Last month, I introduced you all to Katrina McGhee in a special safety edition of Unpacking Solo Travel. For those of you who forget, or maybe missed it (click here to go read it), Katrina grew up in a family that didn’t prioritize travel. While she was always fascinated by the idea, it took her until she was 30 to travel abroad. Katrina explains, “I truly didn’t know where to begin. I had no experience with it. I actually chose my business school largely based on their reputation for prioritizing international opportunities like study abroad programs. I knew this would make it easier to make my travel dreams happen.”
And help her it did. She began with traveling to Costa Rica, followed by Egypt and Turkey and finally studied abroad in Barcelona. In the nine years since, she’s managed to visit more than 30 countries, mostly as a solo traveler. These days she works remotely and travels quite frequently.
A common question I often get from readers and coaching clients is “How can I safely make friends while traveling solo?” Just like she did with safety, Katrina had a lot of really great things to say on this topic.
Sign Up For Tours
I personally love tours, and they’re a great way to meet people. When I first arrive in a city, I look for free walking tours, food tours, or cooking classes. If you pick a tour that you are genuinely interested in, then it’s likely you will have similar interests to the other participants. It’s also likely that the other people on the tour will speak the same language as you, will also be visiting and may not yet know anyone.
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone, A Little
Be willing to be uncomfortable and step outside of your comfort zone. I don’t mean putting yourself in harm’s way, but be willing to feel awkward and be willing to hang out with somebody that isn’t your new soul mate or your new BFF. See the value in that.
Remember Your Priorities
If I am kind of tired and want to go back to my room, but meeting people and not being alone is a priority for me, then I am going to try and remain open to spontaneous invitations — taking a walk, grabbing a drink, or sharing a taxi — despite not knowing exactly where the night will lead.
Keep An Open Mind
There are so many awesome things you can do to meet people. I really believe half of the battle is having an open mind. I recently took a tango introductory lesson, here in Argentina. It was me and a Swedish couple. At the end of the class, we discovered we were staying in the same neighborhood, so they invited me to share their taxi. And of course, when somebody asks something like that or invites me out to dinner, it can feel instinctive, especially as a woman, to say no because that feels unsafe. But if we want to meet people, then we should try and remain open by taking calculated risks when the opportunity arises.
At the end of a really nice dinner in Argentina, I had a conversation with my waiter that led to him offering to take me for a tour on his motorbike sometime. You obviously have to use your judgment since some people can be creepy, but this guy seemed very innocuous and I was smart about how we were going to hang out. I made sure our plans were during the day and I didn’t tell him exactly where I was staying. Those were boundaries I set to feel comfortable because taking a tour with a local on a frickin’ motorbike sounded amazing. And it turned out to be one of my favorite moments from my month in Buenos Aires.
What has helped you to make friends while traveling solo? Share your tips and stories in the comments below.