Do you spend hours scrolling through your favourite blogs and Instagram feeds planning your perfect adventure? Are you itching to book your dream trip but feel too scared to commit because you have got no one to go with?
Or perhaps you have booked your trip, boarded the plane and even checked in to your accommodation as a solo traveller and are now frozen with worry.
How are you going to meet people?
Are you going to be by yourself the whole time, on the periphery of the action, staring at all the other travellers in large, happy groups or at the couples entwined in their own bubble of travel bliss?
Your worst nightmares are almost realised; you have come all this way and now you feel left out of your own travel idyll.
It’s ok. We have all tried to wrestle those frightened thoughts to the back of our minds whilst pretending everything is peachy.
I have certainly been there and I wrote a blog about whether travelling alone meant I was a brave person.
I have stubbornly refused to let my solo status stop me from reaching for my travel goals, and I have embarked on various trips by myself since 2011. But I have certainly sat forlornly on the outside on occasions where I felt like I couldn’t pluck up the courage to chat to people, wishing fervently that someone would take notice of me and come over to strike up a conversation.
And sometimes it does suck and you do feel lonely.
So, to ensure that this does not happen to you, here is a look at a few of my tried and tested methods to help you to break the ice.
Pick accommodation that enables socialising
Your choice of accommodation will really have an affect on how easily you can connect with other travellers. Hotels and resorts are beautiful – and who doesn’t deserve the occasional budget busting splurge? – but the holiday makers who frequent this type of accommodation is probably not your average backpacker in a pair of brightly coloured hareem trousers and silver ankle bracelets. They’re honeymooners, families, older couples or business travellers.
The most social places to stay are typically your backpacker hostel. Rooms range anywhere from four persons to the staggering twelve or sixteen persons. Pick your room choice carefully; you may find it more comforting to choose a four bed female only dorm if you are a single girl travelling alone, for example, or if you really want to throw yourself into the thick of it, go for mixed occupancy.
If the thought of sharing a room with strangers is too much to bear then there are often single rooms available that mean you can mingle with your new mates in the common areas until the time comes to get some much needed sleep.
Take a look at some of my funniest and cringeworthy hostel memories here.
Introduce yourself to your room mates
After check in you will head to your room to drop off your belongings. My advice here would be to chat to anyone you see in the room. A simple, ‘hi, my name is’ goes a long way. No one is likely to ignore you (unless they’re plugged into their laptop and Skyping their folks or something), and as soon as they reply you may get a hint at their accent. Take a stab at guessing where they are from, ask them how long they have stayed at the hostel or been in that particular town/country and before you know it you are chatting away.
Chances are, later on in the bar or common room of the hostel, you will bump into your fellow room dweller and will feel confident enough to approach them with a smile to continue the conversation.
Hang out in common areas
You may want to curl up in your bed with the duvet over your head, but that is no way to meet people, let alone make the most of your surroundings. It baffles me sometimes when I see people sat on their beds, hour after hour, day after day, up in the dorm room whilst the rest of the hostel bonds downstairs over a drink and an intense game of cards. Whilst I understand that we sometimes require a little down time and peace and quiet, if you make no effort to hang out in the common areas such as by the pool, in the kitchen, bar or TV room, then you are unlikely to find opportunities for quality social interaction.
Take your book, camera or notepad with you for moral support by all means, but being visible and open to those around you helps break down a few barriers. Who knows, your choice of book might spark a healthy debate about that author, or you may see someone else reading something you would really like to know about. By hanging out in the common areas you surround yourself with other people who are willing to engage with you.
Ask open ended questions
Listening to someone else is less scary that being in the spotlight, so you can ask a couple of questions and take your lead from their answers.
An open ended question is one that cannot be answered by a simple yes or no.
Closed: ‘Do you like [insert subject matter]?’
Open: ‘What is your favourite thing about [insert subject matter] and why?’
People like talking about themselves and travellers love sharing their stories and information for other people’s benefit. If you play your cards right and ask a few leading questions you can easily break the ice.
Wear something eyecatching
A simple trick to catch people’s attention is to wear something that makes you stand out from the crowd. This could be anything: your sports team jersey, favourite band t-shirt, a bright neon tie-dyed vest top from a Full Moon Party on Ko Pha Ngan. Anything that ignites recognition or passion in other people. Even your obscure local hockey team tshirt may be just the thing you need at a bar in Vietnam to start off an excited conversation when someone who also enjoys the sport claps you on the shoulder due to recognition of an emblem or logo.
Got skills? Show them off!
Can you sing and play a guitar better than Ed Sheeran? Do you have a card trick that is an instant party pleaser? Or does Dynamo not have a patch on your mind-boggling magic skills? Share what you love and what you are good at with others and let your talents do the talking.
Food, glorious food
I have personally used this one numerous times. No one can ignore the rumble of an empty tummy, and, for many travellers, food is an integral cultural part of their trip.
One of the first things I tend to do upon arrival in a new place is to ask a fellow traveller where is good to eat. Something along the lines of, ‘I’ve just arrived today and don’t know where anything is. I’m thinking about going to get somewhere to eat and wondered whether you had any good recommendations?’
Undoubtedly, you will be answered with a welcoming response. ‘A group of us are heading to [insert name of local bar here] for dinner. Why don’t you join us?’
You then arrange to meet up a bit later and you are suddenly surrounded with a group of friendly people with whom you can share your mealtimes and subsequent days/nights.
Book a day trip or organised tour
You may fancy trekking the lush green hills of Sapa in Vietnam or exploring the souk in Marrakech but the thought of doing so alone stops you from fulfilling your dream. A great way to ensure you are never without company is to book a trip with a tour company that organises guided group travel.
I have experienced group travel in Laos in South East Asia and can really recommend it. You are accompanied by a local guide who shares their passion and knowledge about their country and culture and travel with a group of – more often than not single – people. I travelled with G Adventures, but there are many companies out there if you do a bit of research.
You can also think about booking a local trip whilst in a particular country. For example, booking onto a guided walk in New Zealand or a trip to Ankor Wat in Cambodia with a local guide. Just head to the Tourist Information office or the reception of where you are staying and they will be able to provide you with a slew of information on what there is to do locally.
You’ve Got This…
Travellers are on the whole a very friendly and inclusive bunch. Why wouldn’t we be? We are all united by the same urge to get lost in a foreign city, dip our toe in a strange ocean, submerge ourselves in a language we do not understand and order something different from a menu for that day’s meal.
But you can’t rely on looking as pathetically persuasive as the Puss in Boots from Shrek when he pulls the big eyes number.
Although people can see you over there chewing at your straw and pretending to be all nonchalant, sometimes the emphasis is on you and you really should – and you can – shake off your shyness and spark up conversation.
This is your life. This is your dream. You have got this far and you have the ability to make the first move – in a purely platonic way of course – which will ensure that, before you know it, you will be thick in the midst of that cheery crowd, laughing the whole night long.
So don’t let your fear of being alone stop you from booking your trip of a lifetime and going on to have a great time.
What are your tips for breaking the ice as a solo traveller? Have you found it difficult to meet people and make friends whilst on the road? Share your thoughts with me!