February 24, 2015

How to Travel on Your Own, But Never Actually Be Alone

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Written by: Recultured Team
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Last summer, I spent two-and-a-half months backpacking around Europe on my own. As a 21-year-old female, most people thought I was crazy, but there’s no other way I’d have wanted to do it. So if you’re wanting to travel, consider going on your own and meeting new people!

Here are a few tips I learned to help you make friends (some of the most amazing friends you’ve ever had) along the way…

1. Don’t plan too far ahead of time (especially for longer multi-city trips)

One of the best things about travelling solo is that you have unlimited flexibility. Don’t waste this by booking everything weeks (or even months) in advance! By not booking hostels/trains/buses too far ahead of time, you can decide as you go. This means how long you’ll stay somewhere, and even where to go. You’ll get recommendations from other travellers, and you don’t want to miss those places just because everything is set in stone. I usually didn’t book my next train and hostel until I’d stayed at least one night in my current city.

2. Pick the right hostel and right room

"Deep cheap sleep" at St. Pauli Backpackers in Hamburg, Germany. Photo by Anna Burk

“Deep cheap sleep” at St. Pauli Backpackers in Hamburg, Germany. Photo by Anna Burk

Use hostelworld.com to find your hostels (ultimate tip: stay in hostels!), they have a very reliable ratings system and lots of reviews. You’re looking for positive reviews that mention events at the hostel, a good social atmosphere, and people who say they made lots of friends. Or even better, start asking other backpackers for suggestions for your next hostel! By the time I was one-and-a-half months into my trip, I was crowdsourcing almost all my hostel decisions by sending out a blast on Facebook asking my travelling friends for hostel recommendations. 

When it comes to rooms, mixed gender and the bigger the better in my books. More people to make friends with, and the people in these rooms tend to also be backpackers on low-budgets who want to have fun! Unless this type of sleeping arrangement would make you uncomfortable (but give it a shot first!) or you enjoy early nights and beauty sleep, these big rooms are by far the most social, plus they’ll save you money.

Another bonus… Hostel World only requires you pay a 12% deposit for bookings, so you can always change your mind!

3. Ask about events going on at the hostel and in the area

Hiking trip outside Reykjavik, Iceland. Photo by Anna Burk.

Hiking trip outside Reykjavik, Iceland. Photo by Anna Burk.

When you get to the hostel, be sure to ask about any events going on over the next few days. Most city hostels will have events of their own to suggest (happy hour at the hostel bar, excursions, etc.) or have partnerships with other events. They’ll also be able to give you local recommendations. Attending these is by far the best way to make friends. Free walking tours are a great way to see the city’s highlights and meet people from other hostels, and with anything you can ask around your hostel to see who else is going and start some conversations.

4. Pub crawls!

Night out in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Photo by Anna Burk.

Night out in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Photo by Anna Burk.

If you like to drink and party, these are your new best friend. I usually tried to go to a pub crawl my first night in most cities… it’s easiest way to make friends and you get a sense of the nightlife in the city. Then, you can go back to your favourites with the friends you’ve made! Often multiple hostels will come together for one pub crawl, so even if you haven’t met anyone at your hostel, go solo and make friends from other hostels.

5. Cook your own food

Lunch at the hostel in Lagos, Portugal. Photo by Anna Burk.

Lunch at the hostel in Lagos, Portugal. Photo by Anna Burk.

If your hostel has a kitchen, try cooking some of your own meals. Not only will this save you money, but the kitchen is often a common area so it’s a great reason to hang around other people and strike up some conversations. That, or ask your hostel room (yes, announce to everyone) if anyone wants to join you for a meal at a restaurant you’ve picked out. You’ll be surprised at how many people are in the same situation as you and would appreciate an invite.

6. Remember that everyone is looking to make friends


Day drinks in the hostel bar in Budapest, Hungary. Photo by Anna Burk.

Day drinks in the hostel bar in Budapest, Hungary.
Photo by Anna Burk.

This might be the most important part: generally, people staying at hostels also want to make friends. Lots of other people are travelling solo, so they are in the same situation as you. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there! If you hear a group of people planning something you’re interested in, ask them about their plans and whether you could join in. If you seem outgoing and friendly, you’ll be welcomed pretty much every time. But it goes the other way too. If you see someone sitting alone on their hostel bed as you’re getting ready to meet other people for dinner, ask them to join in! What goes around, comes around.

7. Appreciate the time you have to yourself

Winery touring outside Carcassonne, France on a borrowed bike.
Photo by Anna Burk.

As much as making new friends and being surrounded by different accents is fun, alone time is an important part of travelling too. Sometimes, a meal out on your own can be wonderful, and a few hours on the bus with just your iPod is the downtime you need. Don’t feel as if you need to make friends everywhere; there is a lot of personal growth to be had while laying under the stars on an empty beach or exploring a new city on your own.

I spent more time with friends while travelling on my own than I did at home… they were just all new friends! I now have people to meet up with and stay with all across the world on my next trip, and that’s the best feeling ever.  Go into it with a positive attitude and ready to meet people of all kinds and you’ll have an amazing trip. Safe travels!

Featured photo by Anna Burk

About the Author

Recultured Team
Recultured Team
This is where you'll find the blog posts that the team has contributed to collectively! What team? Wildcats! -Nope, wrong team. Recultured!

  • Kristin

    Great article Anna! Definitely inspires me to travel alone. I have definitely heard some theories about using apps like Tinder! They now have a rendition of it but for travelling purposes.. who know.. Haha .. Article here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-2841219/It-s-Tinder-travellers-New-sexual-holiday-app-promises-connect-tourists-locals-explore-cities-together.html

  • Jordana Rachel

    Loved the article Anna! I’m traveling through Europe this summer too, you said not to book hostels too much in advance. But from what I’ve seen, since it is peak season, I can see that many of the reputable ones already have limited space for months like June and July.

    • It really depends on the city. The only city where I booked ahead (by 2 weeks) was Barcelona and I was glad I did, but cities like London and Amsterdam would be good ideas too. Even in other major cities I visited like Berlin, Dublin, and Madrid I found great hostels 3-4 days prior. On the whole though, I never found it to be a serious problem and I was travelling in peak season! But it’s a risk/choice you definitely have to make… flexibility or guaranteed good hostel.

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