When I was 30 years old, I traveled to Brazil during my summer vacation. I couldn’t wait to return to a country that I hadn’t seen in almost two years.
The last time I had been there, I had been 28 years old and working at a nonprofit. While my work had provided on-site accommodation, whenever I traveled I would stay at hostels. My instinct was to book a hostel again for this trip. If hostels had been fine for me at 28, I was sure they would be fine for me at 30.
I lasted two days.
All I had wanted to do after a red eye flight was sleep the whole afternoon; instead, I arrived to my six-bed dorm and saw a crowded room with clothes and luggage all over the floor. While I used to love this, in that moment, I felt my heart sink.
I just wanted a quiet room to sleep alone. I wanted to unpack without worrying about moving the 5 other backpacks on the ground. I wanted to shower without cleaning someone else’s hair from the drain. I wanted to open a toilet lid without cringing from what I might find.
I wanted my own space.
I ended up renting a bedroom in an empty hostel, and after a few days I found that I now had a different problem: I wanted to meet people.
After a while, I was finally able to get the best of both worlds: I was able to find my own space while still making lots of friends.
So when it’s safe to travel again in a post-covid world, here are some tips for meeting others in a new city
1. Rent single rooms in social hostels
When it comes to hostels, there’s a spectrum of “social” that goes from nonexistent to party hostel. I wanted something a step or two below a party hostel.
The “atmosphere” rating on Hostelworld provides a pretty good indication of how social the hostel is likely to be, but read the reviews carefully. How old are the reviewers? Do they just talk about getting wasted? Look at the hostel’s profile: What kind of message do the pictures send?
I also looked carefully to see what people said about the staff. Guests come and go, but the staff are the ones who remain and who set the tone for the hostel. I took all the reviews with a grain of salt–anyone can find an excuse to be angry. However, the reviews of one hostel in particular led me to find one of my favorite hostels in Rio. I loved the people that worked there, and one of them is still a close friend today.
When I stayed at the hostels, I would take a book or a computer down to the hostel lounge if I felt ready to talk to someone. Cooking in the hostel kitchen can also provide an opportunity to strike up a conversation.
2. Find local meetups
Search Facebook groups for meet ups in your area. When my friend moved to California, she joined a solo female hiking group.
Language exchanges are your friend. Whenever I got to a new city, I would Google the local language exchange and go by myself or with a friend from the hostel. In Buenos Aires, my roommates and I loved Mundo Lingo so much that we went a few times a week and ended up inviting everyone back at the house for a few parties.
3. Take a language class
If you’re staying somewhere long enough, I can’t recommend this enough. Research your school carefully and make sure to pick one that has lots of positive reviews and social events. When you take a class, you can meet the others in your course and while participating in the optional activities. In Rio, Caminhos is a great option for high quality language classes and creative group activities. In Barcelona, Camino Barcelona really cares about connecting people and providing quality cultural experiences.
4. Take a dance class
It is totally not weird to show up to a dance class alone. When I took bachata and salsa lessons, I realized very quickly that most of the people in the room were by themselves. In the beginner classes, everyone would dance together and switched partners often. Some great choices in New York City include Nieves and Salsa in Queens.
I discovered that people often showed up to dance meet ups alone as well. At clubs that hold these meet ups, they often start with a lesson before letting everyone dance together. At the club I went to in New York City, no one stayed in their cliques–people changed partners often and freely asked anyone to dance.
5. Book a tour or an excursion
Hostels and hotels will typically have recommendations for excursions they provide themselves or events held by outside groups. Hostels sometimes have daily walking tours, but you can find a list of great company-run tours through TripAdvisor as well.
Airbnb Experiences are also a great option. I booked a Little Havana walking tour in Miami, and we got along well with each other and had a lot of laughs.
6. Meet friends of friends
If you are traveling to a new place, let your friends know on social media and ask if anyone knows someone living in that city. Sometimes you might get lucky and could get connected with a friend or family member.
I also met others through friends at hostels. One person had been connected with a Rio local through a friend at home; we all hung out, and I exchanged numbers with him so we could continue seeing the city together. I told another friend I was traveling to Minas Gerais, and he connected me with his friend in Viçosa, where I ended up staying for the week.
Ohhhhhhh boy, I hesitated before writing this one, but I will be real with you: this is how I met a bunch of people that I spent time with abroad, including a handful that I still talk to today.
Be careful who you choose to meet–don’t rush into anything. If you do decide to go on a date, go to a public place and let everyone know where you are and who you’re with. Check in consistently. Watch. Your. Drink.
But this is how I met the guy in Lisbon who taught me Portuguese, the guy with the motorcycle in Medellin, and the guy with the great smile in Miami. It’s also how I met the guy in Rio when we got caught in a downpour and had our first date at a gas station.
8. Enjoy your fucking solitude
There will be days when you won’t meet anyone. There will be times when you won’t click with the people around you. That’s okay. It’s better to be alone than to be surrounded by people you don’t really vibe with.
There have been times when I was traveling and felt really lonely. There were times when I didn’t meet anyone for days, or I felt terribly awkward around the people I did meet. Now I’m thinking back on those moments while sitting in my apartment in New Jersey, and I’d still do anything to go back. I’ve felt painfully lonely in Ios, Hvar, Barcelona, Rio, Lisbon, London, Amsterdam, and I would go back to any of those places in a second and have a meal by myself or pull up a chair at the beach and not give a fuck.
That’s because when I look back, the feeling of loneliness is totally erased and all I can remember are the beautiful places I saw and how they filled me with awe.
And so much good comes from solitude. Creativity is often sparked from solitude and a bit of boredom. Put your phone away, take out your travel journal, write down everything you see and feel–because those details will fade.
How do you meet people when you travel?