As I sit here alone, on the balcony of a lovely cafe in the centre of Hanoi, I begin contemplating the last year living and ‘settling’ in Vietnam. I begin to think back to my days travelling around Southeast Asia, alone.
I love travelling with friends, but I love travelling solo probably just as much.
Of course there are times where it can get difficult and I wish I had people around me who aren’t strangers, but it’s such an incredible experience.
You learn a lot about the people you meet and go on to make friends with, but more importantly you’ll learn a hell of a lot about yourself. Things you may never have thought about before.
When I first began travelling one of the questions I used to get asked by my friends and family back in England was, “How do you make friends while travelling on my own?”
If you’ve never travelled solo, you might be thinking it must get very lonely and boring because you’re by yourself nearly all of the time. In fairness, it can get lonely, but the actual being ‘alone’ part couldn’t be further from the truth.
There are so many people who are in the exact same boat as you that you’re hardly ever alone! You might even think if you’re a bit of an introvert, perhaps shy and quiet, you could never solo travel.
Well, I’ve got news for you. You can!
If you’re worried about awkward conversations or not having anything in common with the people around you, don’t worry because you already have something in common. TRAVEL.
Because I’m generally a very loud, chatty person, people assume I’m confident. Which isn’t actually true.
I do get nervous speaking to strangers and making new friends. In the past I’ve worried about first impressions and what people may think of me. I’ve worried that people won’t like me. That they won’t get my sense of humour – I’m a big fan of sarcasm you see and not everyone gets it.
I’ve even worried that I wouldn’t have anything in common with the people I meet and would go weeks without speaking to anyone.
But take it from me, all of those worries were unnecessary.
Over the last two years that I’ve been solo travelling and living away from home, I’ve picked up the following tips that have helped me make some of the best travel friends and family:
1. Stay In Hostels
This is probably the number one thing I would recommend. The majority of friends I’ve made have been through staying in hostels. My first few days of travelling, I spent in Bangkok in a hotel. It was a stunning hotel, with an incredible rooftop pool and views over the city, but I made no friends. As soon as I checked into a hostel I made friends straight away. The conversation comes easily. Find out where people are from, what they’re doing, how long they’ve been travelling for, what brings them here. The standard travel starter questions.
You’ll have friends in no time.
And if you want more proof, one of the best friends I have out here is Amanda.
I met her a year ago when I first got to Vietnam. We were staying in the same hostel dorm for a about a week before we both decided it was a bit too much of a party place for us and we checked into another hostel which became home for us both for the next month. We’re a bit like chalk and cheese, similar in some ways, but completely different at the same time.
2. Hang Out In Hostel Bars.
Some of the coolest friends I’ve made have been by hanging out at the hostel bar. Admittedly, when I travel I don’t always stay in hostels. Every now and again I like to spend a few days in a hotel to just enjoy having a nice shower to myself. But whilst I do this, I go to hostels (that have bars) to hang out. It’s a cool way to meet people and there are always card games or drinking games like beer pong or flip cup that you can get involved with. Games are always good ice breakers to make friends.
3. Speak To People On The Move.
Even when I’m traveling to the next destination I’m always speaking to new people. Finding out who’s heading in the same direction as you is cool. If you share the same plan and they seem like a nice person, spend the time to get to know them a bit better.
Another one of my best friends out here in Vietnam is Jay. I met him more than a year ago on a slow boat to Laos from Thailand. He was also going in the same direction as me, but he was with a group of friends. A very loud, slightly crazy, but lovely group of friends at that too. Anyway I ended up hanging out with this group for a week or so before continuing on my travels. Strangely when I was heading to Hanoi, Jay had just got here too so I messaged him and we caught up with each other again. And what do you know, he’s now one of the best friends I’ve got out here.
4. Say YES.
If someone asks you to hang out or do something together, be a yes person. Unless it makes you feel uncomfortable or they seem like a creep! Some of the best experiences I’ve had have been down to spontaneous decisions I’ve made when I’ve just said ‘YES’. It might be daunting doing something you’ve never done before, or going somewhere with someone you don’t know everything about, but as long as you keep your wits about you and stay safe you’ve got nothing to lose and a hell of a lot to gain!
One of the nicest experiences I’ve had whilst travelling was with a group of Jewish girls from Israel. If you’re a girl travelling alone you’ll know it’s more difficult to build friendships with girls than boys. Simply because there aren’t as many girls travelling alone. The majority of girls I’ve met tend to travel in groups and it can be intimidating to approach a group of girls and join them. So naturally I was pretty nervous when I met Maya, Tom, Einav and Dalya in Thailand, and they asked if I wanted to join them on a day trip. But I needn’t be worried because they were so welcoming of me into their group. They taught me a lot about their culture and traditions including involving me in Shabbat, teaching me about Israel, telling me stories about growing up and even helping me to conquer my fear of jumping into open water! So if I never said ‘yes’ on that first day, I wouldn’t have experienced all of the above. And if you fancy reading more on my travels with the girls, click the following link! My First Experience of Judaism… in Thailand!
5. Join Group Activities, Trips, Tours, Walks.
When I first got to Hanoi I remember checking into my hostel in the early hours of the morning. After a few hours of sleep, a combination of jetlag and being hangover I decided to join a walking tour from my hostel. I ended up getting so caught up in a conversation with one of the girls on the walk that we stopped for a second and lost the rest of the group. So we continued on the tour anyway and along the way we bumped into two other people who had also stopped and got lost on the walking tour. The four of us then decided to carry on exploring and make a tour of our own. One of the girls went on to become one of my good friends in Hanoi who I’d see every day for the following few months before she left for Australia!
6. Try something new.
I’ve never hopped on a scooter and taken a road trip before so when a guy I had met in a hostel in Ho Chi Minh city told me he was taking a 6 hour drive to the coast, I thought, “That sounds exciting, I want to go!” So I did. We both rented scooters and began the drive to a beach town along the coast. From start to finish the trip was weird, but in the best way possible. Thanks for being the coolest road trip buddy Charlie!
7. Join groups online
And if you’re still struggling to meet anyone like you, someone with the same interests, fear not! Try joining an online group. There are tons of these around on Facebook and even specific apps out there just to meet people.
Meetup is a great app to find events and groups for specific interests. Going along to these events you might make some friends too. The app is free and it covers many categories from outdoors and adventure to health, music, sci-fi and everything else in between.
I’m also part of one of the sister groups of Girl Gone International. It’s basically a group of women all over the world who’ve literally packed their bags to travel. Some have plans, others are just going with the flow. But there are meet ups for women all over the world. Chances are whatever country you’re sitting in right now, there’s a Girl Gone International page for your specific location on Facebook.
So, if you’re anxious about travelling solo, being alone and not making any friends, don’t be worried! If I can do it, you can definitely do it too.
Current location: Blogging from the cute Eden cafe in Hanoi, Vietnam.