Call it the Eat, Pray, Love effect: An estimated nine million women opt to travel alone each year, according to Budget Travel. Their reasons are different: Some want the romance that comes with traveling to far-flung lands solo, while others just want to see the sights without worrying about what a travel companion wants.
Part of the allure of solo travel is that there’s always so many new people to meet, whether you’re looking for friends or a life partner. However, it’s hard to know how to break through the challenges of meeting people when you’re away from your comfort zone. Flirting expert Rachel Khona says it’s not as tough to meet people as you think, though.
“I’m 5’1 and I can’t leave the house without a full face of makeup. If I could travel solo, anyone can,” Khona says. “I’ve never been lonely or bored. On the contrary, I’ve had countless adventures and made many friends over the years with whom I’ve stayed in touch. One of my friends even met her future husband on a solo trip!”
So, how can you break the ice while traveling? It’s an art, Khona says. “If you want to make friends and not spend the entire time talking to yourself, you’ll need a game plan.”
Choose Your Locale Wisely
Certain travel destinations are solo traveler friendly, while others are geared toward families or large groups.
“If you’re jonesing to head over to Central America, stay away from Cancun which, as spring break central, is geared towards large groups,” Khona says. “On the flip side, a remote jungle town may not afford you the chance to meet many people as there won’t be that many other travelers.”
Don’t assume you’ll be making pals with the natives, though. People who live in your travel destination might want to spend time with you one night, but they have their own lives to tend to.
“Instead, choose something in-between like Montezuma in Costa Rica, Sayulita in Mexico,” Khona advises.
Eat at the Bar
One of the best ways to talk to people is by sitting at the bar to eat your meals instead of a normal table.
“Eating at the bar provides an easy way to meet other solo diners as well as befriend the bartender who can clue you into the local scene and hook you up with free drinks,” Khona says. “If you’re staying in town for awhile, try to become a regular. You’ll get better service and find it easier to make new friends.”
Buy a Guide Geared Towards Solo Travelers
Think of picking up a random travel book to help you figure out your solo travel trip? Think again: certain travel books are geared toward families — like Frommers and Rick Steves — while others are better for the single traveler.
“Try Lonely Planet or Rough Guides, two of the most popular guides used by solo travelers,” Khona advises.
The web is also filled with websites and online guides built specifically for solo travelers, including Connecting: Solo Travel Network and IndependentTraveler.com.
Be Friendly and Inquisitive
You are your own biggest obstacle to meeting people while traveling alone. You have to be willing to step outside your comfort zone and talk to people who look friendly. Of course, follow your intuition about people, though — you don’t want to get yourself in a dangerous situation.
“When I first landed in Costa Rica, I realized my only options to town were an $80 two hour cab ride or a $2 five hour bus ride. When I spotted a lost-looking gangly tall gringo, I knew immediately he was likely going to the same town I was,” Khona says. “So I quickly started chatting him up. We ended up sharing a cab ride into town, I saved myself $40 and made a new friend.”
Select a Traveler-Friendly Hotel
Big chain and five-star hotels are not built with the solo traveler in mind. Travelers who frequent these kind of hotels are looking to stay in their rooms when not sightseeing, so they’re not likely to be socializing at the bar or looking for new pals.
“I learned the hard way my first time in Prague when I selected places to stay based on price and how nice their linens were,” Khona says. “I ended up staying in places totally void of other solo travelers and ended up crying myself to sleep at night.”
Instead, look for properties that are described as “lively”, “friendly” and “party” while traveling alone — this means they’re more solo traveler friendly. You can also check out TripAdvisor and other travel review sites for other recommendations by solo travelers.
Engage in Group Activities
Be willing to fork out the cash to join a sightseeing tour, Khona advised.
“Join a group bike tour, a snorkeling expedition, or beer crawl,” she advises. “Tours and group activities are one of the easiest ways to make new friends. After going on a bike tour of Munich, I befriended a fellow traveler who accompanied me to a local beer hall. We ended up making friends with an older local couple who told us stories of surviving WW II.”
What tips to you have for traveling solo?