A deafening buzzer jolts me from a sound sleep. Desperate for it to stop, I slam my hand across the bed to hit the green glow of numbers sourcing the shrill alarm. It was still dark out and I was a little disoriented and confused as to why I was waking up so early. Gradually, I begin to remember the reason for my pre-dawn awakening and shoot out of bed. I showered, dressed, packed, and was off faster than a toupee in a hurricane. The drive took about two hours, but I arrived ready to depart for the next leg of my journey with time to spare.
So convenient, isn’t it? The only thing I had to be concerned with was myself. I don’t have to worry about whether someone else gets up on time. I don’t have to worry about how long it’s taking the other person to get ready. I don’t have to worry about whether I’m making too much noise that would wake someone else up. And I don’t have to worry about whether the other person might have left something behind. If something ends up happening, I have no one else to blame but myself. Traveling solo definitely has its perks. There’s a freedom and independence that solo traveling delivers that I really enjoy. However, every now and then there’s this feeling of being left out or excluded.
Many of the activities that I have found while traveling is catered for couples or families. Even eating in select countries, especially in Asia, can bring some issues to solo travelers as some restaurants don’t allow lone customers because they cook their food for two or more and won’t serve just one. Sounds bizarre, but even if offering to pay for two servings, I have been rejected service because I was alone. C'est la vie. Even though I enjoy the logistics part of traveling solo (sleeping, accommodations, transportation, et. al.), there are still times when buddies can make the experience a lasting memory.
So here are three ways I’ve discovered to find and meet people when traveling solo.
Couchsurfing is a user driven community of travel-minded people from all over the world. If budget is a concern, this could be an option to find accommodations. Basically, one finds a host at a destination and see if they’re willing to let you sleep on their couch or in a spare bedroom. I’ve done this plenty of times and never had too weird of an experience. It’s definitely out of some people’s comfort zones, but there is a rating and reference system built into the site to see if the host is suitable or not. And hosts can use the same system to see if the requesting couchsurfer is suitable for them as well. It’s a win-win and also a great way to meet people.
I’ve used this site for more than looking for a place to crash, though. In many places, space is a valued commodity and being hosted simply isn’t an option. So, I’ve used the forum to find people in the area, locals or other travelers, to meet and do activities together. My trip to Hong Kong, for example.
New Year’s Eve 2016, I traveled to Hong Kong. I can’t be alone for New Years, right? So, I scoured Facebook events, Meetup events, and Google to see what celebrations were taking place. I hadn’t found anything that really interested me or that didn’t involve claustrophobic inducing situations, so I was getting a bit anxious thinking I was going to be in this great location for New Years with nothing to do. I had posted previously that I was looking for a host in Hong Kong, to no avail. Space in Hong Kong is very limited where entire families live in the equivalent of a one-bedroom apartment, simply because housing is so unaffordable. I found other accommodations but still wasn’t sure what to do for New Years. Though nobody could host me, I received many requests to meet up. I received a message from a local, let’s call her Molly, who wanted to meet and celebrate the new year together and asked if I was interested. I agreed and Molly and I met up at a subway stop early in the evening. We hopped on a subway to the pier. From the pier, we rode a ferry across the harbor and then got on a bus. After the bus ride up a winding mountain, we came upon a shopping mall and moseyed around for a while until it got late enough to join the festivities. I feel like the only mode of transport we didn’t take was an airplane! But it was completely worth it in the end. Around nine o’clock, we bought some drinks and hiked up the mountain. The plan was to meet up with another group I found on Couchsurfing but didn’t know the exact location. Between Molly and I navigating and messaging the other group, we managed to figure out the location after about an hour of getting lost. Everyone brought their own drinks, food, music, and chairs and just picnicked out all night from on top the mountain. We counted down at midnight and as the last bell rang into the new year, explosions of color set off in the harbor below. We could see everything! The hordes of people shoulder-to-shoulder celebrating on the waterfront across the bay, the lights dancing from the skyscrapers, and a show of fireworks on the water that was still below the peak from where we were. It was one of the best New Year’s I’ve had and to this day! Best of all, Molly and I still keep in touch.
Hostels and I have had our differences (I’m talking about you, the generic traveler who knows they snore like a goose in distress and sleeps in a hostel anyway), but they are still a good way to meet other travelers. Not only are hostels a budget-friendly way to travel, they always offer a common space to meet other travelers. In my experience, it’s hit or miss with hostels, but I’ve definitely had some hits along the way.
For instance, I was in Freiburg, Germany and I ended up meeting a really cool Canadian that made the trip. Don’t know if you’ve heard, but Canadians tend to be a friendly bunch and this one was no different. We explored the city, hiked a “mountain,” and enjoyed a night at a local Brauhaus where I was tricked into getting this Flintstone-size pork shoulder. It was super delicious, along with the two potato dumplings it came with, but the battle proved too much for me. Although I gave my best effort, the sheer size of the meal lead to my defeat.
3) Getting Lost
It’s not a matter of IF you get lost, it’s a matter of WHEN you get lost. Getting lost happens. When I travel, I try not to have it too scheduled to the point where every minute it planned. I usually have a list of things I would like to do and prioritize what is possible and what makes sense. From my perspective, I’d rather leave a place knowing there’s something to come back to, then to leave a place thinking there’s nothing left to see. With that in mind, I don’t like to be rushed so if and WHEN I get lost, I embrace it.
I was in Hong Kong and spent the day exploring Llama Island. A really beautiful lush island surrounded by turquoise water with lots to explore. I arrived in the late morning and after buying some small snacks at the convenience store for later, I found a restaurant to sit and eat lunch.
After lunch, I found a marked trail to start my hike and went on my way. The crowds of other people who arrived on the boat with me were tapering off and I was taking routes which others tended not to take. There was a reason for this. It came to a dead end. Luckily for me, another couple did the same and we got unlost together. After chatting a little bit, we naturally walked together to explore the island. They were a really cute couple. The husband was born in Iran and the wife in Thailand, but they were both American that hailed from Texas. We had some really interesting conversations getting to know one another. Our path took us up to an enclosed circular opening lined by trees. As we came upon the clearing we saw a local man with a bo stick practicing his martial arts. The husband was a talker and without hesitation just walked up to the man to strike up a conversation. The local knew a little English, but we didn’t want to disturb him for too long so we continued along our path. The trail we walked upon was surrounded by so many fruit trees. Mango, star fruit, banana, etc. The wife knew all about them and offered her knowledge on the best ways to farm and cook them. At one point we thought we could loosen a mango from its home with a long stick. Despite our best efforts, the mango stubbornly stayed put. After about an hour we walked into a clearing that connected to a beach with some shaded picnic tables and sat down for a rest on the sand. I pulled out the snacks I bought earlier to share and the wife, being the mom that she is, pulled out an impressive spread from her “Mary Poppins” bag that put my offerings to shame. We sat, ate, and chatted about anything and everything just enjoying the day.
It’s moments like these that make traveling worth it. Trips are built in memories. What I remember from traveling are not the buildings I’ve seen or the locations I go. It’s the people I meet, the stories I hear, and the friends I make. Many times traveling with friends from home just isn’t possible. If I had to wait to travel with friends every time, I would still be waiting. Traveling solo for me has mostly been the only option, but it doesn’t mean that I had to be lonely while traveling.