A former partner’s loss of interest in travel and a desire to see the world sent Domini Clark into the world of solo travel. That was two dozen trips ago and she has no plans of stopping. “My solo trips became a necessary part of life,” says Clark, a 40-year old editor in Toronto. “While they started off as being purely for fun, the time alone gave me the perspective I needed to make sense of my fast-changing circumstances.”
Being able to go where you want, when you want is also part of the draw for food and travel personality Pay Chen. “As much as I love travelling with a friend, coordinating schedules can mean pushing off a trip for a long time,” says Chen. “So, if I really want to go away, I won’t let the lack of a travel companion stop me.”
These women are far from alone. A Global Solo Travel Study conducted by British Airways in 2018 found that almost 50 percent of women globally have taken a trip on their own and another 75 percent are planning to do so in the next few years. And if you pop the term #solo travel into Instagram, you’ll find more than 5.4 million posts dedicated to the idea.
But leaving home solo doesn’t mean you’ll be isolated. Here are five ways you can maximize your friend-making potential while travelling by yourself:
Don’t Underestimate the Role of Serendipity
If you’re doing the things you like to do, chances are you’re going to meet other people who like them too.
“As with most things in life, I find I meet the best people and have the most interesting experiences when I’m not actively seeking things out,” says Clark. “I went to a concert once—completely content to be alone in a crowd—and ended up meeting some people. Three years later I’m still good friends with one of them.”
Choose your accommodations wisely. Choosing places to stay that have social areas where you’ll feel comfortable mingling (think lobby seating areas or rooftop bars) offer the chance for a quick chat with someone new. Caleigh Alleyne, a media consultant and lifestyle writer, who spent part of her twenties on studying abroad in Switzerland, says that staying in a hostel meant she was constantly meeting new people. She says the shared surroundings made it easy to join fellow travelers for a quick trip across Europe or a local outing.
Travel Solo … Together
Travel Adventure companies are also recognizing the need to help solo travelers connect. Many larger, traditional outfitters offer solo trips; but Flashpack, a company based in London, England, takes it one step further. The company offers small group tours (maximum of 14 people) for urban professionals in their 30s and 40s to more than 50 countries. And more than 98 percent of the people who join the trips are solo travelers.
Lee Thompson, who co-founded the company alongside his life and business partner Radha Vyas, says the key is making sure each trip builds in time for travelers to go off and do their own thing, while also offering them chances to connect.
“Almost every Flash Pack adventure starts by taking travelers out of their comfort zone. We do this to set a level playing field that forces the group to trust their fellow Flashpackers, and encourages them to support one another,” says Thompson. “Whether it’s canyoning in Jordan, abseiling down Table Mountain or Sumo Wrestling in Japan, we believe that adventure is a great social lubricant, and we regularly see it turn a group of strangers into friends, and much more quickly than a round of cocktails.”
Join a Group … But Only for a Little While
If the idea of a seven-day group tour gives you the shivers, consider leaning into something shorter. A cooking class, bike tour or art walk could introduce you to the new friends you didn’t know you needed.
“The great thing about these short adventures is there’s no pressure to follow-up or maintain contact with people,” notes Chen. “But if you meet someone that you click with or who has similar interests, you may have found someone to do another activity with during your stay.”
Talk to Strangers
Everyone, from the person at the front desk to the person at the table next to you at breakfast, holds the potential for friendship.
“Ultimately that’s the secret: Just talk,” says Clark. “Open your mouth and say ‘hi.’ As a traveler, you have every reason to ask someone for directions or restaurant advice. Take advantage.”
These five tips, along with a hearty curiosity and openness to new friendships, will help make sure that your next solo trip isn’t a lonely one.
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Heather Greenwood Davis is a lifestyle journalist and a National Geographic Travel columnist. Follow her on Twitter @greenwooddavis or keep up with her family’s adventures on GlobeTrottingMama.com.
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