How To Make Friends While Traveling Solo

One of the most common question I get from relatives, friends and readers’ emails  is how do I make friends while traveling alone. Even the US immigration officer worried about my lack of friends.

Traveling solo doesn’t mean that I’m always by myself and lonely.  Actually it is a total myth. The truth is that if you travel solo you’ll barely have the time to be just by yourself.

Here are 10 little stories on my journey and how I made friends around the world:

1. Stay at Hostel Dorms

The hostel you choose is the number one place to meet new friends. Before going on this backpacking trip, I have never stayed at a hostel. My choice has always been hotels. My first experience was in HI-Sukhumvit in Bangkok. I was surprised how I made friends instantly on the very first day. It’s just impossible not to talk in a dorm especially if it’s a female dorm. And usually a hostel has a common place where you can eat and meet and greet other travelers as well. I used to stay at luxury hotels due to my job but now I’m a complete hostel convert. I love hostels!

Kawah Putih

Kawah Putih adventurers (?)

The picture here is obviously not in a hostel. It’s in a volcano crater. But I met these two girls at a hostel in Bandung, Indonesia (do not go there!) It’s crazy how the three of us met at an unknown place and how similar we are in so many ways. It surely made a very boring place a very special one. I bumped into each one of them separately in Gili Trawangan and traveled together in Chiang Mai and in Amsterdam. They turned out to be my closest friends now and I wouldn’t have met them if I wasn’t staying at a hostel.

2. Meet people while in transit


Taxi in Ko Pha Ngan

One advantage of traveling solo as a woman is that you look more approachable to people. I always meet people while in transit. Whether I’m flying business class on the way to Manila, taking an overnight bus from hell in Vietnam or waiting for a tuk tuk ride in Thailand, I always have somebody to talk to. Sometimes even when I just want to sleep and don’t want to talk like on my bus ride to Pai but ended up traveling with really funny and welcoming Thais. Actually, I met most of my good friends on the bus or bus stops since transportations in Asia are always late.

3. Join Couchsurfing meetups


Our guns are pointed to the guys. Photo credit to Shayne R. of Chiang Mai Couchsurfing

If you haven’t heard of couchsurfing, you’re probably living under a rock. Kidding. Not really. Well, couchsurfing is an excellent way to meet locals and travelers in a new town you’re at. You can request to stay at a local’s house or couch or meet them for coffee instead. I have not personally used couchsurfing for staying at another person’s house but I have joined meetups with other travelers both in Chiang Mai and Barcelona which has very big couchsurfing groups. Couchsurfing is really cool and fun. Most especially during Songkran festival in Chiang Mai. Songkan in Thailand is in itself so fun. But it’s 10x the fun if it’s in Chiang Mai and with the couchsurfing group there. Do that! We had such a blast! I  can’t recommend it highly enough.

4. Join Organized Tours

Ha Long

Hanoi Backpackers Ha Long Bay tour

I’m a big fan of independent, do-it-yourself tours. But sometimes I don’t want to research anymore and just want to join a group tour. It happened to me in Vietnam when I joined the Hanoi backpackers Ha Long Bay tour, which was actually a a booze cruise. And of course I didn’t check. I didn’t enjoy it that much since I don’t drink beer so I happen to be the corniest person on the ship. But what I enjoyed about it are the people I met on the cruise, some of them were also solo travelers.

5. Volunteer


Our group in Avila, Spain

Volunteering should be added to any traveler’s itinerary because it’s so good. Not only do you feel good rendering your time and  services to worthy causes, it’s also a great way to meet other travelers and locals alike. I did it in Spain for the first time and it certainly won’t be my last.

6. Learn a new skill

cm crew

The English teachers of Chiang Mai. Best group ever.

Ahhh Chiang Mai, will I ever stop talking about Chiang Mai? Chiang Mai is one of the biggest pit stop of long-term travelers in Thailand and it’s guaranteed that you will meet so many people there, and probably get stuck too. The first time I went to Chiang Mai, I took a cooking class. The second time was when my friend (the groovy one with the red pants) and I decided to live and teach English there for a month. When you stay in a place for a longer time, you get to have a regular set of friends again. Our teaching group didn’t seem to be the kind of people that will get along well. Turns out that most of the guys in the group were British which left us girls rolling on the floor laughing literally every single day. British humor so rocks! We did have very stressful days but overall we had mostly best times. This is one of the highlights of my entire trip and some of the friends I made here are definitely my lifetime friends now.

