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The biggest concern I hear from prospective solo backpackers (especially female ones) is that they’ll find themselves alone, awkwardly ignored by groups of other travellers and worried about their safety as they go about a foreign country on their ones. In theory, solo travel is a breeding ground for feeling those awful pangs of social anxiety.
HOWEVER. What I’ve found across all my solo backpacker trips in Latin America and beyond is that solo travel is when I’m able to be most social. When travelling as a couple or in a group, people assume you want space and/or romantic moments or whatever and have no desire to meet travellers – so essentially, people worry that they will get socially rejected if they approach you to chat.
In contrast, as a solo traveller I am unintimidating (even with my severe case of resting bitch face), and can be easily assumed to be wanting to meet travellers if I’m staying in a hostel.
After this guide to how to meet travellers & make friends as a solo backpacker, make sure you read…
- 9 pieces of travel gear for the eco-conscious backpacker
- The downsides of long-term travel: 9 realities to prepare for
- Hostel etiquette: Rules for hostel living so your dorm-mates don’t hate you
I had previously thought that being female would make my experience as a solo backpacker even more scary, and make me stand out more, but surprisingly, a staggering majority of solo backpackers (84% in 2021) are actually women.
Latin America in particular feels full of really independent, no-BS solas who choose to come to a continent that’s known as being a bit trickier to travel in, and are resolute in going after whatever it is they’re looking for. It makes me pretty proud to join that female solo backpacker community!
And while I find that lots of the connections to meet travellers happen quite naturally as a solo backpacker, there’s no doubt that the start of every trip I still experience pangs of “But what if I don’t meet anyone and end up on my ones?”. It never happens, but the worry can definitely make the trip feel less exciting at the beginning.
Thankfully, there are some ways to meet travellers that you can keep in mind if it helps you feel a bit less anxious when you embark on your trip…
Ways to meet travellers as a solo backpacker
1. Stay in hostels
First and foremost, get yourself in the right place to make friends as a solo backpacker. It’s really unlikely that you’ll find situations in which you can meet travellers and just strike up conversations in more formal accommodations like hotels.
Instead, stick to hostels and homestays if you want a convivial atmosphere in which solo backpackers aren’t scared to approach each other.
Hostel life is not just for travellers straight out of school, either. In Latin America, it’s not strange to see someone in their 40s or 50s in a hostel, and people are generally happy to chat with older guests as long as they match their type of energy.
2. Check the vibes in hostel photos
This is something I do every time I book a hostel. It’s not really enough for me to know that the facilities are decent (and to be honest, for the right vibe, these can be secondary anyway), I also want to know that I’m going to be in a place that is filled with like-minded people, and that it provides the right kinds of spaces to actually meet them.
- Shared spaces that aren’t too open and separate (e.g. a round sofa, benches or hammock areas instead of big rooms with lots of small tables or seats)
- A well-stocked kitchen that people will actually want to use together
- And most importantly, GUESTS IN THE PHOTOS. I don’t want to see images of the hostel looking beautiful but empty, I want to see it alive!
3. Get yourself on some tours
Want to meet people with the same interests as you? Join a tour full of them! Nothing unites travellers more than sitting in the back of a sweaty minibus for 4 hours and then risking death ziplining over a ravine together.
Any good tour guide will help to break the ice, too, so you can expect to get talking whilst you’re enjoying the local sights!
4. Be seen to grab a beer
Quite simply, being sat in a hostel bar or communal area with a beer signals that you’re relaxed and open to a good time.
Yes, mild alcoholism is fairly standard amongst the backpacker community.
At the risk of sounding like a middle-aged man with a Stella in hand trying to leer at a bunch of college girls… Smile darlin’!
At some point, everyone is a little bit nervous stepping into a new part of a hostel for the first time, and the best thing to make them feel welcome and open to conversation is to simply acknowledge them with a friendly gesture.
Get those dientes shining!
6. Don’t commit a dorm faux pas
While this is a post on how to make friends when travelling, I think I should also mention a few of the things that can prove to be obstacles to all of your efforts to to meet travellers as a solo backpacker… And it all comes down to keeping good hostel etiquette so the people you’re sharing space with don’t get put off by you before you’ve even had a chance to tell them how many times you got robbed at Rio Carnival.
Check out this guide to hostel etiquette so you don’t start off on the wrong foot with your dorm-mates.
7. Seek out recommendations
If you’re not sure how to strike up a conversation with someone, a casual, “Hey, have you been to X yet? Was it worth it? How did you get there? What else have you seen here?” normally gets chats flowing. It’s one of those topics that’s completely non-intrusive, so it’s a fairly risk-free approach.
In fact, it may even earn you an invitation if they’re off to do something interesting soon and feel comfortable enough to ask you along.
8. Ask to join in
Grow some balls/a uterus and just walk up and ask! Travellers who wouldn’t say ‘come sit down!’ to a solo backpacker who asks to join them in a hostel communal area are few and far between, and if they do give a yes but you find the vibes are off, you can just say thank you and take your leave without issue. You’ll never know until you try!
This tip for meeting travellers goes both ways, though. If you see travellers in need of a bit of direction, extend an invitation to them, whether that’s to go on a tour together, head out to find street food or simply sit together with a beer in the hostel.
If you’re in a group and you see a solo backpacker looking very solo, I kind of see it as your duty to reach out and ask them if they want to join in at any point.
9. Put out feelers in online groups
Pretty much every popular destination in the world has a Facebook group in its honour (whether for locals, digital nomads or travellers), and you can glean plenty of info from the people who know it best by joining these groups ahead of your travels.
You’ll also find larger, non-destination-specific groups that bring together travellers worldwide. Girls Love Travel is a good example of this – though I have to admit I find some of the things posted a little too “look at me in my outfit today”, I do find some gem posts in there that are really helpful and/or inspiring.
Both types of groups pose an opportunity to put feelers out there and see if anyone is travelling to X place on Y day. Obviously exercise ‘stranger danger’ and trust your gut with this one!
BUT… know when to part ways.
The beauty of being a solo backpacker is that no matter how successful you are in your bid to meet travellers, you always have the option to separate once you realise your travel styles don’t match, you have different priorities on what to go and see or you’ve just exhausted all conversation.
You and others have the ability to essentially tell anyone you don’t get on with that you have other plans, so while this sounds like a negative, it also means you can travel with the confidence that those around you actually appreciate your company.
Keep that in mind and don’t latch onto the first person you meet if they don’t seem to reciprocate the invitations and excitement to see you. Sometimes you get lucky and just click, and sometimes you just don’t.
The great news is that as a solo backpacker you can meet travellers pretty much wherever you go!
Feeling a bit less worried about how to meet travellers & make friends as a solo backpacker? That’s my aim! Meeting people really is much easier than it sounds when you’re on the road, so there’s no need to stress, but hopefully having these tips on how to break the ice will make you feel more confident going in. Best foot forward, you’ll be fine! 🙂
Now you’ve reached the end of this guide to how to meet travellers & make friends as a solo backpacker, don’t miss…
- Surviving your first Christmas away from home
- A year with the Women’s Osprey 50L Aura backpack: a review
- 8 hand luggage essentials for a comfortable flight
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Last Updated on 6 April 2023 by Cuppa to Copa Travels