Until recently, traveling alone was largely unpredictable. For every Eat Pray Love moment, there were untold hours of wasted time, sketchy situations, and missed opportunities. But now a growing suite of apps aims to connect like-minded single trekkers for everything from local music to unexplored cuisine. And I’m on a mission to try them all (OK, three) on a short trip to the Philippines.
On a three-hour layover at Tokyo’s Narita airport, I start with Wander, an app that connects solo travelers to one another by matching interests (“I like pirates, British comedy, and baseball”). I find a chat buddy, but he’s hundreds of miles away in Seoul. After a confusing 15-minute conversation where he either propositioned me or invited me for dinner (his English wasn’t stellar and my Korean is abysmal) I close the app and head for the nearest airport bar.
Five hours later I touch down in Manila and fire up Banjo, an app geared toward meeting people at live events and local spots. I find a new Filipino restaurant in the Fort—one of Manila’s glitzy shopping areas—and down a plate of the best pork sisig I’ve ever tasted. Yet I’m still flying solo.
“So . . . why don’t you just use Tinder?” Post-lunch, I’m texting with one of my friends who meets people overseas using the mega-popular dating app. And it’s a good point! Most of my single friends who travel solo use a mix of Tinder and Facebook to find new friends while traveling. But I just can’t get over the lurid subtext—plus, I’m married.
Twenty-four hours later, I’m at Busuanga Bay Lodge on Busuanga, an island 185 miles south of Manila. I try to open Outbound, an app for outdoor-minded folks. But cell reception is virtually nonexistent here, and Wi-Fi is slower than a narcoleptic three-toed sloth.
Frustrated, I head to the hotel bar, order a rum punch and start chatting with Ashley and Mike, a filmmaker and an accountant from Zambia. We spend the day together eating, drinking, and playing volleyball. After I dive for the ball and a jagged piece of coral opens up a nine-inch gash on my shin, I say goodbye before hobbling off to find a first aid kit. Will I ever talk to them again? I hope so. Because, I realize as I check the Wi-Fi again, sometimes it’s the limitations of technology that get us to the places we truly want to go.