How To Make Friends When Traveling Solo

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.

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.

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.

Volunteer

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.

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.

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.

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]

12 Ways To Ruin Your Vacation, And How To Avoid Them

When traveling, things won’t always go according to plan. However, sometimes you are actually the reason your trip goes south. To ensure you’re not the cause of your own demise, here are 12 ways to ruin your vacation, and how to avoid them.

#1: You Don’t Try Anything New

Traveling is the perfect time to try new things, as you’re already in a more open-minded state. Not trying anything new on your vacation can lead to regrets later on, especially if the people you traveled with were more adventurous. Remember, travel is the perfect time to face your fears, so do something you’ve never done before. Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean you need to go jumping out of planes and swimming with sharks as your first act of courage. Start small by trying a new food, or participating in a cultural tradition.#2: You Don’t Check A Country’s Entry Requirements

This is imperative when planning a trip. It’s not just your passport you’ll need to bring – which, by the way, you should check to ensure is not expired and has the necessary amount of empty visa pages – but possibly visas, medical records or vaccinations. For example, travelers are not permitted to enter the country of Ghana in Africa without getting a yellow fever vaccine. To prove you got the shot, you will need to carry a signed yellow card given to you by your travel doctor. Likewise, entry requirements vary for citizens of different countries. For instance, in countries like Brazil and Bolivia, it is not necessary for Europeans to get a visa, while it is for U.S. citizens.

To ensure you have the proper entry requirements for the country you’re going to, first make an appointment with a travel doctor to get the necessary medical attention. You should also visit the U.S. Department of State’s International Travel website to get up-to-date information on entry requirements.

#3: You Ignore Signs Of Travel Fatigue

When on vacation, travel fatigue is no laughing matter. If you begin to feel tired, cranky or just couldn’t care less about the trip anymore, that’s when it’s time to take action. Book a hotel, get a massage, call a friend or family member from home, write in your journal, exercise and do whatever it takes to get yourself in the right mindset again. If you don’t, you’ll miss out on really making the most of your trip. Click here for a detailed list of ways to deal with travel fatigue.

#4: You Focus Too Much On Things Going Perfectly

Before embarking on a trip, you should tell yourself right from the start that not everything is going to go smoothly. Things will most likely go wrong, and that’s okay; it’s all part of the travel experience. You’re going to miss trains, electronics will break, you’ll get ripped off, tours won’t run smoothly – it happens. Instead, when things go wrong, try to look at the bright side, or at least realize in the grand scheme of things it isn’t a big deal. When I was in the Galapagos Islands, I let the dive instructor borrow my camera, forgetting to tell him it couldn’t go lower than 10 feet of water. Needless to say, it didn’t work so well, or at all, when I got back on the boat. He apologized profusely, but I just laughed and told him I hoped he at least got some great shots. Not that I wasn’t upset about the loss of my $300 camera, but it didn’t change the fact that I was still exploring one of the most beautiful locations in the world.

#5: You Let Bad Weather Keep You From Exploring

Just because it’s raining doesn’t mean your trip needs to be put on pause. If it’s something you really want to do and would still be worthwhile, do it anyway. Furthermore, you could also revise your trip itinerary to include some indoor activities, and some outdoor activities that don’t require viewpoints or slippery terrain.

During a trip to Banos, Ecuador, it rained almost everyday I was there. While I had planned to bike down a volcano and hike to the town’s viewpoint, those plans didn’t quite make sense with the weather. However, that didn’t mean I was staying indoors. I simply changed my itinerary to include adventure activities that went well with rain – canyoning, rafting and relaxing in the natural hot springs. Likewise, the one excursion I had really wanted to do, a two-day tour to the Amazon Jungle, I did anyway. Despite some rain, it ended up being really fun.

#6: You Try To Smuggle Drugs Or Other Illegal Substances

Think bringing back opium from Asia or cocaine from Colombia sounds like a good idea? Think again. Not only will you ruin your vacation, you’ll most likely ruin your life. Moreover, bringing back less serious but also illegal items, like coral from the Great Barrier Reef or baby tortoises from the Galapagos Islands, can leave you with heavy fines and possibly jail time.

