Recently, I booked a solo trip to Portugal and was telling a friend about it at work. “How exciting!” she responded, “I’ve never traveled alone, you must be so excited!”
In my head, I was thinking yes and no. Yes, because Portugal has been a destination that I’ve been wanting to go to for a long time. It’s one of the oldest countries in the world, so I imagine it to be rich in culture. Plus being a Harry Potter fan, I can’t wait to visit Porto which is not only famous for where Port comes from, it has been rumored to be a source of inspiration for J.K. Rowling when she was writing her Harry Potter Series.
On the other hand, I was thinking I’m not that excited because I feel like I’m traveling by myself again. There are certainly perks when you go alone–but it can also be daunting doing everything by yourself, and it can get lonely.
As the conversation continued, she asked, ‘what do you do when you get tired of being alone and want to meet people?’
Here are my cool tips to break the ice when traveling alone.
1. Stay at AirBnb, Guest Houses, or Bed and Breakfasts.
Staying in these types of accommodation, you will generally bump into more solo travelers that are on a budget and are looking to get more of a local experience. A lot of time you are sharing communal spaces, which gives you more opportunities to strike up conversations, exchange travel tips and meet new people.
2. Dine and Drink at the Bar.
One thing I’ve become more comfortable in doing is eating by myself when traveling alone. Don’t get me wrong, I still get self-conscious, but at the same time, we forget people are self-absorbed with themselves. Beyond the fleeting glance and assumptions most people may make in your direction, they get back to their own business and company within seconds.
The fact is you are traveling alone. And it would be a shame for you to let being by yourself stand in the way of a good meal. To make the experience more enjoyable, you can try avoiding peak dining hours. Go to a place that is more casual, where there is communal seating, or seat yourself at the bar. You not only sometimes get to skip the line for a table, you can often meet others who are also there by themselves, which opens the prospect of having interesting conversations with the bartender or other lone diners.
3. Learn a Few Simple Phrases.
Let’s face it, English has become the universal language when traveling. As an English speaker, it’s easy to take this for granted (myself included) because, in most places, you can pretty much get by with English alone.
There have been times when I’ve come across someone who didn’t speak English, and I get taken aback, self-centeredly thinking, How do they not know how to speak English? I mean, who am I to expect them to speak English when I am the one visiting their country? Why should they learn to speak English and cater to my needs?
And then I have to remind myself, part of traveling is to get out of your comfort zone. See, try, adapt, and do new things. The least I can do is to make an effort to greet them in their own language and attempt to meet them halfway in conversing. When I do this, I have found more often than not the locals are more willing to take interest and be more hospitable in conversing and showing you a good time.
4. Join a local tour.
If you are feeling lazy in trying to figure things out on your own, you can always sign up and join a local tour. It’s another easy way to meet other travelers and be a part of a group even if it is just for a few hours to a day. The best part is you’ll also have a guide who you can ask your heart out about the places you are visiting and from whom you can perhaps get the inside local scoop on what to do and where to dine.
5. Smile and take risks.
A smile can do wonders, and it’s a simple way to break the ice. It is inviting and contagious–plus, it makes you more attractive, making people want to talk to you more as you give them the signal it is okay to approach you.
So have fun with it, and get into the playful mindset we usually get into when we are on holidays. Be open and take risks in talking to people. Engage with as little or as many people as you wish. But also trust your instincts and listen to your inner compass. If you feel uncomfortable and need to lie a little to get out something that feels not right, do it. Trust everyone and no one. At the end of day, you get to choose how much of a social butterfly you’d like to be.
What are your tips for meeting people when traveling by yourself?
Also by Theresa: 3 Ways to Declutter and Create More Space in Your Life
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Photo: Heidi Sandstrom via Unsplash