How To Make Friends When Traveling Solo

bar Having nobody to travel with shouldn’t stop you from visiting the destinations you dream of going to. In fact, meeting others on the road is a lot easier than people think. To help you make friends while traveling solo, use the tips below.

Eat Alone At The Bar

It may sound strange, but eating alone at a bar is actually a great way to meet others. While eating alone at a table may not help you make connections, eating by yourself at the bar makes you approachable. Additionally, you’re more likely to encounter other solo travelers doing the same. And if all else fails, you’ll still have the bartender to talk to.Make Use Of CouchSurfing And Meetup

When I travel solo, CouchSurfing is my bible. I don’t use it to stay on people’s couches, but instead to connect with locals and other travelers. There are forums where you can tell people when you’re arriving in a city, see what other people have planned and browse events in the area. Likewise, Meetup allows you to find like-minded people and attend activities that match your interests, like hiking, meditation, philosophy or spicy food.

hostel Stay In Hostels

While obvious to some, there are still many who are apprehensive about staying in hostels. They picture the movie “Hostel,” with dirty, dingy rooms and creepy guests and murderers lurking the halls. In reality, hostels are usually clean, with friendly staff and myriad activities to help you get to know the city. Look for properties with common areas like kitchens, TV rooms, bars and BBQ areas.

Take Walking Tours

Many cities offer free or affordable walking tours. When going on one, it’s almost impossible not to strike up conversations with other travelers. You can discuss how interesting the sites are, and then segue into what other tours they plan on taking. From there, making conjoined travel plans is simple.
train
Strike Up Conversations On Transportation

Taking public transportation is a great way to meet other travelers and locals. You can ask the person next to you about where they’re going, and about where they came from. For example, on a train journey through Germany, I met a young artist from Holland who was traveling the world indefinitely. Not only did he tell entertaining stories about being arrested for doing graffiti in New York, but we also ended up exploring Munich together.

Use The Currency Exchange

All travelers need money, so what better place to meet people than a currency exchange? This is where I met one of my closest friends from traveling. The line was long, and when he saw I was wearing a backpack like he was, he struck up a conversation. We ended up traveling together for two weeks, and still visit each other in our home cities.

volunteerVolunteer

Volunteering is a worthwhile way to spend your time in any city. Not only will you be helping a community in need, you’ll also be immersing yourself in a culture and getting to know locals and volunteers. A good idea is to do a homestay, as this helps you get an authentic experience of a place while becoming close with the people you’re living with.

Book Organized Trips

While doing excursions on your own will save you money, booking an organized tour will help you meet others. You’ll not only be interacting with the travelers on the tour, but also the local guide. Many times I’ll ask the guide about interesting places to see and fun places to go out, which leads to groups of people making plans to explore together. questions

Ask Questions

When traveling, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask other travelers about their trips, a local baker about how they bake fresh bread, a cab driver about the types of people they encounter or a hotel owner about what inspired them to begin a business. Every person you encounter is an opportunity to learn something new, and make a new connection.

Be Open To New Experiences

If a stranger invites you to go dancing, if a local wants to bring you as a guest to a wedding or if you get invited to dinner at someone’s home, take the opportunity. Again, it’s a great way to have an authentic experience while getting to know locals. That being said, always trust your gut. If you get a bad feeling about someone, get away immediately.

Use Social Media

Social media isn’t just for sharing funny pictures and telling the world how you’re feeling; it can also be used to meet other people when traveling. A lot of times when I’m going on a trip, I’ll put a tweet or Facebook status out telling others my plans. Even if nobody else will be in the city I’m traveling to, they may have a friend or family member who will be. party

Host A Party Or Get Together

You don’t need to wait to hear about an event from someone else. Instead, plan one yourself. It doesn’t need to be anything lavish. Even having people get together at a karaoke bar or advertising a language exchange can get people excited. When in Mendoza, I was traveling solo and didn’t know anyone in the city. My birthday was coming up, so I decided to plan an event that included going to an asado restaurant and then out dancing. I posted a message on CouchSurfing, as well as put a note up in my hostel, and ended up having a group of about 12 people come along.

Picnic

This is especially effective in Europe, where picnicking is popular. Go to the market and pickup some cheese, bread, fruit, cold meat, wine and a blanket, and head to the nearest park or square. You can offer to share food with other people, or find other picnickers to share with. central park

Hangout In Parks

Not only are parks great for picnicking, they’re also the place where people go to do all kinds of activities. Hangout with people playing live music, get in on a game of frisbee or play some chess with a stranger. When I was at a park in China, a group of girls saw me watching them do traditional dance, and they asked me if I wanted to learn. I had a great time trying something new, and got to meet some really nice locals.

Pub Crawls

It’s almost impossible not to make friends on a pub crawl, especially since the alcohol will make you less nervous about going up to strangers. Moreover, the extremely social setting and outgoing guides help to get people mingling.

