Whether preparing for your first solo trip or your 10th, you plan for the basics. Plane tickets? Check. Safety precautions? Check. Combating loneliness? It doesn’t exactly rise to the top of the list, but it’s an important consideration. You assume you’ll make friends everywhere you go, right? It depends. If you are staying in a hostel, just head to the common area and you are sure to make fast friends. But if you have opted for a hotel or an apartment, it can be a little tougher. A bit of pre-planning will ensure you quash loneliness before it starts and as an added bonus, will provide you with a richer travel experience.
Spread the Word
Before your trip give your itinerary to friends and family and ask if they know anyone in the places you will be visiting. Better yet, post the question as a status update on Facebook or reach out to contacts on LinkedIn. Forget six degrees of separation. It’s more like two or three. A friend or a friend of a friend likely knows someone living there. Once you make that connection and introduce yourself, suggest meeting when you arrive in their city.
Take a Class
Many classes, such as an introduction to Thai cooking, are geared specifically toward tourists and are a great way to meet other travelers, but if you want a different experience, try taking a class with the locals. Find a yoga studio outside the tourist areas. After class, introduce yourself to the other students and inquire about off-the-beaten-path places you should go. Not only will you get the inside scoop, you may make a friend who will take you under her wing and show you around town.
Use the Internet
The Internet is filled with resources for meeting people worldwide. Search Facebook or Craigslist for special interest groups or expat websites for locale-specific gatherings. Hostel and general travel message boards are a way to find out when other travelers will be in a particular city when you are. Meetup.com provides an opportunity for people with shared interests to come together through meetings held worldwide. Contact a group and ask when the next meet up is and whether they would mind a drop-in member.
A day tour allows you to spend a few hours with a group of people without being relegated to a bus full of strangers for 10 days. Many cities have walking tours that are geared toward individual interests – historical places, foodie tours, pub crawls. (As an added bonus, many of these tours are free.) Or join up with an excursion such as mountain climbing or whitewater rafting where you will quickly bond with the other travelers in the group.
There are volunteer opportunities worldwide where you can give back to a community for as little as a week or in some cases, even a day. Build a school. Save sea turtles. Teach a class. The opportunities are endless. Some organizations pair volunteers with a host family which allows you to become immersed in the culture – and definitely not lonely.
Join a Retreat
You may be traveling alone but that doesn’t mean you can’t also travel with a group. Retreats geared toward women provide the opportunity to spend time with like-minded solo female travelers while cultivating a new skill or fostering an old one. Try yoga in India, wine tasting in Sonoma, surfing in Bali, cycling in Italy, meditation in Bangkok, cooking in France… The list goes on.
A Few Other Ideas…
-Go to a local wine bar, buy a bottle and request enough glasses for you and a table of nearby friendly female faces. (This really works. With one bottle of champagne and four glasses, three Russian exchange students discovered it was my birthday and insisted on taking me dancing in Madrid.)
-Strike up a conversation with other solo travelers while in transit – planes, trains, bus, Metro. For long train rides, bring along a pack of cards. You are sure to make instant friends who are also looking to pass the time.
-Internet cafes, laundromats and the other necessities of life on the road are places to easily meet other travelers, turning a mundane load of laundry into an adventure.
-And the most basic advice? Simply say hello. Better yet, learn a few phrases in that country’s language. You may be surprised at the warm reception you receive from the locals.
What about you? What do you do to beat loneliness while on the road?