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Backpacking Alone - How to Meet People

So you’ve finally decided to backpack around Europe – maybe even around the world – and your friends have bailed on you at the last minute. Or maybe you don’t have any friends, or maybe, like me, you love the freedom of solo travel and prefer to go it alone and meet new friends out on the tourist trail.

Whatever your reasons for backpacking alone, the fact remains that (unless you’re a loner who loves wandering the streets alone and reading a lot of books) you’ll need to meet people on the way if you’re going to have a fun, memorable trip.

For some people making friends on the road is as easy as walking into a room, smiling and striking up a conversation with the first person who smiles back. For the rest of us, there is a certain level of apprehension that comes with being a lone in a strange place and a bit of shyness is certain to take over at times. I’ve put together some tips on breaking the ice and getting to know people along the way.

Backpacker’s Hostels
As a solo traveller, backpacker’s hostels will be your lifeline! Rather than being stuck away in a hotel room all on your own, hostels will have shared rooms and usually a kitchen, a common room and maybe even a pool or other outdoor sitting area. These are great places to meet other travellers. It can be a bit tricky striking up a conversation when everyone’s stuck in front of the TV, but dorm rooms and the kitchen are prime spots for a bit of banter.

Walking Tours
Many hostels offer free or cheap walking tours of their cities and these are a really good way to get chatting to a group of people. Walking tours will usually last a few hours which is plenty of time to build a bit of rapport with your fellow hostellers. Plus visiting the sights of the city will give you a good talking point as well.

Hostel Events and Outings
Many good hostels will put on social events to get people mixing and liven things up a bit. These sorts of things are geared towards getting people socialising, so you’d be an idiot to miss out on it if you’re trying to meet people! BBQs, pub crawls, movie nights and the like can seem scary at first if you’re on your own, but plunk yourself down at a table with other people and you’ll be comfortable in no time.

Day Trips
In Asia I found myself locked away in single rooms in cheap hotels most of the time. Because of this, meeting people can be a bit tricky unless you’re the type to wander into a bar by yourself and strike up conversations with random people. The best way to meet people for me was to take a few days trips here and there – snorkelling excursions, trips to secluded islands, a day cooking course etc. You will probably be sharing confined transportation and seeing some pretty cool things, so it’s pretty difficult not to get talking.

Alcohol, Booze, Grog
I can’t emphasize enough the power of the piss. Getting trashed with a new group of people is a great way of bonding, like it or not. Sure there are a lot of people out there who travel to see museums and have early nights, but who wants to meet them anyways? Backpacking is as much about having a great night out as it is about seeing the sights by day and rocking up to a hostel’s kitchen with a bottle of wine and offering it around is bound to be the start of a good night.

Everyone is in the Same Boat
I think the main thing to remember if you’re feeling a bit shy or timid is that the other solo travellers in the place are probably feeling the same way. Most people come travelling for a good time, to see a few sights and to meet lots of new people. I know that if I’m feeling a bit shy or intimidated in a new hostel, I’ll usually resort to reading my book… but that’s the last thing I actually want to do! I would much rather be sharing travel stories with a new person and I’m pretty sure that most people feel the same way.

Hostel Cliques
Sometimes in certain hostels it can feel as though there is an already established group. Perhaps they’re long-term residents or maybe they all just met each other a few days before you arrived. Either way, this can be pretty intimidating, especially if it feels like you’re the only one who’s not part of the group. I know a lot of people who shy away from groups like this and look on from afar half jealous and maybe half disapproving. My advice would be to do everything you can to muscle in on the group! If they’re hostel long termers (especially common in cities where people stay awhile and work like London, Dublin, Edinburgh) then they’ll know all the best places to go and will show you a good time.

Starting That Conversation
All it takes to break the ice is usually a simple question like ‘what time is it?’ I find that asking if you can take a look at their guidebook for a minute is a really good way to bust in. If someone wants to chat you can usually tell, and if they don’t then no harm done, move onto the next person.

By: Kirsty Henderson
September 2005

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