22 Extra Tips
- Read Dale Carnegie’s best-seller
I was painfully shy when I started travelling alone in my early 20s. I suffered from solo travel social anxiety and worried endlessly about how to make friends traveling alone.
Then I read a book that revolutionised my social life – How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.
I finished all 208 pages in one day and made notes throughout.
Every chapter provides one practical piece of advice and an example of how that technique has been utilised by a great historical figure – Benjamin Franklin, Andrew Carnegie, etc.
Now, I can speak to anyone – young, old, male, female, introvert or extrovert. And within a minute, I’ll have them chatting to me like we’ve known each other for 20 years.
If you want to become more socially skilled, I urge you to give this book a go.
- Don’t ignore the locals (particularly staff)
Wondering how to friends with locals while traveling?
Some of the best friends I’ve made whilst travelling alone are locals – like my friend Skywalker Love Skywalker from Siem Reap, Cambodia (pictured above).
Often, I’ll hire a local tour guide or driver and they’ll show me around their hometown for the day. During that time, I’ll also tell them about my home life and joke around.
More often than not, they’ll invite me back to their homes to have an authentic meal with their family. Or they’ll take me to their favourite bar to meet their friends (Skywalker and I would hang out for hours at the Siem Reap snooker hall).
Sometimes, I’ll simply strike up a conversation with locals on the street or on public transport. And 75% of the time, they’ll offer an amazing opportunity to experience their local culture in an authentic way.
- Remember that every traveller has two things in common
Wondering how to break the ice and make friends when travelling alone?
Don’t stress – every traveller shares two things in common that make for great conversation starters:
- They love to travel;
- They are visiting the same destination.
Those two similarities open up a world of conversational opportunities!
Where else have you travelled? Why did you choose to travel here? What sights do you recommend seeing here? Do you always travel alone?
You can ask practically any question about their travels and you are sure to get the conversation roaring.
- How to meet other solo female travellers
Based on Google trends, women want to know how to meet other solo female travellers.
Whilst I’m not a woman, I can share some tips from my female friends who travel solo:
- Stay in female-only dorms: helps you stay clear of creepy roommates and gross guy stuff.
- Compliment your fellow female travellers: a genuine compliment about someone’s appearance or dress sense is an awesome ice-breaker.
- Ask about their cosmetics: if you notice a female roommate using a shampoo or exfoliant that you’ve always wanted to try, ask them for a review.
- Look out for your fellow females when drinking: if you see another female traveller trying to escape the clutches of some drunk doofus at the bar, subtly ask if she’s okay and offer to drag her away.
- Offer to share clothes/hygiene products: if one of your female roommates is having a nightmare and needs a clean top or a tampon, offering to share your stuff is almost guaranteed to kick off a friendship.
- Smile and avoid resting b*tch face
Your facial expression says a lot about you to your fellow travellers.
Are you approachable, friendly and fun-loving? Or are you grumpy, irritable and better left alone?
Smile gently and naturally when trying to befriend your fellow travellers. Don’t grin from ear to ear like a weirdo – but smile like you are enjoying their company. Show that you find them interesting and likeable!
What you don’t want to do is look bored or disgusted by their presence. Because they’ll quickly feel the same way about you.
Say Goodbye to Solo Travel Social Anxiety
by Olivia Fox Cabane
- Think that charisma is something you’re born with? Wrong!
- 10 practical ways to seem more powerful, warm and present.
- Ask open-ended questions and quit talking about yourself
Ever conversed with someone that only talks about themselves and their accomplishments? It can be boring as batsh*t!
But most people like talking about themselves because it boosts their ego.
Use this to your advantage and ask your new travel buddies lots of open-ended questions about themselves:
- What are your hobbies? How did you get into that?
- Where else have you travelled? Where do you plan on going next?
- What do you do for work? Do you enjoy it?
- What kind of music/shows/books are you into? Have you always enjoyed that genre?
- How do you feel about the political/economic situation in this country? (Careful – this can be prickly if you don’t handle it with care).
Don’t spend more than 50% of the conversation talking about yourself. If you find that you’re doing all the talking and your travel buddy is asking all the questions, respond with ‘But tell me a little bit about yourself, (insert open-ended question)?’.
An open-ended question is a question that requires more than a short (one-word) response. Most open-ended questions start with “why”, “how” or “what”.
- Use this formula: hello + smile + question = travel buddy
If you have solo travel social anxiety like I did, you’re overthinking it.
It’s really not that hard or scary to make friends when travelling alone.
In fact, it is as simple as saying ‘Hey’ with a smile on your face. Then follow up with a question – any question at all (but it’s better if you use open-ended questions from tip #5).
In 99% of cases, this will be enough to get the conversation rolling. You’ll be travel buddies in no time.
And if it doesn’t work and the other person is despondent, don’t worry. Exit the conversation with a ‘nice to meet you’ and move on to the next person.
- Don’t be afraid of befriending the opposite sex
I was terrified of talking to women when I first started travelling alone. The fact that I went to an all-boys high school probably didn’t help!
