“Wow, you’re so brave to be alone,” a man in Nairobi said to me while flipping my veggie omelet in a pan. While making small talk about the weather, where I was from, and what adventures were ahead, he was surprised to learn that I had been traveling by myself. “Better to go solo than not at all,” I smiled.
The truth of the matter is that while I’d prefer to travel with family and friends, sometimes it’s quite lovely to be on my own. I can do, eat, and see what I want, when I want; rest when I’m tired; and push forward when I have energy. Traveling solo makes me more aware of my surroundings and cognizant of what to do if and when things don’t go exactly as planned. I’m also more likely to step outside of my introverted comfort zone and chat with strangers to learn about their lives, rather than cocooning myself with a travel partner in an insular milieu. I’m able to read books or listen to podcasts without worry, something I do when I need a bit of a break. In short, solo travel is a confidence booster and a worthwhile adventure.
To make the most of your trip, however, you’ll likely want to interact with others, share stories, and make safe social connections for a richer experience. You only have to be alone-alone if you choose to be. Indeed, you can make friends while on the road. In a world where it’s easy to connect via social media, email, or WhatsApp, some of these relationships might even prove to be lasting and fulfilling ones.
Whether you’re dipping your toe into solo travel for the first time, or you’re a seasoned pro, keep reading for tips on how to meet others and make friendships while traveling.
Join a Small Group Trip
A great way to make new friends is to join a small group trip. The best part: all of the logistics and planning will be taken care of from point A to point B. All you have to do is show up and enjoy the destination. Intrepid Travel, leaders in responsible tourism and the world’s largest travel B Corporation, uses local guides—they know the area better than anyone else. You’ll be privy to experiences that you couldn’t have otherwise, some of which happen on the fly and aren’t listed in any tour book or on any website. Over half of the travelers with Intrepid are solo travelers, which means you’ll be roaming with like-minded folks on your journey.
The Premium Morocco In Depth 15-day adventure, for example, is a small group tour that begins in Casablanca and journeys to Meknes, Chefchaouen, Fes, Erfoud, Dades, Ait Benhaddou, Ouirgane, and Marrakesh. You’ll wander through lively medinas, visit historic villages, meet a local Amazigh family, try pastilla in a family home, marvel at a star filled sky deep in the Sahara, and drink more tea than you ever thought possible—all while forging meaningful friendships along the way.
Talk to Strangers
Whether you’re hiking and whitewater rafting at West Virginia’s New River Gorge National Park; visiting a turtle rescue center and snorkeling in the Maldives during a stay at a Coco Collection property; or enjoying an urban adventure with an overnight at Chicago’s famed Robey Hotel, located near plenty of boutique shops, restaurants, and nightlife, talk to everyone that comes in your path. Opening yourself up to conversation—with guides, park rangers, animal scientists, store owners, servers, or other travelers—will benefit you in spades with richer and fuller experiences. Ask questions and be open to vulnerability. Learn from others to discover where you might want to go for dinner or what recommendations someone might have for an outing. Perhaps an invitation might be extended as well.
Sign Up for a Class
A fantastic way to meet fellow wanderers is through an in-person tutorial. Look into a destination’s offerings, whether it be for hands-on cooking instruction, art classes like pottery making or painting, or a locally derived class specific to the culture you’re experiencing. Perhaps you’ll learn how to make rum cocktails in St. Kitts, go sailing with a crew in Grenada, or discover falconry in Qatar. Check with the hotel concierge regarding recommended outings or excursions or, even better, ask the people you meet along the way for their respective suggestions. Putting yourself out there and being open to what you might learn or unearth will make your travels more momentous.
Experience a Walking Tour
Exploring a city or the countryside on foot is the best way to be exposed to a destination’s daily life. Whether you sign up for a free or booked-in-advance tour, you’re sure to absorb something new. In the U.S., state and national park systems have walking excursions and are a great resource for solo travelers. In most major cities across the globe, thematic walking outings abound, from culture to history to food to shopping to ghost tours. For example, you can explore Tel Aviv through an epicurean Segway tour with a guide in Israel.
Book a Safari
Joining an emblematic safari experience is a good way to study a new culture, its wildlife, and environment. Plus, you’ll have an activity to keep you busy so that you’re able to have natural conversations with other folks on the tour. In truth, safaris are a dream vacation for introverts—as well as for photographers. There will be moments of silence when you’re observing animals in their natural habitats, you’ll have time to yourself in beautiful lodges or tented camps, and when you’re ready for interaction, you’ll have lovely people to join you for meals and jaunts like village visits or hot air balloon rides.
Leaders in Kenya safaris, where you can hopefully spot the Big Five, Exodus Travels creates a warm and welcoming environment for solo travelers on their Classic Kenya 4WD Safari. See where over two million animals migrate across the Serengeti (Tanzania) and Masai Mara (Kenya) ecosystems each year. The Mara River, where hungry crocodiles wait, sets the dramatic scene for one of the greatest animal migrations on the planet. Petrichor seekers will find happiness here in the countryside, where the rain soaks the mineral rich earth and turns the creeks and rivers into milk chocolate. Create memories with others on a tour where you’ll enter the savannah wilderness, along the Tanzanian border, and experience the best of the Masai Mara. Traveling to Kenya with Exodus Travels, an adventure company that has been around since 1974, is a trip of a lifetime—one that you won’t soon forget. You’ll meet others from around the globe and create purposeful connections.
You’re Never Really All Alone
If you lean into it and fully open yourself up to experiencing a new culture or destination, you’ll never be fully alone. In fact, solo travel is really a social phenomenon.
To make new friends, be sure to be approachable—put your digital devices down now and then or look up from your book. Smile and be unguarded toward dialogue. Be aware of what your body language is saying. Spontaneity will serve you well—if you schedule every minute of your trip, you won’t leave room for on-the-fly happenings with people you meet. Have a basic understanding of key words and phrases and utilize apps that will help you communicate if you don’t know the language. Some travelers might choose to stay in a hostel or sign up for volunteer work to meet compatible acquaintances. Take advantage of communal spaces, local coffee shops, or, if necessary, co-working areas. Keep in mind that when transiting—on buses, trains, or flights—you have an opportunity to chat and meet others as well.
Experiencing a new culture or destination on your own, at your own pace and with your own budget, is a satisfying and rewarding endeavor.