Traveling alone affords you the unique opportunity to make friends along the way. One of the longest-running strategies to do this is to stay in hostels, where solo travelers from all over the world bunk up together. But there’s a caveat; staying in a hostel doesn’t get you any closer to the locals. Mobile phone apps are a good way to start if you want to meet up with people who actually live in the places where you’re just a visitor, but these tips will help you make friends the old-fashioned way.
1. Ditch the big camera.
Nothing makes you look like more of a tourist than a giant camera. It also instantly puts a barrier between you and your destination — including the people who live there. A heavy camera also limits your ability to be impulsive; you’re not going to be whisked onto the dance floor at a bar or talked into a spontaneous swim at the beach if you’ve got a $2,000 camera to look after.
2. Think like a journalist.
In short, ask questions. If you’re truly interested in learning about something, from a piece of fruit in the market to someone’s personal history, a few polite questions will usually get you answers and could lead to a longer interaction. You’ll know you’re on the right track if the person starts asking you questions back. Don’t get too personal, too quickly, and know people’s limits. If you get a short response and little else, it’s probably best to move on. It’s also wise to know a little bit about personal interaction in your destination before you attempt this. In some cultures, communication between people of different ages, genders, and parts of society has its own rules. The same goes for any kind of physical contact. Read up before you wander into a faux pas.
3. Invite people to join you.
A conversation is great — and might be enough for you — but you’re always welcome to invite people along on your adventure. A local may not invite you for dinner or on an excursion, but you can say something simple like, “I’m planning to tour the harbor and I’d love your perspective.” By inviting them to do something you are already doing, it gives them the opportunity to decline gracefully.
4. Avoid your fellow travelers.
Whether you’re in New York City or Nairobi, nothing keeps locals at bay like a pack of tourists. Avoid chain restaurants and tourist sites that are likely to be jammed. You’re much more approachable when you grab a seat at the bar at a local restaurant.