People have a hard time believing I am shy. When I get to know you, I am outgoing and gregarious. However, if I am unfamiliar with my setting or a group of people, I usually try to blend in with the wallpaper… ever the observer. The thought of meeting new people can cause me a great deal of anxiety. Sometimes I can be awkward and tongue-tied. I remember discussing with a former boss the art of eating alone in a restaurant. She travels a lot for work and has no problem bellying up to the bar and chatting with the barman over dinner. I, on the other hand, would look for the coffee kiosk so I can grab a pre-made sandwich to take back to my room. I had always been too anxious to eat alone.
Nowadays I am a little more chill. As a long time people watcher, I have come to the realization that there are a lot of solo travelers out there, many as shy and anxious as I can be. Sometimes all anyone is waiting for is for the other person to break the ice.
If you are traveling alone and wanting a little companionship from time to time, keep the following in mind.
Take the first step. Sit somewhere social (like a bar or hotel lobby). Compliment someone on something (e.g., the jacket they are wearing or the patch sewn on to their backpack), even a comment on the weather can work. Compliments are a gentle, non-invasive way to get the ball rolling.
If you are joining a group, say “hi” to everyone. Whether you’re on a walking tour or joining a meetup, saying ‘ hi’ is almost always welcome. Finding a buddy on the haunted walking tour is pretty easy to do. Sometimes it’s as simple as talking to your seatmate on the tour bus or sharing your snack on the plane.
Download the Couchsurfing app to your phone. Even if you have no intention of couch surfing, go to the dashboard and click ‘hangout now.’ Type in what kind of hangout you are down for. (Want to go for a beer, explore the city or have coffee?). Suddenly you’ll have access to all kinds of people who also want to hang out. Sometimes the people you meet will want to show you around their city or invite you over for a meal. Couchsurfing is a great way to meet locals who will have all kinds of advice or suggestions on what you should see or do next.
You are in charge of how much social activity you want (or don’t want). Traveling alone can be fun and unrestrictive. You can go where you want, when you want and see what you want without the consideration of another traveler. However, if you do get a bit lonely, you can head to the hostel common-room and hang out. You can almost always find someone to engage in the public social spaces.
A note to the ladies. Be cautious. Be smart. Trust your gut. Do your research. Look for articles that indicate which countries are not safe for you to travel in alone. Don’t get drunk and let some stranger take advantage. Don’t put yourself in a vulnerable place.
Eating alone isn’t that bad after all. Sometimes I catch up on work (or my social media), sometimes I surf the web or sometimes I just people watch. It turns out most people could care less if you are dining alone. Look around, you will see all kinds of people enjoying a meal alone. Turns out, it’s just not that big of a deal.
Private Rooms can be more expensive. Private rooms are almost always more expensive than a dorm bed, and a lot of places will charge you a flat-rate whether you’re alone or with another person because you’re taking up a double bed. But other places may have lower rates for solo travelers. Dig around online to find the best rate for you. Hands down, my go-to site is booking.com, because they have a variety of accommodations, from hostels to hotels.
Don’t put off traveling alone because you are afraid to launch out on your own. You’ll learn a lot about yourself and the world around you. There are spectacular adventures all around, just waiting to be had. Go for it, you are braver than you think!