Recently I wrote a post about how solo travel is the tits. And it is. But as much as I am sure you enjoy your own company you can’t spend the duration of your trip talking to a volleyball with a smiley face painted in blood.
The aim of the game is to put yourself out there and meet people.
So I’ve put together a list of tips to help you make friends when you travel based on my experience travelling, of which I have some. (Insert Friends reference where Chandler asks Joey how much sex he’s had and Joey responds with “When? Today? Some. Not a lot.”)
1. Be yourself.
Don’t you roll your eyes at me, girlfriend. I know this is an obvious one. But it’s important. It’s tempting to try to be someone cooler, someone who can quote Jack Kerouac, someone who is partial to injecting drugs directly into their eyeballs. But if you pretend to be someone else you’ll end up in a clique of women who don’t go anywhere without their hair spray and you’ll probably have to set yourself alight (with the hair spray.)
To quote someone wise (who was possibly wearing yoga pants and flowers in their hair at the time of saying this): “Your vibe attracts your tribe.”
2. Find an inside joke/shared experience.
Don’t overthink this. The joke/story/anecdote/experience can be completely lame or random. It doesn’t matter. People just want to feel like connected to other people in some way.
Real life example: On my recent cruise to Antarctica one of the chicks I bonded with (hello again Alicia) attempted to explain to a few of us after several cups of warm gluhwein the real meaning behind Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” song and the phrase ‘Antartifacts’ was born. This amused us all no end and lead to many more inside jokes, which were highly annoying and or dorky to other people but which we found HILARIOUS (see #1).
3. Have a drink.
Alcohol tends to bond a group together like super glue. My days of drinking all the vodka are long gone but when I was fun I found alcohol to be an excellent lubricant during social situations. (And no I’m not going to tell you about the time I used a 3-wood golf club cover as a sock puppet and went hunting for, um, golf balls.)
Please note I’m not telling you to drink until you pass out. Be safe with the amount of alcohol you drink and never drink more than you would back home.
And if you don’t drink, consider getting high on adrenaline and going bungy-jumping instead.
4. Stay in a dorm/shared cabin/communal teepee.
This is where the good stuff goes down. The magic doesn’t happen in your private room with scented candles and soft sheets (unless you’re in there with Edgar Ramirez and he’s naked.) It happens when you’re all cramped up together and it’s late and the guy sleeping above you wakes up the whole dorm farting like an escaped elephant.
The same goes for any kind of transport you’re sharing during any tours you’re on. Sit in the back and talk shit. Get past the usual questions (where you’re from, what you do, etc.) as quickly as possible. You can even just skip them completely and ask who they’re inspired by, about their favourite book when they were a kid or their stripper name (first pet’s name + first street they lived on).
5. Take food that you can share and then share it.
I’ve found this helpful in tour groups. Buy a bag of bite-size Mars Bars to share after a long hike. Pull out your marshmallows to roast on the fire while its snowing outside. Break out the ten tiny bottles of whiskies you got in your Christmas stocking from your gran (see #4). People will think you’re lovely and thoughtful and they’ll want to be your friend forever.
6. Have a party trick or a useful skill.
Figure out how to open up a beer bottle with your eye socket.
Give earth-shatteringly good foot massages.
Learn to rap the full version of Gangsta’s Paradise.
I did a horse trek in Mongolia with a friend who is an osteopath and let me tell you, people were lining up to have her lay her healing hands on them after a long day in the saddle. She was a hit—and that was before she made us caramel popcorn on the fire at night.
7. Take a pack of cards.
The best card games for breaking the ice always involve lots of shouting and not very many directions in case language is an issue. I have seen first hand the power of a card game to bond people together.
Notable examples include UNO with sherpas in Nepal where the main aim was to win so the winner could shout ‘winner winner chicken dinner’ and watching energetic games of something I think was called Pick-Up with Mongolian horse wranglers around the fire.
8. Sign up for lessons or a workshop.
If you sign up to a course you’ll be united in the pursuit of learning that new thing and you’ll have more than enough to talk about while you get comfortable talking about other things.
For example, you can try a writing workshop in Bali or taking group Spanish classes in Ecuador or completing your PADI scuba diving certification in Colombia.
9. Remember that everyone feels awkward.
I saved the best for last.
The most important tip I want to share with you is this: When people are travelling in a strange country by themselves they’re feeling just as much a fish out of water as you are. Laugh about the fact that it’s awkward. Say something dumb. Show them photos of your pet rock collection back home. Or take the opportunity to overshare, because they’ll be more likely to open up if they know they can’t possibly say anything worse than you did. We’re all just humans trying to life as best we can, after all.
Now get out there and make some friends!
(And if you enjoyed this post and travel is your bag check out the travel-inspired book I wrote called ‘60 Ways to Die in South America‘.