Illustration of a group of travelers walking around Singapore

7 Ways to Make Friends While Traveling Solo

A simple hello can be the start of a beautiful friendship

We're dedicating our April features to all things solo travel. Whether it’s a soul-searching hike, a decompressing beach trip, or an invigorating urban getaway, tackling the world as a solo traveler has become safer, easier, and more empowering. Dive into this month's features to learn strategies for making friends while solo and the ways technology has changed the solo travel experience, then get lost in inspiring stories of bus journeys through Africa, a voyage to Mount Fuji, a social experiment in South Korea, and a solo bikepacking birthday celebration.

Traveling solo doesn’t have to be a solitary endeavor. Wherever you’re going, there are lots of ways you can make friends on the road, and some of those friendships may have more lasting power than you realize. Over the past decade, I’ve made new friends on solo trips to Arctic Canada, Italy, South Africa, and several points in between. Here’s how I did it and how you can do the same. 

Stay In a Hostel 

If you’ve ever stayed in a hostel, you know these are places where strangers come together and leave as friends. Some hostels host communal meals and things like walking tours and pub crawls that make it easy to meet other guests. Several offer private rooms for travelers looking for camaraderie and privacy.

Years ago, at a hostel in Amsterdam, I met two young women from Canada who were curious about the city’s red-light district and coffee shops. Having been to the city before, I took them on a walking tour and shared what I had learned about the city on previous visits.

On another trip, this time to Spain, I stayed in a dorm with a woman who set off to see the world solo after her father died. We had a lovely dinner outside, caught a flamenco show, and somehow lived in the same city about a decade later. 

Strike Up a Conversation 

I was sitting alone at a Big Lebowski-themed bar in Reykjavik when I heard a familiar accent from a few seats down. While the accent was American, it wasn’t easy to place, so I asked the gentleman at the bar where he was from. Miami, he said. As we continued to chat, I learned he was an avid solo traveler and working his way around the world as a teacher.

I walked into that downtown bar for lunch and walked out with a new friend I’m still in touch with. Since we met, he’s moved from Dubai to Japan and now Luxembourg, and we’ve stayed in touch on social media.

My experience as a journalist has made it easier for me to strike up conversations with strangers, but you don’t need to switch careers to follow in my footsteps. A simple hello can be the start of a beautiful friendship.

A group walking around Barcelona, Spain

Westend61 / Getty Images

Go On a Walking Tour 

Walking tours may be my absolute favorite way to connect with other people while traveling solo. If you’re not comfortable striking up conversations with strangers, these tours can help bridge the gap.

Most organized walking tours start by asking travelers where they’re from, a question through which you might find you have things in common with your fellow walkers. Tours often include coffee breaks that offer opportunities to socialize with the people you’ve gotten comfortable exploring.

Every free walking tour I’ve done has attracted several solo travelers, and after several hours of walking together, it’s hard not to feel at least some connection to the group. On one of my last pre-pandemic walking tours in Budapest, I invited another solo traveler on the tour to join my sister, who had flown out to meet me, and I for dinner. It turns out he was my neighbor and lived just a borough over in New York. 

Book a Small Group Tour

Going on a group tour doesn’t have to mean hopping on a bus with dozens of people and an earpiece. Small group tours—often limited to six or eight people—are an alternative that makes it easy to connect with others in the van.

On one tour to Sintra from Lisbon, I met a woman I would end up celebrating Thanksgiving with in Porto a few days later. While heading toward the iconic Portuguese castle, we learned we had several things in common, including the next stop on our itinerary. After the day tour, We connected on Facebook and made plans to meet in Porto, where we had one of the most unforgettable—and affordable—Thanksgiving dinners of my life.

On another small group tour from Cape Town to South African wine country, I met a woman traveling with her adult son and his girlfriend. I became part of the family that magical day, and now I have a friend to call when I’m next in the Middle East, where she works as a nurse. 

Apps, Meetup Groups, and Online Communities 

I wasn’t always comfortable traveling solo, but there came the point where enough friends had other priorities that I wanted to get comfortable traveling solo. I eased into it by trying to make local friends through a now-defunct website aimed at helping solo travelers make friends on the road.

I met a photographer for dinner one night in Reykjavik, and by the end of the week, I had been introduced to several of his friends and invited to a local house party—a pregame before a late night out at Reykjavik’s pricey bars. 

Meet Friends of Friends

While I’m not still in touch with the photographer, I remain friends with a wonderful woman he introduced me to. I later went back to Reykjavik to visit her and meet her family, and we also met up for a long weekend in Stockholm, where we danced our hearts out at the ABBA museum.

Like that photographer, I tend to be a connector. It’s not unusual for me to introduce a friend who may be traveling to another friend’s city, and I always love hearing about new friendships that sprout over coffee, lunch, or a beer. 

Take a Class 

Taking a class can be a great way to learn a new skill and make a new friend in the process. On a trip to Italy, I took a Penisola Experience cooking class. While I was the only student, learning to make eggplant parmesan and tiramisu with my instructor allowed us to chat about our shared experiences of leaving offices behind for less traditional career paths. We bonded over stories about family not understanding our work and wanting a level of professional fulfillment office jobs too rarely provide. We still chat occasionally on WhatsApp, and I never taste tiramisu without thinking of him.