Recently, on a four-month solo trip around Mexico, I got seriously lonely. That spiralling, sad, isolated feeling caused by endless days passing without a friendly face or conversation. Thankfully, my close friends were always around for a video call. Yet, I felt so solitary that I began to feel like my companionless adventure would be much more challenging than I had anticipated.
I was pretty surprised as I’ve always loved travelling solo and hadn’t thought twice about being lonely before booking such a long trip. Yet, here I was, six weeks into my journey, spending a lot of time on my own, struggling to meet anyone or form a connection.
The problem was, I was expecting travel friends to naturally pop up at my every turn, having forgotten that making pals on a solo journey requires you to be very proactive. This unlearning is understandable: the pandemic had stopped all travelling for the past two years, which meant that I had lost all my making friends muscles and would have to build them back up again.
The good news is, I did precisely that. During the last two months of my trip, I prioritized making connections in every destination I visited. My solo travel experience was suddenly enhanced by newfound buddies, including lovely locals and fellow travel friends. My Mexico adventure blossomed, and I met a whole range of people I’m delighted to be still connected with online and may end up re-connecting again in the future (such is the way of being an avid traveller).
So, here is everything I’ve done recently or in the past to make friends while travelling solo. While some of these recommendations are specifically for queer and non-monogamous folks like myself, they hopefully will help spark ideas for anyone who is looking for travel friends.
My one big request is that you be genuine. Be thoughtful with these connections, even if they are short-lived. Don’t expect a local to act as your free tour guide. Don’t spend an entire week with a new pal and then ghost them. Quite simply, don’t use people just because you’re lonely. Value these connections and be grateful that you had these experiences, even if you won’t end up being besties forever. Share good energy on your travels, and if you’re lucky, some of that may be returned to you.
You can start finding friends before you jet off by asking your friends if they know anyone in the destinations you are visiting. In my experience, people love helping others create these connections, and you’ll have the bonus that this person comes recommended by someone you know.
If you feel awkward asking people to introduce you to their friends, you can always frame it as you are looking for locals who can help you with recommendations. Does anyone know a resident of the places you are visiting? At worst, you’ll end up with some excellent insider knowledge. At best, they’ll invite you for a coffee or dinner, and you can strike up a new connection.
Another way you look for travel friends in advance is on social media. Instagram is particularly great for this. Use location-based hashtags to find like-minded folks in a particular destination. For example, on my trip to Mexico, I searched for tags like #queeroaxaca and #poliamorcdmx to find friends in those specific locations.
Once you’ve found someone who might be a potential connection, you can always jump into their DMs and introduce yourself. However, you don’t have to do this immediately, especially if there’s some time before you’ll be visiting. Instead, you can follow them, see if they follow you back and perhaps let the friendship develop naturally before letting them know you’ll be in their area. Sometimes, I find it helps to let people be as interested in meeting you as you are them.
Even in my 40s, I’m still a big fan of hostels when travelling solo. The good news is that hostels have changed in the past couple of decades – they aren’t all grotty party hotspots anymore. Some seriously luxe hostel brands, like Selina, create community vibes while also being somewhere you genuinely want to stay. Staying in a hostel also doesn’t mean staying in a dorm room. If you want the benefits of easily connecting with other travellers while also having your own space, most hostels have lovely private rooms these days.
On my four-month trip, I did a mixture of hostels and Airbnbs, and the most memorable moments I had were when I stayed in hostels (such as the incredible Sister Sayulita). Of course, you will have to hang out at the hostel to meet some travel friends, which is where free breakfasts, swimming pools and group activities come in handy. It makes it easier to strike up a conversation with a stranger if you already know they are also a traveller. I have also connected with other queer women on my travels by staying in women-only dorms, so that is worth considering this when you’re booking a room.
Hostelworld‘s app also has a new feature that allows you to join group chats for your hostel and the city you are visiting just before you arrive, making it easy to see who else is around at the same time as your travels. Admittedly, depending on where you are in the world, hostels still tend to be predominantly straight spaces (see also: cis and white). However, if you feel comfortable asking for recommendations for queer bars or events in the chat, you might be surprised by the fellow travel friends that pop up.
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For the past decade, people have used dating apps as an easy way of connecting with a cute local to show them around whatever city they’re visiting. Finding a romantic or sexual connection while travelling is a lovely bonus, but that’s if this approach works. Having your experience of a city be a string of average-to-bad dates can also leave you with a less-than-positive impression of it.
You can use dating apps to find travel friends, but you need to be extremely clear about this on your profile if you also aren’t looking for hookups. I would even add this information as text to one of your images, so you don’t end up connecting with someone who wants to date you.
Thankfully, there are good apps for making friends when you’re in a new destination these days. I like Bumble BFF, which is the friend-finding section of the popular dating app. From what I can see, this tends to be almost exclusively women and non-binary people, but you see the odd guy there. I have even found queer, polyamorous people on Bumble BFF (although they have been rare finds).
If you’re a queer person who isn’t a cisgender man, I also highly recommend checking out Lex. This text-based community app fosters a great sense of community no matter where you travel. You may only find one of two other people in the same location, but there’s something lovely about connecting with a fellow queer person, whether they are a local or a fellow solo nomad.
Aside from keeping in touch with my mum, I’m pretty sure that groups are the only thing worth keeping a Facebook account for these days. A surprisingly large number of people are still regularly active in Facebook groups these days, making them an excellent resource for connecting with potential travel friends.
You can look for adventure-specific groups, such as solo travellers or digital nomads in your country, but I preferred to go more local and see who was around with similar interests. During my Mexico travels, I connected with people via the Conscious Community group in Zipolite, the Puerto Vallarta Lesbians group, and the Women in Guadalajara group.
I was surprised by how many locals were so kind and interested in showing me around while I was in their cities. I recommend posting a photo of yourself in these groups, explaining how long you are in town, a little about yourself and the kind of people you would like to meet. It’s also a great place to ask for specific recommendations, from cafes and hairdressers to museums and club nights.
From a city walking tour to an epic hike, tours are a great way for solo travellers to meet other folks on their journeys. It’s the perfect intersection of lots of time together to bond + the knowledge that you’re probably all far from home and keen to make friends. Airbnb Experiences tend to be an excellent place to find day tours in your area, and you can often find tours specifically for LGBT+ people there. For more general options, Get Your Guide is worth checking out.
Joining a group tour for a few days (or longer) can also be a great way to break up a long solo trip and potentially find some fellow travel friends. There a quite a few different group tour companies out there, so it’s worth shopping around to find one that will suit your style, demographic etc. G Adventures and Intrepid Travel are pretty well-known and respected. However, if you’re in your 30s and 40s, I recommend checking out Flashpack.
Find a dancefloor
This recommendation comes with a big caveat: I don’t recommend going straight clubbing on your own if you’re a woman or non-binary person travelling solo. Unfortunately, it’s pretty risky for your safety, so better to make some friends first and then go clubbing together.
However, when it comes to queer spaces, I have always found them to provide me with an immediate sense of community no matter where I am. One of the easiest ways to make new friends is on a dancefloor, so if you’re confident enough to go to an LGBT+ club on your own, I recommend it. You can share a smile and strike up a conversation with great ease while dancing. Plus, when other queers find out you’re on your own, they will usually insist that you join their friend group for the night.
I have many great stories, souvenirs and even a few friends from going out to queer clubs on my own while travelling. It’s one thing that makes me feel lucky to fit under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. Just make sure you’ve planned a safe way to get home in advance and have a close friend that you can message once you’re back at your accommodation. Have a great night, and enjoy making some new travel friends!