Traveling solo doesn’t mean traveling alone. Connecting with new people on the road can be one of the greatest joys of exploring a new destination, whether you’re bonding with locals or meeting other travelers. But being an introvert or an extrovert can affect how you approach making friends while traveling—and if you choose to do so at all. In a Google Docs chat, AFAR’s senior commerce editor Lyndsey Matthews and associate destinations editor Chloe Arrojado share tips for the different ways they’ve made friends while traveling solo. Here’s what they had to say.
Lyndsey Matthews: As AFAR’s resident introvert, I’m quite comfortable traveling solo. But just because I need plenty of quiet time to decompress, I’m not necessarily a quiet or shy person. After eating dinner alone three or four nights in a row on a solo trip, even I can go a little stir crazy. I also find I get better recommendations for places to eat if I connect with locals. I’ve also stayed in touch with other travelers for years after meeting on group trips thanks to Instagram. But as an introvert, I’d rather die than approach a stranger and introduce myself out of the blue. Do extroverts just do that without fear in their hearts?
Chloe Arrojado: Don’t you know we extroverts purely run on the adrenaline of striking up a conversation? Kidding. I mostly travel solo, but going up to strangers is still intimidating (especially when I don’t know the language). Picking up on cues has been essential: I’ll probably approach someone waiting at the train station over a person hurrying down the street.
A lot of times the conversation starts with me asking for help or for city recommendations, and then personal curiosity turns the chat into a deeper conversation. I learn so much about the places I visit just by asking people about their experience with said place: When I traveled to Zagreb, Croatia, in 2019, what started as a chat with the hostel owner about city recommendations turned into an hours-long discussion about their upbringing in Yugoslavia.
I don’t know what your experience has been, but choosing the right accommodation has been great at streamlining the friend-making process for me. Though I’ve learned to read online reviews concerning my potential accommodations carefully before booking, especially as a female traveler. I like to stay in female-only rooms at hostels if they’re available (after having a particularly creepy experience with a male traveler who wouldn’t leave me alone) and make sure the stay is in a well-trafficked part of town.
I’ve also learned to read what people say about the social aspect of each accommodation, as they WILDLY differ. When I traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 2018, I became friends with everyone staying in my hostel within a day because it was such a party vibe. Visiting the island capital three years later, I had a different type of stay at my shared Airbnb. There, people were less about being besties than they were looking for a relaxing workation—not a bad thing, but it’s nice to find places conducive to interaction if that’s what you’re looking for.
LM: Oof, since I’m no longer in my 20s, my days of being woken up at 3 a.m. by rowdy travelers returning from a pub crawl in a shared dorm are long gone. I prefer to stay in hotels for peace and privacy these days, but have still managed to make friends at smaller properties. When I checked into Las Qolqas, an eco-resort in Ollantaytambo, Peru, with just over a dozen safari-style tents last spring, I noticed there was one other woman traveling solo. The next day, we were the only two people who showed up to take an experimental yoga/dance class at the hotel. While it started off awkward, Rozz and I ended up bonding over the experience and when she asked if I wanted to share dinner I said yes (always let the extroverts adopt you, introverts). We stayed up to 1 a.m. swapping travel stories and taking photos of the Milky Way outside of our tents. After staying in touch via Instagram, we met up again when she was visiting my hometown of New York last December from her home in Singapore.
That said, I’ve also ended up solo at hotels where I’ve realized everyone else is on their honeymoon. So I agree, do your research. And also, sign up for the classes your hotel is offering even if it takes you out of your comfort zone. Sometimes a little bit of awkwardness is worth it. And if it’s not? It’ll be a good story to share with your friends at home, at least.
Related, I always try to book a food tour the first day I land in a new city to engage with locals and other travelers. I really love the ones that Culinary Backstreets does.
CA: Signing up for a food tour right when you land? Sounds like you’re my kind of traveler. I’m also a fan of group tours, especially those walking tours that provide a general overview of the city I’m visiting. It’s especially nice when I unexpectedly meet people from my home state.
Sometimes, I feel like I put myself out there as much as I can but still end up mostly exploring alone. Solo traveling has definitely stretched me to be comfortable with NOT making friends every second of my trip. Still, I’d love some insights from an introvert: How can I make travel more enjoyable for myself when I’m alone?
LM: I always seek out restaurants with good bar seating or chef’s tables—it’s way less awkward than sitting alone at a table for two. If the bartenders or chefs are chatty, then great. But if not, I’ll always have a book on hand to keep me entertained even if I just end up people watching. Of course, I’ve realized some cities are better designed for this than others. It seems like every restaurant in Paris and New York has great bar seating, whereas Copenhagen does not. I also realized Tbilisi wasn’t the best place for a solo trip. In 2018, after asking a barista for bar recommendations, I was informed that locals tend to host dinner parties more often than they go out, so the bar scene ends up mostly being American and Russian men drinking alone. Since I was by myself 5,000 miles away from home, that didn’t seem like the safest scenario to put myself in so I ended up calling it early every night I was there.
Then there was the hiking day trip I took near the border of Georgia and Azerbaijan where NOBODY talked to me despite my best efforts to start conversations with other travelers on the bus, during the hike, and at the lunch stop.
If trips get lonely, I try to focus on the fact that I can do whatever I want without having to worry about anyone else’s wants and desires. On my last trip to Paris, I walked 30,000 steps across seven different arrondissements in one day in the name of finding Paris’s best croissant—and nobody was there to complain about being tired or sick of eating carbs. (According to my extensive research, Stohrer wins the gold medal.) It’s also a blessing to be able to move through museums at your own pace without having to wait for companions who insist on reading every single placard (or being hurried if you’re that person).
CA: Good points. I’m big on cafés, and I’ve always found myself taking my sweet time to sip my coffee when I’m by myself. When I get to the point of loneliness, I think extroverts are lucky in that it’s easy for us to get out of that feeling. If you think about it, solo travel is our ideal situation: We have the consistent opportunity to meet new friends, all the time. Sometimes, constantly being on the move can feel like the friends I make are limited to surface-level connections. When I backpacked my way from London to Istanbul, every new hostel made me feel like I was bound to two-day-long friendships and nothing more.
But the way I saw making friends abroad shifted when I took a trip to Logroño, Spain, where I lived for about seven months. I met a guy named Miguel via Couchsurfing, and because I was spending a longer period of time in the city, we were able to make future plans and build upon our friendship. My time living there gave me the opportunity to form a solid relationship while learning so much about the local culture (from watching pelota mano tournaments to bird-watching in the rural countryside). Obviously, most people can’t stay in a place for months at a time, but extending the time I spend in a place and slowing down significantly enriches the experience of both traveling and making friends—even if it means sharing that perfect croissant.
LM: Some of those fleeting friendships are some of my most cherished travel memories! Though I don’t remember his name, I’ll never forget starting the dance party at a club in Valencia, Spain, with a British guy from my hostel when LCD Soundsystem and Hot Chip came on in 2007. But I get your point, when you’re on the road for a long time, deeper connections are better. Thankfully, I’ve been able to reconnect with a lot of my travel friends as they pass through New York, where I live. But I’ll definitely plan on keeping your tips in mind—headphones out and cell phone down—to make myself more welcoming to potential new besties who love croissants as much as I do.