7. Meet with a friend of a friend


Tinto de Verano on my last night in Madrid

Sometimes when you tell people where you’re going, they’ll say they have a friend there and you should meet her/him. If that particular person is a good friend, most likely I will go and meet up with that person. When I was in Madrid, I met up with a my friend’s really good friend and she was just so helpful to an almost stranger like me. She even did my Madrid itinerary, showed me all around Madrid and introduced me to her friends, which are now my friends. After traveling solo for so long, I got used to landing in a place where I don’t know a single soul. But it’s also nice to know somebody in a foreign land who’s already connected within your circle. You never know, you might actually love the place a lot and plan to stay there longer. I totally felt that in Madrid.

8. Interact with the locals


Sharing a meal with families in the French countryside

One of the most important things I consider in my trips are my interactions with local people. When I was in France, I lived in a very small town in the countryside an hour and a half away from Lyon, where nobody spoke English. This is great for two reasons, not only do you get to immerse with the real locals, you also get out of your comfort zone when you’re forced to speak the language to connect with people. I know very little French but I tried so hard to speak the language. The little girl was even teaching me. Then I actually remembered a French song  so everybody kept quiet while I sang it. After I ‘sang’ the lines, I wondered why all the men said ‘oui’. My friend interpreted that I actually just said: “Do you want to sleep with me tonight?” It was Lady Marmalade’s Moulin Rouge. Everybody was laughing. Not only did I butchered the French language and made a complete fool of myself that night, I also made friends despite not knowing how to talk to them. I love everyone in this town.

9. Ask a question


A wonderful evening in Milan with friends

Whenever I land and check in at my hostel in a new town, I usually go out right away for a walk to familiarize myself with the new surroundings. I sometimes rely on maps, but  I can’t read maps. However, I am extremely good with directions once I familiarize myself with the new place. I rarely get lost. But this is not the case with buses, my favorite buses from hell. It happened to me twice where the bus driver dropped me somewhere in la la land. So what do I do? I ask questions. It’s easier if there are backpackers in the area but it wasn’t the same case when I was somewhere in Cambodia and Sri Lanka. In Cambodia there was only a couple who looked non-local and I asked them for help. I ended up as the third wheel traveling with them in Southern Cambodia. They are now my good friends and stayed with them when I was in Milan.

10. Be open to new experiences


Dirt road bike trip with the Lombok crew

One time I was walking alone in a hill to watch the sunset in Gili Trawangan. But suddenly Indonesian guys were following me. I got a bit worried and looked for the closest foreign looking man in the area. None. Out of nowhere, there comes a Belgian guy, also walking alone. I told him that I am traveling alone and that these guys are a bit freaking me out. So he walked with me towards the sunset spot where everybody is and the creepy guys left me alone. Turns out that he knows an Australian guy who also met a Swedish girl and who also met a Dutch girl and a Canadian guy. Each one of us were solo travelers. The 6 of us had such a great time in the Gilis and ended up traveling to Kuta Lombok, where we met another solo traveler and the 7 of us hit the dirt roads of Lombok with our bikes and ate delicious meals at Wawan’s warung. So what’s my point in this? Most of the time, you will not be following your set plans or itineraries. You will meet some people where your plans will change. Be open to them. That’s where you get more experiences and more friends too.

If you think you’ll be all alone in your solo adventure, think again. Or if you keep thinking that there are a lot more bad people out there, then that’s what you’ll most likely attract. When I said in lesson 13 to open yourself to the world, this is what I mean. The world does open itself with a lot of different opportunities for you to have new experiences and new friends.  You don’t have to be the most extroverted person. I, myself am an introvert. But if you are sincere and genuinely interested in people you will never be alone.

Any solo travelers out there? I’d be curious to know what other ways you met friends on the road? Leave a comment!

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