Vacationing solo can be a wonderful and relaxing way to meet the world and learn a little more about yourself. However, even the most independent of travelers may occasionally crave a friendly ear or a social bite to eat, so knowing how to meet people on the open road is a good skill to master before you travel alone. Just be sure to stay safe and be prepared for anything, because you never know whom you may encounter!
Here are some tips for meeting people when you’re traveling alone:
(1) Safety first. You want to appear open and approachable, but that doesn’t mean you want to appear vulnerable, especially to the wrong sort of people. Pack light so you aren’t weighed down by too much baggage, which will make you stand out as a target rather than a lunch date. You should also dress conservatively, unless you know that you’ll be in a safe situation, to avoid sending the wrong message to the wrong person at the wrong time. Finally, when you’re waiting for a train, taxi, or bus, try to sit with a group or a family and initiate an introduction and conversation. You’re less of a target if you’re involved with a group than you would be sitting alone.
(2) Look like a tourist. You may have heard that travel safety dictates that you avoid looking like a tourist at all costs. Although this might deter pickpockets and scam artists, it’s also going to make you blend in with the locals, which will lower the chances of a friendly tourist or local engaging you in conversation. The key is to strike a good balance. Don’t walk around with thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment hanging around your neck, but do walk around with a guide book tucked under your arm or a point and shoot hanging from your wrist. Embracing your tourist status and smiling in an open way as you tour the city will draw people to you.
(3) Book a tour. Walking tours, museum tours, and other inexpensive travel diversions are the perfect place to meet other tourists. Many of these tours are repeatedly offered throughout the day, so it’s likely that you’ll be able to find one without booking ahead. Start a conversation with your fellow travelers by commenting on an interesting piece of art or asking them to take your picture next to a landmark. Continue the conversation by asking where they are from and whether or not they can recommend anything else around the city that you should check out. Time it right and you should be able to turn your conversation into an extended tour, coffee date, or friendly meal.
(4) Eat alone the right way. Eating alone is difficult for many people, even if they don’t mind traveling independently. You may feel funny sitting down at a restaurant by yourself, but in fact you could be in the perfect position to engage someone else in conversation. First of all, you should avoid bringing a book (the biggest temptation for people who aren’t used to eating alone). A book may feel like a bit of protection against the awkwardness of dining by yourself, but it also closes you off from conversation because people don’t want to bother you. On the other extreme, staring out into space won’t exactly draw people to you and staring at the other patrons might actually repel people. A good idea is to bring a journal or sketchbook, so that you look engaged in an activity that can be easily interrupted (and which could spark a conversation in itself). You’ll be more likely to be approached if you sit at the bar, rather than a table, since patrons will be near to you and won’t have to go out of their way to bend your ear.
(5) Plan ahead. If you’re really worried about having trouble meeting people on the road, you can arrange a meeting with another traveler through social networks like the Matador travel network (www.matadornetwork.com), which is a website that allows travelers to exchange contact information and set up meetings. The safety of websites like these is still a little questionable, since they haven’t been around very long, but they could be a great resource if you can’t catch a social break otherwise. Just stick to meetings in crowded places during daylight hours to ward off any predators.