In dreaming about travel, many people hesitate to make dreams into plans because it’s not easy to find the right companion. Timing and budget constraints, different tastes - all of these things can conspire to complicate the process of finding a travel partner.
But what if the perfect companion was - - you? In my 40+ years of traveling the world, I’ve found that often, traveling solo is one of the best ways not only to experience a new destination, but also, to discover a local culture and people from a variety of backgrounds, including other travelers. Unfortunately, the mere idea of solo travel can feel scary, and many people wind up opting out of solo adventures and staying home instead.
But there’s no need to fear solo travel! In fact, it can bring so many unexpected gifts that it would be a shame to rule it out. Nor does traveling solo doesn't mean being alone. In my experience, it's an opportunity to connect deeply with locals and get their perspective and insights. And it’s a lot of fun. Here are some ways to help foster connections and get the most out of the solo travel experience.
TIP #1: Read a Book in Public
“You speak English?” the young man asked hopefully.
?\”Yes, I’m American,?” I responded.
That brief exchange, while I was sitting in a park reading a book, led to an hour’s conversation over coffee. That was followed by a tour of his favorite places in his hometown, Jogjakarta, Indonesia. I’ve repeated that same scene across the globe. One simple trick has led to invitations to dinner, lunch, and tours of places only locals frequent. The secret? Bring along a book with a bold title in English, not a kindle, and read it in a public place. University campuses, parks, and cafes all work well.
People, especially students, want to practice English with a native-born speaker. If you are with someone else or in a group, you aren’t seen as approachable. But alone, sitting quietly, and looking around occasionally to demonstrate you aren’t absorbed in the book, makes you a prime prospect for a conversation. If you notice someone looking at you, smile at them. It’s an invitation for them to say hello. After that, with just a little encouragement from you, you might make a new friend.
TIP #2: Find Restaurants with a Communal Table
With a little online searching, you can often locate restaurants that have communal tables. Yelp even has a category of “communal tables.”
Once you’re seated, strike up a conversation with people sitting near you. It doesn’t have to be anything dramatic. Inquire about what they’re eating. Ask if they’re local. Then ask for suggestions of their favorite places to walk, shop, hear music or anything else you have an interest in to get the conversation started.
Look for body language when you choose someone to speak with. If they’re wolfing down their food, they’re probably in a hurry and won’t warm to a conversation. If they’re randomly scrolling through their phone, they might appreciate someone to speak with.
Many people worry they are being intrusive. Or they’ll be perceived as weird or creepy. At a communal table, it isn’t an issue. They could have asked to be seated at another table. Be bold. People usually appreciate it.
Talking with strangers gets easier with practice. The payoff is information from a local and a chance to connect in an authentic way.
TIP #3: Take Public Transportation and Then Explore
I learned this trick when I was young from a group of Swedish students I met at a youth hostel (which is a terrific way to meet travelers from around the globe). They led me on a “mystery tour.”