But by the end of my first trip to Southeast Asia, the majority of my travel buddies were women.
I’d discovered that they weren’t these cryptic oddities that were repulsed by me. In fact, they were easy to chat with and seemed to love my companionship (probably because I asked lots of questions (see tip #5)).
If you’re nervous about talking to the opposite sex like I was, don’t be. You’re missing out on 50% of your friendship opportunities.
Just talk to them like you would someone of your own sex (fellas – that doesn’t necessarily mean lots of crude fart and dick jokes).
- Start by befriending one person at a time (avoid approaching groups)
If you’re naturally introverted like me, it’s hard enough trying to speak to one person at a time, let alone a group of people.
When you first arrive at your destination, most of the guests at your hostel or hotel will have already formed friend groups and social circles.
You might find it hard to penetrate those social cliques at first. But don’t worry, there is a way in!
Start by befriending an individual – someone sitting all alone. Most of the time, more people will slowly start joining your conversation.
Congratulations – you’ve just formed your own social circle!
And in all likelihood, members of your new social circle will also be rolling with other social circles around your hostel or hotel. Use their connections to introduce yourself to other travellers around you.
Social circles combine!
- Mimic the other person’s behaviour
When someone likes you, they will unknowingly mimic your speech patterns, posture, gestures and facial expressions.
Use this to your advantage – show the person that you are talking to that you like them and want to be their travel buddy by mimicking their behaviour.
If they change their posture to get more comfortable, you do the same. If they raise their voice when telling an exciting story, you do the same when responding. If they raise their eyebrows in surprise, you raise yours back.
Plus, you can also use mimicry to tell if your new travel buddy really likes you. For example, tap your fingers subtly on the edge of the table from time to time. Do they do something similar? They might just be romantically interested.
- Don’t be afraid to befriend the loner
At almost every hostel or hotel, there is a loner – the person that sits quietly and awkwardly by themselves in the corner of the dining area or bar.
Maybe they’ve just arrived and don’t know anyone? Or maybe they are just too shy to approach anyone?
Befriend this person – because a friend in need is a friend indeed!
They’ll be over the moon. And these people often make for the loyalist of friends.
Remember: the larger you grow your own social circle, the easier it will be to infiltrate other social circles.
- Carry a unique calling card
What makes you an interesting person?
Are you a musician? A writer? An artist? A reader? A coder? A photographer? A knitter? A footballer?
Whatever your hobby is, try to continue practising it whilst travelling. It will make you stand out from the crowd and it gives other people a reason to come and speak to you.
I always carry a small guitar with me when travelling solo. I often play tunes in communal areas around the hostel – it never fails to help me win friends, as people join in and sing along (or even play along on their own guitar)!
- The best places to meet friends whilst travelling
It’s true what everybody says – it’s easier to meet people in hostels compared to hotels or motels.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to make friends whilst staying in private accommodation.
Here are the best places that you can spend your time if you’re wanting to make friends whilst on vacation:
- Sports bars (find like-minded fans watching your favourite team or sport);
- Music venues and concerts (other travellers with similar music taste);
- Nightclubs (dance the night away with new friends);
- Classes (dancing, cooking, weaving, painting, etc.);
- Art galleries (comment on a piece of art that you’re both admiring);
- Museums (again, comment on interesting artefacts and exhibitions);
- Day tours (join a free walking tour or bus tour);
- Extreme sports (scuba diving, rafting, parachuting, bungee, biking, etc.);
- Bus, train and plane rides;
- Common areas in your accommodation (kitchen, dining room, lounge, bar);
- Sports areas (basketball courts, tennis courts, skate parks, etc.)
- Swimming pool;
- Smoking areas.
- Read my guide for introverts if you have solo travel social anxiety
I used to be riddled with solo travel social anxiety.
As an introvert, I had enough trouble making friends at home. How the hell was I going to befriend strangers whilst travelling alone in a strange and foreign country?
But I did. I made hundreds of friends on my first solo trip to South East Asia. And I’ve made hundreds more travel buddies since.
You can find out how I overcame solo travel social anxiety in my Ultimate Guide to Introvert Solo Travel: 10 Truths and 12 Tips from a Shy Guy.
My #1 tip for introverted solo travellers – the most frightening and awkward moment is when you arrive at your accommodation on the first night of your trip. You’ll be thinking to yourself, “What the hell am I doing here?”
But if you can make it through that first night and buck up the courage to befriend just one person, the rest of your trip will be smooth sailing.
- Offer to cook for your fellow guests
If you’re staying in shared accommodation, chances are that you’ll have access to a communal kitchen.
Countless times I’ve seen travellers prepare a meal for themselves, bring it out to the dining area and other hostel guests remark, ‘Ooh, that looks tasty!’
When people compliment your cooking, this is a chance for you to make new friends. Reply, ‘I can make you some if you like?’
Of course, this requires a bit of effort (and expense) on your part. But your new travel buddies won’t quickly forget that wicked dish you whipped up.
- Offer to buy drinks (if you can afford to)
For most people, vacation means drinking more than usual. And we all know that it’s easier to make friends when everyone is a little loose after a few beers.