The solution to this ordeal is simple – just don’t do it.

#7: You Disrespect Local Culture

One of the best parts of traveling is learning about different cultures. Even if something is different from what you’re used to, or if you don’t agree with a certain belief, at least respect it. Not only will you save yourself potential conflict – and possible punishment, depending on the level of disrespect – you may find yourself having an eye-opening experience.

#8: You Choose A Bad Travel Partner

Ending up with a travel partner from hell is never fun, and can be detrimental to your trip. Don’t just assume the person you go to happy hour with on Friday or sit across from at work will be fun to travel with. There are certain questions you should ask before embarking on a trip together. How thoroughly do they need the itinerary planned out? What is their budget? Do they like to relax, or are they more of an adventure traveler? Do they prefer staying in hostels, or do they enjoy luxury travel? How deeply do they wish to immerse themselves in the culture you’re visiting?

If you’re answers don’t align, you should find a new travel buddy, or think about traveling solo.

#9: You Don’t Interact With New People

If you’re traveling with other people, you’ve hopefully chosen travel partners you get along with. That being said, you should still open yourself up meeting new people, especially locals. You may not necessarily “ruin” your vacation by not doing this, but you will limit it. Befriending locals will not only give you cultural insight, it can also help take you off-the-beaten path to find new sites that aren’t in your guidebook. This also works with meeting other travelers, who may be able to give you tips on the destination. Likewise, there have been many times becoming friends with locals has helped me to get good deals on tours and transportation.

To help meet other people, you can use a websites like Couchsurfing or Tripping, where you can reach out to locals and other travelers to meet up. Furthermore, going to local hangouts or befriending tour guides are other ways to make new connections.

#10: You Go Way Over Your Budget

Going way over your budget can be detrimental, and can cause a lot of anxiety during the trip. Just because you’re traveling, doesn’t mean when you get home the bills will have disappeared. If you notice you’re consistently going over your budget, re-evaluate what you’re doing. Start keeping a journal of your purchases, so you become more accountable for what you spend. In addition, begin taking advantage of free activities, do more walking and take fewer taxis, dine in cheaper local restaurants and look for hostels and inexpensive hotels and guesthouses – doing these things can help get you back on track. By the same token, if you know you’re not good at sticking to an allowance, you may want to consider traveling to a budget-friendly country.

#11: You Don’t Keep Yourself Healthy

While you’re going to want to explore the nightlife, and your sleep schedule may suffer, it’s important to keep yourself healthy to be at your best for exploring your destination. When I was in Mancora, Peru, I neglected to reapply sunscreen when lying by the pool. It only took about four hours before I had huge blisters on my legs. By that night, I had a fever and was vomiting. I lay in bed for three entire days, trying to re-hydrate and sleep off the pain. Don’t be stupid, and don’t stretch yourself too far. Get a decent amount of sleep, drink a lot of water, eat right, stay active, wear sunscreen and take precautions when doing adventurous activities.

#12: You Obsess About Staying Under Your Budget

While sticking to your budget is important, it’s also important not to let the financial stress ruin your trip. You need to be able to have fun, while not fretting over every penny you spend. Give yourself a budget that’s lower than what you can actually spend, so that if you go a bit over you won’t be losing sleep over it. Also, arm yourself with as many budget-travel tips as possible, so you’re already in the right mindset. You may also want to think about putting a certain amount of money somewhere where you won’t have access to it while away, so it will be there when you get home.

Summer Travel Plans Include Solo Experience For Some

Summer travel plans have a majority of Americans on the road and in the sky this year and in greater numbers than in the past. A recent report says 59 percent of Americans will travel this summer, primarily in the United States. Also up is solo travel as single travelers plan engaging vacations more than in the past.

“Consumers want deeper, richer experiences when they travel,” said David Patron, vice president of American Express Travel in a Wall Street Journal report. “When a traveler visits a destination they want to understand the local traditions and feel like they are getting a true insider experience.”