[images via ms.margie, Jessie on a Journey, Michael de’Oz, Jessie on a Journey, Jessie on a Journey, Jessie on a Journey, aherrero]

Photo of the day – Picnic in Taiwan

picnic in taiwan

In the mood for a picnic in Taiwan? Flickr user Pamcy.com sure is. She snapped this image of a small picnic in the north of Taiwan late last month. The views are striking even with the lingering haze across the horizon. The grass looks comfortable, too. Is it time for a nap?

Got an image of a fun summer activity you’re dying to share with a wider audience? Go ahead and upload it to the Gadling Group pool on Flickr. If we dig it we might choose it as a future Photo of the Day.

Hiking the Basque coastline

Basque, Spain
While the Sierra de Toloño offers some amazing trails and views, the most alluring sights I’ve seen in the Basque region are along its coastline.

The coast of northeast Spain and southwest France along the Bay of Biscay is part of the Basque heartland. Inland villages played a key role in keeping Basque culture alive, but it’s the ports–Bilbao, San Sebastian, and many smaller towns–that helped the Basques make their mark on world history.

Today I’m hiking a stretch of Spanish coastline east of San Sebastian and within sight of the French border. Much of my trail today corresponds with the famous Camino de Santiago. This pilgrimage route stretching from France to Galicia on the northwest corner of the Iberian peninsula became popular in the Middle Ages. It’s still one of the most popular trails in Europe, with a record 200,000+ hikers last year.

I can see why. Our route takes us past little towns where churches once offered medieval pilgrims spiritual solace, vineyards growing on steep slopes leading down to the sea, and wide views of the water. The coastline here is rugged, with jagged rocks jutting up from the foamy surf and numerous little islands, some topped by churches and homes.

%Gallery-124603%One of these islands has an important history. It makes up part of the little port of Getaria, home to Juan Sebastián Elcano, the Basque people’s most famous sailor. He was one of Magellan’s officers on the explorer’s circumnavigation of the globe.

The journey started in 1519 with 241 men. That number quickly dropped due to malnutrition, disease, mutiny, and storms. When Magellan was killed in the Philippines in 1521, two other officers took joint command. They were killed by natives soon thereafter. Another officer took over, but he proved unpopular and when his ship sprung a leak, some men decided to follow Elcano in the only remaining vessel. They finally made it back to Spain in 1522 with only 18 of the original crew.

His hometown, shown above, isn’t very big and probably wasn’t much of anything 500 years ago. I can imagine Elcano climbing to the top of that little mountain on the island that dominates Getaria and looking out over the sweeping view of the Bay of Biscay. It’s not surprising such a place produced one of the world’s greatest sailors.

Continuing along the coast we find a slope covered in thick grass. Looking out on the sea, there’s a good view of Getaria to our left and to our right, almost lost in the distance, we spot the coastline of France. It’s a perfect place for a picnic and we feast on Spanish tortilla (a bit like a thick omelet with potatoes), cheese, bread, and fresh cherries. I’ve been on a lot of hikes in Spain and I’ve eaten well on all of them. This picnic takes the prize for best view, though.

This coastline made much of its wealth from whaling. Whale oil used to be the petrol of the world, lighting up the streetlamps of Paris and London and used in a variety of products. While whales enjoy some protection today, they were hunted by the thousand until early 20th century and came close to going extinct. Basque whalers were some of the most adventurous. When stocks were used up in the Bay of Biscay and other parts of the European coastline, Basque whalers went further afield to Siberia, Iceland, Greenland, and even the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. In fact, they may have arrived in the New World before Columbus!

Our hike ends when we make it to the beach at Zarautz, an old whaling port turned resort. People are surfing and swimming, the smart ones wearing wetsuits to protect them from the cold water. When whaling died and the iron industry faltered, the Basque coast reinvented itself as a northern resort paradise for rich Europeans. San Sebastian, which I’m visiting in the next installment of this series, was one of the best. When you see the photos you’ll know why.

Don’t miss the rest of my series: Beyond Bilbao: Hiking through the Basque region.

This trip was sponsored by Country Walkers. The views expressed in this series, however, are entirely my own.

Brooklyn Bridge celebrates 128th anniversary

Brooklyn Bridge
If you are in New York today, consider paying homage to one of the city’s most venerable landmarks: the Brooklyn Bridge, which turns 128 today. The iconic bridge opened in 1883 after 13 years of construction. As is common with mid-week birthdays, the main celebrations happened over the weekend, including a special offer to get a $28 tattoo of the Brooklyn Bridge from a local tattoo parlor. Brooklyn Tattoo illustrated 60-70 proud Brooklynites in 2010, and inks another dozen or so each month. That’s a lot of bridge enthusiasts!

Should you not want such a permanent souvenir, you can always celebrate with a walk across the bridge and a picnic at the newly-expanded Brooklyn Bridge Park (where yours truly got married 7 years ago), but forget the Champagne – no alcohol is allowed on the bridge or in the park.

Photo of Langley aircraft carrier under the Brooklyn Bridge courtesy San Diego Air & Space Museum archives.

