Over the years, I’ve done my fair share of solo travelling: to a festival in the Philippines, to the safari in South Africa and in Helsinki around Christmas. For the first few trips, I felt empowered because I was exploring the world all by myself, no need for anyone to hold my hand.
But at times, it feels lonely because I can’t share my experience or my immediate thoughts with anyone. As an extrovert, I don’t do well being alone with my thoughts. But trips after trips, I’ve learned ways to make travelling alone not lonely.
Below are some things that have worked well for me over the years.
Find Events To Meet People
Hostel events or lounge area
For solo travellers, the best place to get both cheap accommodation and meet people are hostels. Many hostels have events almost every day: pub crawls, game night, etc. I once stayed at a hostel in Meteora, Greece and joined in their hiking activities. If there are no events, you can hang out at hostel’s lounge area and chat with people.
Couchsurfing is a great community of travellers helping travellers. In fact, each city you visit often has a Couchsurfing community that you can reach out to. Try reaching out to the community leader who’s responsible for organizing events in that city.
If you find it intimidating to message a random stranger on the platform, search for events happening in that city. When I was in Helsinki alone during the winter, I attended a Couchsurfing bi-weekly meet-up event and got to meet some locals.
And not just casual bi-weekly meet-ups at the bar. Some Couchsurfing communities organize activities like language practice or hiking groups. When I was in Cape Town, I joined a group of 20 people, expats, locals and backpackers and together, we hiked up to a cave on Table Mountain. We all shared one incredible moment from that day. For 2 minutes, we all agreed to join in a moment of complete silence and enjoyed the view and the sound of nature. It felt amazing to share that moment with so many people.
Hosts And Tour Guides
Free walking tours
Many cities around the world have free walking tours where you pay tips at the end to the tour guide. Sign yourself up for one and you’ll meet plenty of people on that tour or get to spend time with a tour guide.
Paid tours and activities
For paid tours or activities, there are many more options. My personal go to are Airbnb experiences because often, it’s just someone who knows their city really well and sharing what they know by running an Airbnb experience.
If no other guests have booked the same time slot, it would be a private tour, just me and the Airbnb host. Like the cooking class in Mérida, Mexico. Even though I was the only guest who booked the activity on that day, I was still spending time with a hostess and a chef. So I took advantage of this to practice my Spanish with the two of them during the entire evening.
Your host (Airbnb or Couchsurfing)
Some of the best memories I have from my solo trips aren’t from visiting a museum or landmark, but just by spending time with my local hosts.
In Cape Town, I spent Lunar New Year with two amazing hosts! I told them that morning I wanted to make some Vietnamese dishes for them to celebrate the occasion. Later that day, when I came back, they had put up some simple decorations and even printed out “Happy New Year” in Vietnamese and hung it up. For the next few days, we alternated making dinner: they made South African food, and I cooked some of my favourite Vietnamese dishes. It was an amazing exchange of both culture and recipes!
In Thessaloniki, Greece, my Couchsurfing host brought me to a darts bar where we spent the evening playing darts. I learned that playing this sport involved a lot of mental math (not my forte) and hitting the bullseye isn’t necessarily the most important thing.
In Helsinki, after a long day of visiting museums, my Airbnb host made me some glögi and introduced me to the campy but fun movie Kung Fu Hustle. We also talked about how he adapted to a new life Finland, being from another country and culture.
Embrace The Quiet Time
Quiet reading time
Bring a book and take this time to enjoy it. In Thessaloniki, I spent half of an afternoon laying on the grass after visiting museums back-to-back. I got in the zone, made good progress on the book, and then took a 20-minute nap on the grass until the heat woke me up. It sounds like an unproductive use of time, but when you’re on vacation, you can use it however you want. It doesn’t always have to be exploring the city or visiting a landmark.
Attend shows and performances
Treat yourself to experiences where you don’t/can’t talk to people, like a theatre show, a stand-up comedy performance, a sports event or even a concert. When I went to London alone, I planned ahead and bought tickets to go see two musicals: the Lion King and the Book of Mormon. Sometimes, I would even travel just for that event itself. I can’t remember how many times I’ve gone to Toronto just to attend a concert by myself.
Use the quiet time for some self-reflection
I like to carry around a small notebook to write my thoughts, experiences, or fun facts I would learn throughout the day during my travels. I do this much less when I don’t travel alone, but when I do, it’s always great to find time to slow down and reflect. Because when you come back from your trip, everything might become a blur, so writing things down as it happens is a great way to remember your trip!