I have found that whenever I traveled solo I tended to repeat the same behaviors each time. The more self reflection I did and when discussing with my other introverted traveler friends, I discovered that we had similar reactions. When I first started traveling solo, I had no idea how to speak to random people and start an engaging conversation. I’ve worked in retail before so I was comfortable in that setting and knew how to be a social butterfly then, but being in a completely different setting and trying to find ways to entertain myself was not my forte. Therefore, I decided to make a list of all the things that I have done that can help you feel more comfortable and make memorable experiences.
This is a simple list of things that any introvert can do to feel more comfortable on their trip and even to assist in meeting new friends!
- Bring a (physical) book: Something about having an actual book in your hands can feel so therapeutic. I personally recommend a physical book due to some travelers’ concerns about their electronics (phone, Kindle, etc.) being stolen while abroad, and the potential of damaging one’s eyes due to the screen light. Most likely there will be a bookstore or even a second-hand store that sell books – even English books if you’re in a non-English speaking country! These tend to be the most affordable option, especially if your hostel doesn’t have a book exchange area.
- Listen to a Podcast: One of my favorite things to do while in a new location is to listen to my favorite podcast Missed in History‘s episode about said location. This worked out perfectly when I traveled to Dublin and went to see the Book of Kells at Trinity College while listening to an episode of the podcast by the same name. It provided a lot of context to the artifacts that were not fully discussed during the tour.
- Do Something That Scares You: I know that everyone this and it has become cliche, but pushing your comfort zone does not always mean going to the extreme like bungee jumping. It could simply be walking up to a stranger and striking a conversation could be enough or going to a restaurant on your own and having dinner by yourself – which I did during my trip in Switzerland and it was definitely nerve-racking, albeit worthwhile on building my comfort zone on being okay to do things on my own.
- Talk to the Front Desk: No matter how much research you do on things to see and do in whichever place you are going to, you will likely not know where to find a great affordable cup of coffee but the front desk workers might! They are there to help you enjoy their city and are happy to help you find the hidden secrets that only the locals know about.
- Parks: There are practically parks everywhere in each city that I have been to during my travels. While in Madrid, I visited the Plaza de Oriente in front of the Palacio Real de Madrid where everyone, especially tourists, went to lay out in the sun and enjoy the beautiful weather. These places can be great ways to meet others, like when you hear others speaking your language or a language you know, then you have a reason to start a conversation with them. If chatting to strangers is not your thing, then parks can be nice places to relax and read that book you brought along!
- Drinking: It will likely be common knowledge to some of you but new for others – be aware of how much you drink if you are going out with people you just met or on your own. This can simply be so you do not lose important items (phone, passport, money, etc.) or even get taken advantage of while intoxicated. I am not saying that you should not drink – alone or in a group, only to be careful when drinking with people you have recently met.
- Find Group activities: I know this may sound counter-intuitive but joining an activity that includes solo travelers and pairs can make a new adventure feel less daunting (if this is their first time traveling alone and they are nervous) or to assist in meeting new people who are in the new boat. Personally, I like joining guided history tours like Sandeman’s New Europe Tours – especially because they are FREE.
- Transportation: You would not believe how many times I have taken a bus or train and overheard someone speak English only to start chatting it up with them on where they are from or what they plan on seeing. For me, this was a way to begin feeling more comfortable to start conversations with strangers, and it especially felt more comforting to chat to someone who I knew I had something in common with. Similarly, when my dad lived in Germany and traveled around Europe, he would sit in the Coach section of the train to meet new people and at least hear some fun stories or chat with others. Some of his crazy stories started with meeting someone on the train and then doing an activity with them later on!
- Museums: It is always a smart idea to research what museums are near where you will be visiting – if you are someone that enjoys museums, whether about art or history, then you likely already do this. I found out the hard way that not doing some prior research, I was in Zurich for a two days and I was unaware that the FIFA Museum was there until two hours before I had to catch my train. As an avid soccer fan this was especially upsetting that I had not done any previous research and discovered information on the museum.
- Google Maps: I’m sure many of you do this already but download the map of the city you are visiting so you know where you are going at all times (especially if you only use WiFi). This can be additionally beneficial if someone comes up to you and asks for directions! I like doing this for when I wander around to get the vibe of a new city and explore great hidden shops, but do not know how to get back to my hostel.
Is there anything that you can think of that I may have missed? Or is there anything that you specifically do to make new friends on your trips? I’d love to know more so feel free to leave a comment below!