Ten things to know about your destination before you go

know before you go travel planningSo you’ve chosen your vacation destination – booked the tickets, agonized over TripAdvisor to find a hotel, and bought the guidebooks or downloaded the apps. Whether you like to plan your itinerary in advance or play it by ear, there are a few things you should research in advance to make your arrival – and your trip – go smoothly.

From airport taxis to local laws to transit passes, what should you know before you go?

  1. Best way from the airport to the city – This should be your first order of business – figuring out the most efficient and/or least expensive way to get to your hotel before you find yourself being hounded by taxi touts at baggage claim or standing in the rain waiting for a bus that comes every two hours. London’s Heathrow Express is a great compromise between an exorbitant taxi ride and a long Tube ride with transfers, but other cities may have cheap cab fares (find out approximately what you should pay before you get in the car) or excellent public transportation systems connecting with the airport. Check out any guidebook or the Getting In section of a Wikitravel article for the best info and check if your hotel offers pick up service for a good value.
  2. How much cash to start with and in what denominations – Now that you know how to get to your hotel, you’ll need cash to pay for your transfer. No matter what the exchange rate, you should find out how much money to withdraw from the ATM or exchange at the airport (note: most airports in the world have ATMs and will give you a better value than exchanging currency, but it never hurts to have some backup cash). Lonely Planet‘s Cost Index is great for determining about how much cash will cover a taxi ride, a meal or two, and other expenses for your first day or so. Some countries will give you large bills that are hard to break – try entering an odd amount like 130 to get some smaller bills or visit a newsstand to get change.
  3. What’s the tipping culture – So you’re in the taxi, cash in hand to pay the driver, do you tip? In many countries, like Turkey, people don’t generally tip taxi drivers, perhaps rounding up to the nearest lira or two, so a 38 TL fare would cost 40 TL (taxi drivers here are so loathe to give change they may eat the cost of a 52 TL fare and give you change for the 50). Likewise for restaurants and cafes, 10% is standard in many places outside of the US and often included in the bill. I’ll never forget leaving a 20% tip on top of an included 10% in a London bar – the waitress was thrilled but I felt like a fool. Figure out what’s appropriate and do as the locals do to avoid stiffing or overcompensating for service.
  4. A few key phrases in the local language – This is a necessity in some countries, and always a courtesy to know a few words of a foreign language. “Please” and “thank you” and “where is the bathroom?” will always be useful, and “two beers,” “another one” and “check” will usually result in good things.
  5. When to leave for the airport when you depart – It’s hard to think about going home when you’re enjoying vacation, but knowing how much time to allow for your departure can help you to maximize your last day. While your airline might tell you how far in advance to arrive, better to ask someone who really knows how long to budget, like your hotel concierge. A Lisbon hotel front desk clerk once saved me several hours waiting at the airport by letting me know the recommended three hours before check-in was overkill.
  6. What’s legal – Learning about the local laws can save you headaches and money. I just discovered that in Warsaw, jaywalking is illegal and punishable by a 50 zl fine, hence why all the residents wait patiently at crosswalks for the light to change. In some cities, it’s fine to bring a bottle of wine or beer into a park for a picnic, but in others, public drinking can get you fined. Knowing what’s legal can also help you avoid (or seek out, depending on your proclivities) potential danger areas such as red light districts. Wikitravel is good at listing info on local laws and dangers.
  7. What days museums are free or discounted – Visiting a museum on a free day might allow you to see something you’d otherwise miss due to the admission price, and free nights are often packed with locals and fun events. Find out what days you can get free to help plan your itinerary. Rick Steves’ guides always have a good summary of free (as well as closed) days.
  8. The real value of a transit or tourist pass – Many cities have a museum or tourist card that you can purchase to get free admission at many sites for a set time. But before you invest in a pass, check out if you really want to go to the included places (cheesy sights like wax musuems are invariably included) and if you’d have enough time to really enjoy visiting them all. Similarly, public transportation passes can be great in a city like New York, where a Metrocard can save you time and money, but if you prefer to walk or cab around town, you might skip it. The single best deal I’ve found is the Japan rail pass, which must be purchased in your home country, and gives free or discounted access to public transit and many of the country’s awesome bullet trains.
  9. Where to get help if you need it – I used to think registering with the U.S. Department of State when traveling abroad was a bit silly but a friend at the embassy in Istanbul stressed how important it is in case of a disaster in locating citizens, as well as to help Americans abroad in trouble. Leave your travel details with friends back home, carry the contact details for your embassy and credit cards and check your insurance policy for coverage away from home.
  10. Can’t-miss tips from locals and travelers – Here’s where social media can really help you have a great vacation – before departure, ask your travel-savvy friends on Facebook and Twitter what their don’t-miss recommendations are for what to see or where to eat. Even if they are well-known attractions, having a tip from someone who’s been there will help you prioritize. You can always ask us at Gadling, chances are one of us has been there and can provide recommendations – just post to our Facebook page or send us a tweet @Gadling.

Other tips you’ve found handy to know in advance? Leave us yours in the comments.