“Aren’t you worried about travelling alone?” It’s a question I get asked all the time. Friends and colleges who have never backpacked always ask this. “Don’t you worry about making friends?’ The answer is always the same. Of course not.
Travelling alone is the only way I can do it. I’ve tried travelling with friends, and yes, it has its benefits, seeing a familiar face every day, having someone to eat with, talk to, and do things with. But, personally, I’ve always found that a well known friend on my travels stopped me from doing what I loved. Exploring, meeting new people, and finding new things.
So today I’ll dispel a few worried thoughts about travelling solo, share a few tales, and give a few tips for those who are still concerned.
When you’re travelling alone, you’re rarely travelling alone. In any given hostel around this wonderful world, there are many others doing the same as you. Exploring a new part of the world with nothing but a budging backpack and a Mack in a pack. You have so much in common with every single person. Go downstairs early enough and you’ll find a lonely German who’s going to explore the local area. Come down at lunch and you’ll find an Irish clan starting to drink. Make you way down around dinner and some lonely English girl will want to go to the local cinema. You will not be alone unless you really want to be.
The beauty about backpacking, and living in hostels, is that everyone is your friend. You sit down on a bus to travel 12 hours back to Bangkok and the person on the seat next to you is suddenly your new best friend. In a hostel in South Africa; the person in the bunk above yours is your new buddy. You’ll sit down with your beans on toast in the dining area on a cold Austrian night, and the person opposite is your dining partner. This is the beauty of the backpacker’s world. We’re all in it together. You can walk up to any person in the hostel and start a conversation. ‘Where are you from, where have you been, where are you going’. Those 3 questions will keep you going for a long time (though I warn you, after 5 months of answering this, you can start to get a little bored, so try to keep things interesting).
The best place to meet people is the dining area, or anywhere that has tables and chairs. If you sit there long enough, someone will sit next to you, or across from you, and you’ve got yourself a chatting buddy.
Sometimes it can be a bit difficult to break the ice. But here are a few tips of mine on how to make friends in a backpacker environment:
Go to the supermarket, buy a cake (or make one, if you have skills). Cut a few slices, sit down at a dining room table, and wait. I guarantee you that someone will come up and make a comment. When they do, put a slice in front of them, and invite them to sit down. You now have a new friend (this is based on the sound scientific reasoning that no one can be angry after eating cake). The bonus with this is that later on in the evening when people are drinking, they’ll remember you as ‘cake boy/girl’, and offer you a drink for giving them a slice. Cake isn’t a treat, it’s an investment.
Go down to the dining area/bar with a sock puppet on, and just have a chat to it. Someone will eventually come up to you and ask what you’re doing. Introduce you’re sock to them, and have a round table conversation (it helps to have thought up a good back story for the puppet, name, where they come from, how the evil wizard turned them into a sock puppet etc). Obviously, some people will think you’re insane. But some won’t. Or some will, and will WANT to be friends with you because of that. Either way, you’ll get people talking
In my last article, I talked about the wonders of Goon in Australia. It is the classic friendship maker. Buy a box, sit down with a few glasses, and offer one to whoever ends up next to you. They will have had a Goon night, and will tell you their Goon story. You’ll probably have one of your own too. Share, reminisce and grimace away. Then do it all again
Have a Party
Many of those who are travelling are there to have a good time. We’re young, we’re free, we’re ready to explore, and we’re ready to mingle. We’ll take hikes, we’ll go to museums, and we’ll visit art galleries through the day. And when the eve comes, we’re ready to make something of it. So make something of it. Find an interesting part of the hostel and have a party. Play some music, get some balloons and whenever anyone turns up, party along with them. My favourite place to do this is in a lift. Lift parties are epic. People have to use them all night, so you have a steady stream of party goers. Give them some drinks, give them some party food, and make them dance. You’ll have a great one. (Warning- spending a whole evening in a lift can make you feel a little sea sick or rather lift sick). You can also use dining areas, receptions, your room (if your room mates are willing), smoking areas, cupboards, sofas, or any other interesting room a hostel possesses.
Backpackers are some of the friendliest people in the world. They’ve come to another country, wanting to see new things, and meet new people, and all of them are happy to talk to you. So please, never be worried about travelling alone.