USA Today reports sixteen percent of 1,500 U.S. adults recently surveyed by American Express say they will take a trip alone, up from 12 percent last year

“People who have never traveled alone often describe their first solo trip as an almost religious experience,” says Independent Traveler. “To take in new surroundings unfiltered by the prejudices, tastes or preferences of a traveling companion can be heady stuff. Traveling alone gives you the chance to indulge yourself fully.”Independent Traveler also offers a variety of tips for solo travelers, urging caution while enjoying the freedom and flexibility that solo travel offers.

“One of the best reasons to travel alone is to meet new people, but this also makes you more vulnerable,” says Independent Traveler. “It’s okay to hang out, travel and share with new friends, but you might not want to ask them to hold your money. Scam artists can often be the most charming companions you’ll find; you want to be open-minded, but keep your guard up enough to ensure your safety.”

See more tips for solo travelers at Independent Traveler.

[Flickr photo by mikebaird]

World’s Oldest Backpacker To Travel Europe This Summer

When most people think of backpacking, they picture a bunch of youths in their mid-20s eating street food, hiking to city sites and sleeping in dorms of 10 or more travelers. Australian nomad Keith Wright is breaking the stereotype, and at 95 years old, has planned a two-month backpacking tour of Europe for this summer.

Nicknamed the “world’s oldest backpacker,” Wright began backpacking when his wife passed away 10 years ago. Since the age of 85, the Aussie has been exploring the world solo, selling his home, staying in hostels, sipping brews with fellow travelers and trying as hard as he can to get off the beaten path.

“I have seen things most tourists haven’t seen, because I walk the back streets and take trains or buses to nearby towns for the day,” he told The Daily Mail.

Travel has become a large focus of Mr. Wright’s life, as he carefully budgets all year long for these special trips. Starting May 28, the backpacker will spend his summer visiting Madrid, San Sebastian, Paris, Munich, Vienna and London.

Travel Partners From Hell

For those debating whether to travel in a group or go solo, you’ll want to read this. Just because you get along with someone at happy hour or Sunday morning spin class, doesn’t mean it’ll be smooth sailing on the road. After backpacking around the world for five years, both solo and with others, I’ve had my fair share of unpleasant travel partners. Think about these situations, and decide if your potential travel partner seems laid-back or fits into one of these categories.

The Cheapskate

For the most part, backpackers are budget-travelers by nature. They stay in dorms with 13 other people, forgo tours for the cheaper do-it-yourself version and will walk 15 blocks to save the equivalent of $1.50 on a meal. However, there’s a big difference between trying to stretch your dollar, and being downright cheap. When backpacking Europe, I traveled with a girl who talked of nothing but how much her condo cost, and how she couldn’t afford to eat or take the subway. She was so cheap; she used to eat the egg yolks from my daily chef’s salad as her lunch. We also went to an amusement park in Vienna, but didn’t go on any rides because she felt it was too expensive. In my mind, I was wondering why we had even walked the two hours to get there – because she refused to spend money on public transportation – if we weren’t going to enjoy it. Before traveling, make sure you’re both on the same page about the budget.The Spend Thrift

On the other hand, there are those who have no budget at all, which can make you feel like you need to spend more than you have. In Argentina, I traveled with a girl who clearly had a lot more money than me. She constantly wanted to eat in nice restaurants, take guided tours, opt for fancy tourist buses and take taxis rather than the bus or subway. Not only did I not have the money for this, but it went against my mentality of trying to get away from the tourists and go local. Before signing up to travel with someone, make sure your travel philosophies are aligned.

The Clean Freak

While I’m not suggesting being clean is a bad thing, there is a point where it can be borderline high maintenance. Especially when in other countries, you’re going to have to deal with certain places not being up to par with western sanitation standards. When I was in Thailand, I was with a girl who would constantly whine about the bathrooms – how squat toilets were gross and how there was never any toilet paper. She also almost had an aneurism when one of the guesthouses had a spider on the wall. Trust me, I enjoy a spider-free room and toilet-paper stocked bathroom as much as the next person, but sometimes these differences in place and culture are what make the trip interesting.

