The Key To Making Friends While Traveling Alone
It happened when I was waiting for a boat. The ferry was supposed to take me across the Dulce Gulf in Costa Rica, from Puerto Jimenez to the sleepy mainland town of Golfito, but it had been delayed — fortunately, I had taken this ferry once before and knew how this particular game was played. I sat on the dock with my backpack between my feet, watching as a bubbly baby girl teetered up and down the wood platform, her mother crouching right behind her with arms outstretched. The baby girl was all smiles, and the entire dockside was delighted by the young girl’s laughter. I don’t speak Spanish, but I turned my head to share the crowd’s amusement anyways. That’s when we saw each other.
There was no doubt that she and I were the only two on the dock who spoke English. She just happened to be sitting behind me, so I cracked a smile, shrugged a shoulder and idly commented “Cute, right?” as if lovely baby entertainment, such as this, happened every day.
The woman — Nikki — jumped into the seat beside me and squealed “I know!” in genuine agreement, and from there we dissolved into a conversation that spanned the rest of our time on the dock, the line to buy tickets, the entire thirty-minute speedboat ride and then a nice quarter-hour on the dock after we arrived in Golfito. In that short time, we chatted about boyfriends and break-ups, our paths of travel thus far and where we hoped our paths might take us next. We then touched upon the idea of ‘family’ and the possibility of disappointing our parents with our decisions to move away from home.
It was dreadfully hot on that baking sidewalk, so I left her with the address of my hostel that night just in case she missed the 3:00 p.m. return boat to the port. We exchanged friend requests on Facebook and went on our ways. From time to time, we’ll now throw each other a ‘like’ whenever we come across each other’s content from across the globe, and every time it makes me smile, but we’ll probably never see each other again.
Solo travel presents travelers with an interesting dichotomy: On one hand, you’re going to spend more time with yourself than you ever thought possible, but on the other hand, you’ll likely be very curious about the different people you meet around the world. Fortunately, you don’t need to find yourself on a dock in Costa Rica in order to meet your newest global friend. In fact, it doesn’t matter what corner of the world you find yourself in, because there are three keys to making new friends that translate into any language:
Get To Know The Locals
This comes more easily to some than others, but being able to strike up a conversation with a person wildly different from yourself is a valuable skill for solo travelers. It’s impossible to control who you sit next to in that coffee shop or on that park bench, but if that particular person seems open to a conversation, why not try? If you see this as an opportunity, then you will find that each and every person has an interesting story to tell. If this person is a local, then you just happened upon an oh-so-valuable additional opportunity to learn about a land’s culture straight from the source! There’s so much that is still untapped when it comes to seeing a place through the wide-open eyes of its people, but always remember to be safe and follow your intuition.
It’s a nice gesture to speak (or at least attempt) the local lexicon, but you’ll find that people, more often than not, are welcoming to all travelers and eager to share whatever small part of their culture they can. Just remember that locals are friends, not free tour guides, and your authenticity and kindness will be returned to you. Karma-win!
Get To Know Yourself
People who practice yoga will be familiar with this one: to expand outwards, one must turn inwards. By establishing confidence and self-assuredness from within, you begin to attract people with similar goals, desires and paths. This is something that solo travel offers more than anything else: the ability to get to know yourself and learn your shortcomings so that you can find ways to master them. At the same time, when traveling or moving to a new area, you cannot help but develop an unending belief in yourself that stems all from your collective trials, errors, successes and losses. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be friends with a person like that?
Take advantage of this moment to do the things that your soul and your inner child, love most. This is the other perk of solo travel: you get to do absolutely whatever you want, whenever! Once you feel what it’s like to truly follow your whims (I promise, they’re not entirely random), this freedom becomes almost addictive — and it pays off, too. While you’re pursuing the things that speak to your soul, you’ll be amazed at who you might encounter along the way. Now, with all the confidence of a person who has ventured far from their established home, kindly refer back to section one: ‘Get To Know The Locals.’
Utilize Your Options
Though public places, such a bars and coffee shops, are still some of the best venues for meeting people, they’re not for everyone. Thankfully, they're no longer the only option for people who like to travel solo, but don’t want to remain isolated. For example, for some travelers, the perfect solutions are travel retreats. Retreats draw guests from around the world for a common purpose, from wellness to fitness to spirituality, in destinations across the world. Some are women’s-only, or exclusively for parents, or specially designed for people who have eating preferences, such as veganism. There are as many retreats available as there are passions in the world, so once you identify yours, pick a host with a size and a mission that speaks to you and get excited about your new worldwide connections.
Social media and apps can also be valuable tools for connecting in a new place. Social media was created to keep you in contact with all the people you’ve already met, but many platforms can also introduce you to people whom you haven’t yet met. Panion is an easy-to-use app for people to connect over shared activities and interests. Facebook also has countless different groups dedicated to residents and expats residing in large cities, but is more for sharing information online. Either way, do a quick search — you’ll never know what you’ll find!
Do I consider Nikki, the young woman from the ferry, to be my friend? Of course I do. Though I only knew her face-to-face for merely an hour and a half, (as travelers know) you must be grateful for what you can get. For that short time, another human and I were able to connect and share an authentic piece of ourselves with one another, and that has inherent value. That’s often what it comes down to, when meeting new people: confidence, openness and a willingness to be vulnerable. I’ve found that these are exceptionally effective methods of winning people over and welcoming in new friendships, almost universally. Give it a try!
Rosie, Friendly Traveler