If you’ve just met a new group of travel buddies, offer to buy them a round of drinks so that you can sit down and get to know them better.
Hopefully, they’ll reciprocate and offer to buy rounds in return. A few hours later, you’ll be the merriest of friends!
- Don’t be afraid to ditch bad eggs
You won’t like everybody that you meet whilst travelling.
Some of them will be obnoxious. Some of them will be bigots. Some of them will be do-gooders. Some of them will be snobs.
I’ll never forget when I first arrived at Koh Samui in Thailand and shared a minibus with three burley lads from a nation of notoriously loud people. They seemed like fun until they started making racist jokes about the driver.
The first thing I did when we arrived at the hostel? Hung behind until they had checked in. Then I asked to stay in a different dorm. Within an hour, I’d made a new group of friends and avoided the idiots for the rest of my stay.
Don’t be afraid to ditch bad eggs. That might mean cutting the conversation short and saying, ‘I’ve got to go (insert excuse)’. It might even mean changing rooms.
Hanging around the wrong crowd will only make it harder to befriend genuinely interesting and fun travellers.
- Use these apps to find solo travel meetups
I’ve seen solo travellers use a range of apps to meet new people and find solo travel meetups:
- Backpackr: Find other travellers around your destination, collect stamps and share photos.
- Meetup: Find local meetups for people who share similar interests.
- CouchSurfing: Stay with locals for free.
- Homestay: Stay with a host family at a low cost.
The benefit of staying with a local is that they can introduce you to their friends and family. Plus, they can show you all the best restaurants, parties and hidden gems.
Personally, I’ve found it easy enough to make friends and meet locals without these apps. But you might be interested if you want to deep dive into the lives of the locals.
Social media and dating apps aren’t always safe. You can’t be 100% sure who you’re meeting with. See my solo travel safety tips.
- Offer to take photos
Throughout your travels, you’ll stumble upon countless individuals, couples, families and tour groups struggling to take a decent photo.
This is your queue to step in and make a friend!
Walk over and simply say, ‘Would you like me to take a photo for you?’ Nine times out of ten, they’ll be delighted and ask you where you are from after their photo is taken. Let the conversation flow!
Bonus tip: Carry a Kodak Printomatic Instant Camera and take instant photos with your new travel buddies – mementos of your adventures together.
- Challenge other travellers to games
As I mentioned in step 1 of my system for making friends when travelling alone – I always look for accommodation that offers social areas like games rooms.
Some hostels have an area with ping-pong, beer-pong, board games and card games. And some hotels even offer basketball courts, tennis courts and arcade rooms.
Most of the travellers hanging around these areas are keen to play with someone and socialise. So walk over and offer a game.
Another idea is to carry a deck of cards or Buzzed. In the evening, you can kick off the party with a drinking game.
The Easiest Way to Become the Life of the Party
- Change rooms if it’s convenient
There’s been times during my solo travels when I have bonded so well with my travel buddies, that we decided to ditch our separate dorm rooms to get a shared room together.
This is more convenient if you plan on doing lots of stuff together – particularly waking up early to visit nearby attractions and coming back late after drinking and partying. It means you won’t annoy other roommates that you might not be so friendly with.
Simply ask the front desk if it’s possible to share the same dorm. It’s best to ask in the morning before new travellers arrive.
Obviously, if you’ve met a romantic partner and you plan on hooking up, it’s best to get a private room.
- Ask other travellers for help
Despite everything I’ve taught you so far, this is probably the #1 way that I make friends when travelling – I ask them for help!
Do you know where the (insert attraction) is? Do you know if this bus goes to (insert destination)? Do you know where I can buy (insert food or drink)?
Travellers love showing off their knowledge of the local area. Ask them for help and you’re bound to get a conversation going.
Summary: How to Make Friends to Travel With
When I need a travel buddy, I don’t beg my friends from home to come with me. Instead, I travel solo and make friends whilst travelling. I use the 9-step system outlined above, which can be summarised as:
- Say hello;
- Ask a question or provide a compliment; and
- Discuss common interests (i.e. travel)
One of the biggest advantages of solo travel vs group travel is the opportunity to make new friends from all over the world. Dragging old friends from home will only slow you down and dampen the authenticity of your experience.
Yes, there are times when solo travel is lonely. But they are rare. Very rare. Because most of the time you are surrounded by dozens of like-minded travellers with the same interests as you.
I was once riddled with solo travel social anxiety. Now, I have hundreds of friends all around the world.
Follow the tips above and by the second day of your trip, you’ll wonder what you ever worried about.
Find More Solo Travel Tips on Nomadic Yak
Find more tips about solo travel friends, dating and sex on Nomadic Yak!
Nomadic Yak helps solo travellers to plan journeys that are adventurous and authentic.
Every article is written by me, Harry Dale. I’ve travelled to 40+ countries over the last 5 years – alone.
You’ll find 100s of solo travel tips on how to save money, make more friends, build a social media following and much more.
Plus, you can use my solo travel destination guides to discover international sights and attractions that few other travellers get to witness.