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Displaying items by tag: How to Make Friends While Traveling Alone

After studying in Sydney, Australia and contracting a permanent case of the travel bug, it became my life’s goal to backpack Europe the summer after college. I can remember friends excitedly promising that they, too, would love to accompany me on a backpacking tour of Europe after we were done with school. However, as the Eurotrip approached, it became clear: this was something I would have to do alone.
Friends who had been previously gung-ho about making the journey began coming up with excuses: I don’t have the money, I need to search for a job, my parents aren’t comfortable with the idea of the trip, my significant other isn’t supportive. With about six months to go before I would be leaving for the continent, I was down to two travel buddies, neither of whom had laid out any cash yet. And, when it got down to the month before I was set to leave on my journey, I knew that I would inevitably be flying solo, literally.

It would have been easy for me to find an excuse of my own. For one, I had just completed five years of college by doing a combined degree program that gave me my BA/MA in communication, leaving me with thousands of dollars of loans to repay. Furthermore, I was anxious to get a job, not to mention the fact that it was a constant topic of debate for my parents, who thought I should already have a full-time job before graduating (apparently they did not get the memo about the sinking economy?). Moreover, to make the journey emotionally challenging as well, I had a boyfriend who would not be able to afford to come on the trip with me.

Despite all of these possible reasons not to go, I decided that I would make the journey on my own. Yes, I had loans, but they would be there for years to come. How could I let financial worries already start limiting my experiences at such a young age? I had my whole life ahead of me to worry about finances! And, while I loved my parents, I was confident that not only would backpacking Europe leave me with a great experience, I would also gain skills that I would be able to talk about in interviews once I began the process of looking for a job. As for my boyfriend, he broke up with me because he said he could not trust me going away for the summer, and once I realized how little he had invested into the relationship, I was happy with my decision to not let anyone or anything hold me back from dream.

With all of those issues settled, there was only one problem left…was I really going to have a good time by myself? How would I get to experience the nightlife if I was alone? Would I look like an outcast to other travelers? Who would help me navigate the transportation issues? Would spending a summer in solitude drive me crazy?

The morning of my flight I was extremely nervous. My palms were sweaty as I tried to act calm and collected in front of my family, like I had everything under control. The thought of eating breakfast made my stomach turn to sludge and my backpack felt like it weighed 1,000 pounds, even after testing it on the scale ten times.

However, once I stepped off of the airplane into London Heathrow Airport, I felt all of my anxiety quickly transform into excitement. Instead of concentrating on being alone, I began to visualize the kind of adventure I wanted to have exploring a country I had never before experienced. And, as soon as my positive attitude surfaced, so did travel buddies. While grabbing my backpack off the carousel and swinging it over my shoulder, I noticed an attractive guy who looked about my age with a similar luggage situation. We smiled at each other as he approached me and asked me if I, too, was backpacking Europe. As it turned out, he was traveling alone, too. From there, we went for dinner and drinks and exchanged contact information, discussing future plans to travel through Germany, Prague, and Vienna together. Day one, and I had already made my first friend.

From there, I discovered that making friends while traveling alone is one of the easiest goals to accomplish. As long as you have a positive attitude and keep an open and friendly demeanor, you can form wonderful friendships with people throughout your travels. Here are some of the best ways I found to make friends while traveling alone.

Stay in hostels

HostelWhile many people may shudder at the word “hostel” and picture a seedy, run down crack house, this is absolutely not the case. In fact, after backpacking myriad countries and staying in dozens of different hostels, I stayed at one in my home city because I loved them so much. While you may not get a private bathroom and the room may not always be as quiet as you like, hostels offer travelers a social accommodation experience. First of all, you are sharing a room with other travelers who are also exploring a foreign land and looking for adventure. These types of people are usually open and looking to meet other travelers to share stories and experiences with. Moreover, many hostels offer social spaces and activities, such as common rooms with games, on premise bars and clubs, and organized pub-crawls. If you are traveling alone, I would recommend looking for these types of amenities when choosing a hostel, as these are great ways to meet other travelers and make friends. 

Do the free walking tours

Many cities, especially in Europe, offer free walking tours that are not only educational, but also great ways to meet other backpackers. When I backpacked Europe for the summer I did about five of the free tours, and on every single one of them I met other travelers with whom I ended up sightseeing and exploring the nightlife.. The companies that organize them also usually host nightly pub- crawls. Because of this, a lot of the people you meet on the walking tour during the day end up being your drinking buddies later on that night.

All travelers use money exchanges

Oddly enough, this is where I met most of the travelers which whom I actually became close. One guy I met in a money exchange ended up becoming one of my favorite travel buddies, so much so that we have visited each other in our respective countries after the Eurotrip was over. Everyone who travels needs to exchange currency, and that includes backpackers. Usually people do this right when they get off an airplane or train, when they still have their backpack on. When other backpackers see that you are one of them, it is an instant conversation starter.

Everyone loves a picnic

This was my favorite way to meet people because it involves food and wine. Because you can drink in public in Europe, it is common for people to gather in major squares or plazas in an area and drink wine and eat. Pack a lot of food and some wine and head over to one of these areas. Approach some other travelers and offer to share your goodies. This is a great way to meet people as well as try some delicious cheese and vino.

CouchSurfing to a local experience

While couch surfing can be a great way to get free accommodation, you do not necessarily have to stay with someone to meet them. Many people who sign up for couch surfing are interested in meeting people from other countries and learning about different cultures. Try sending a message to someone from the region you’re going to via the couchsurfing website and ask if they would like to get dinner or a drink. This is a great way to not only make friends but to also learn first hand about the local culture. 

©Jessica Festa

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