When it comes to solo sojourns, a new generation of apps is attempting to connect travelers faster than ever.
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.