Before I first went traveling in 2006, I had these expectations based on nothing but my imagination and popular culture. My trip was going to be a nonstop adventure filled with colorful and exciting people. Crazy things were going to happen to me. I’d make friends everywhere. I’d be talking to strangers on buses. Locals would invite me out for drinks. I’d be sipping a latte, strike up a conversation with my beautiful waitress, and then the next thing I’d know we’d be at a wine bar, staring into each other’s eyes, while she taught me French. It was going to be just like those travel articles I’d read or movies I saw. One adventure scene to the next.
Then I went overseas. There I was in the hostel, on the road, seeing amazing attractions in historic cities all by myself.
At first, it was exciting. I could do whatever I wanted, when I wanted. It was fun, cool, and adventurous!
But as the days wore on and my tongue forgot what speech sounded like, the excitement dissipated as I began to crave human interaction and companionship.
Suddenly, I was alone — but in a bad way.
What did I do wrong? I was so busy I forgot to realize I was alone. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. Where were the locals? The cool travelers? What happened?
Then you begin realize the only reason you are alone is because of fear. Conversation is a two-way street, and you haven’t even bothered to stop and look at it, let alone walk down it.
As a big introvert, it isn’t natural for me to just walk up to strangers and talk to them. It makes me nervous, and that was especially true way back in 2006. But that fear was keeping me from living the dreams I had in my head. If I wanted them to happen, I was going to have to make them happen.
A lot of people wonder if traveling alone means they will always be alone. How will they make friends? Is it hard?
It’s a valid concern and, for us non-natural socialites, it’s a challenge. But let me tell you: it’s a lot easier than you think.
There are a lot of people traveling solo.
People just like you.
People looking for an adventure.
People who crave interactions with others.
And that other is you.
Because we all start off in the same boat: in a foreign country without any friends, not speaking the language, and looking for people to spend time with. Once you realize that, you realize how simple and easy it is to make friends — because everyone is just like you.
All you have to do is just go talk — to you!
It took the introvert in me a while to learn that truth, but once I did, I had no trouble meeting people. Now, though I still crave my quiet time, I can easily walk up to people and say hello.
The key is to start small and break out of your shell. Talk to the person in your dorm room. Say hello. Ask them about themselves. They will respond. They’ll ask you about yourself. It will be fine and not scary.
Do the same to other travelers you see. Look for that group leaving for the bar and ask, “Can I join you?” Walk over to that pool table in the hostel and ask, “Who’s next?” Guess what? You are!
And thanks to the growing sharing economy, there are many ways to meet people. I’m sure you have one thing you are passionate about, right? Well, people around the world have that same passion. Use a website like Meetup.com to find local groups that form around that passion. It’s a great way to break the ice as you have an instant thing to talk about, something you can speak fluently and excitedly on. It creates an instant connection.
Moreover, you can try the website Couchsurfing. It’s not only a place to find accommodation; they also have tons of meet-ups you can attend to find other travelers and like-minded people.
At first, I found it hard to speak to others, but you either sink or swim on the road. My options were to be alone or to get over my fear, take the plunge, and talk to people. I choose the latter.
And on the occasions I was sinking instead of swimming, other travelers came up to me and said hello. They made the first move so I didn’t have to.
Why? Because they were looking to make friends, too, and understood that if they didn’t do something either, they too would have been alone.
Travelers are a friendly bunch. We want to meet new people and make new friends.
And one of those friends is you.
You are never alone on the road. There are people everywhere who will be constantly talking to you and inviting you out.
Traveling alone doesn’t mean you will be alone.
Take it from this introvert: you’ll meet more people than you’ll know what to do with.
And then you’ll realize there was never a reason to worry in the first place.