The Anti-American

Being from the United States, I know the hardships of being stereotyped as an “ugly American.” While traveling, I’m constantly forced to listen to people talk smack about U.S. travelers and how ignorant, annoying and rude they are. In reality, I think it’s pretty ignorant, rude and annoying to have people talk badly about Americans when there’s one sitting at the table. It’s bad enough having to hear this from strangers, but when it’s your own travel partner, it’s downright infuriating. I’ve actually experienced this while traveling with other Americans. On a local tour in Peru, as the guide talked about the culture, every reply from my companions seemed to be how Americans contrasted negatively with Peruvians. When the guide talked about how in Peru corn and potatoes were staples, the retort was that Americans were fat and ate nothing but processed foods. When the guide talked about how hard the Incas worked to build temples by hauling large boulders up mountains, the reply was that Americans were lazy. I couldn’t help but be offended, and also feel they were missing the point completely. Make sure your travel companion is both open to learning about a new culture, but also proud of their own.

The Complainer

Similar to the Clean Freak, the complainer will make you wonder why they bothered leaving their home country. The food isn’t good, the accommodation is subpar, the public transportation is unreliable and the culture is “weird.” In Prague, I traveled with someone who was a vegetarian. Not only did she whine about how the city didn’t have good food the entire time, she actually screamed at a waitress for bringing the wrong salad in a restaurant. “She should learn to speak English!” she huffed to me, annoyed. Needless to say, I was mortified.

The Cling-On

There are some people who never want to be alone, others who thoroughly enjoy their own company and those who fall somewhere in between. In my opinion, this is the most important thing to discuss with your potential travel mate before booking your plane ticket. While backpacking in Australia, I traveled with a girl who wanted to do absolutely everything together. If I ever tried to do something on my own, or opted not to signup for a tour she was doing, she accused me of ditching her. I once went outside to read a book, and she barked at me for not telling her. It felt like a stifling relationship, and really put a strain on the trip.

The Lazy Backpacker

Of course, it’s important to relax to prevent travel fatigue, but there are some travelers who will make you wonder why they bothered to buy a plane ticket. When backpacking in Italy, I traveled with someone who would sleep until noon, nap at 3:00 p.m., and spend a majority of the day on Facebook and watching TV in the common room. When I’d ask her if she wanted to cook dinner, she’d reply, “Sure, if you get the groceries.” I guess typing was exhausting, because she barely saw any sites in one of the world’s most beautiful countries. Before traveling with someone, try to gauge their excitement level to make sure they’ll actually get out of bed and get dressed.

The Space Obsessor

When backpacking, belongings in the hostel dorms tend to get jumbled together. Be prepared to not always have your things perfectly organized, and for other peoples’ things to sometimes be touching yours. In Chile, I traveled with someone who was definitely not okay with this. Not only was I verbally scolded for hanging my towel on the hook next to hers – the edges touched – my pants were thrown in a ball on the floor when I hung them on the same chair as her shirt. After awhile, her behavior made me feel like I was walking on egg shells, and led me to book separate rooms to avoid the unnecessary conflict.

The Ultra Planner

While it’s good to have some sort of plan in mind when embarking on a trip, there comes a point when too much planning takes the spontaneity and adventure out of travel. When traveling in Spain, I was with a girl who needed to have everything planned out days in advance, from what sites we would see, what time we would wake up and go to bed and where we would eat dinner. Not only that, but veering from any discussed plan would set her into a frenzy. While I wanted to meet other backpackers and locals and explore together, she had an itinerary that was apparently set in stone. Make sure you’re potential travel partner is okay with going with the flow sometimes during the trip.

Have you ever had an unpleasant travel partner?

[flickr photos via chexed, Ingsoc, rabble, Tobyotter, RogueSun Media]