If you’re going travelling solo, you can find likeminded travel companions online to either meet at your travel destination or even travel there together to begin with
I wrote in my previous article Seven Reasons To Go Travelling Solo about how easy it is to strike out on your own and meet people along the way. But there’s no reason why you can’t find some likeminded people online to meet up with when you’re travelling before you leave home. Indeed, you can meet people who live in the country you’re visiting, who can show you the local view of your chosen destination. This is undoubtedly one of the most rewarding ways to spend your time aboard, especially if you don’t speak the local language. Making connections with travel friends is also a good way of giving yourself some psychological reassurance that you’re not plunging wholly into the unknown.
This sort of travel social networking has flourished in the last couple of years and it costs you little in terms of time and effort to set up a few profiles on different websites and then start locating likeminded users of the same site. Give as much information as you can on your profile about yourself and what you want to do – don’t just say “Want to see the tourist sights of X”. Have a purpose that other people will want to help you with, however trivial it may seem, like “I want to learn to learn to scuba dive on Koh Tao“. The more specific you are, the more you can engage with those reading your profile. Also, think of it from your host’s perspective – if you want to do something a little unusual, it will be more fun for them.
Here, then, are some of the most useful websites to help find travel friends:
The granddaddy of travel networking sites and a fantastically good idea that keep growing, despite their website meltdown earlier this year. CouchSurfing has hundreds of members all over the world who offer a place to stay for other CS members – maybe just a night or several days. You simply have to get in contact, talk to each other and if you get on, arrange when you can visit. Obviously this is a system that requires a huge amount of trust, and there seems to be a few people that think of CS as a dating system, but by and large it works. There are scores of testimonials on the site as to how well people have got on. CouchSurfing is free for people to join and use. It’s also worth checking out Hospitality Club and Global Freeloaders which run on similar lines to CouchSurfing.
Specifically designed for travellers to get in touch with one another, TravBuddy’s well-designed site lets you set up a profile and easily find other people who will be in the same city at the same time. The forums are well-populated with a lot of meetups being in organised regularly in many cities which is an ideal to meet a lot of people quickly when you’ve newly arrived somewhere.
3) GAP Adventures, Stray Tours and Exotissimo
Small group travel companies are an ideal way of making connections easily – and getting stuck into your travelling straightaway too. With a group of around 10 on each trip together for a week or more, there’s plenty of time to get to know everyone and there’s also a mutual interest in striking up friendships as everyone tends to be more receptive in these kinds of situations. If you want to begin a trip with the safety net of being on an organised trip which then might lead on to travelling solo with the new friends you make, one of these companies is a great way to go.
4) Lonely Planet and Travelfish
As Lonely Planet is the biggest guidebook publisher and their website is visited by thousands of people each day, it’s a good place to signal your interest in finding a travel buddy, although posting in the Lonely Planet Thorntree Travel Forums on a regular basis first might be a good way to raise your profile before you start requesting travel buddies. Similarly, check out the burgeoning Travelfish forum if you’re going to be travelling in South East Asia – they have a dedicated Companions board.
A recently launched site that makes it easy for people renting out rooms in their homes to connect with travellers, AirBnB.com offers a new spin on finding accommodation. Often AirBnB hosts will be around when you come to stay at their home – and in many cases they’re happy to show their guests around the city too. Browse listings and check previous guest feedback to find hosts that are happy to spend time with guests – it can be a much more welcoming way for solo travellers to stay in a city than at a hostel.
Travellers Point is another huge travel site with a very active Travel Companions forum, which is worth cross-checking with other forums and becoming part of the community if you want to make useful connections
Twitter has proved a great way to find people in particular cities, some of which have regular TweetUps, where Twitter people get together in real life. It varies from place to place about how active local Tweeters are about meeting up, but if there’s an enthusiastic enough community it can be a blast. Even if you don’t get to meet anyone in person, following people tweeting from the city you’re in can be a useful way of picking up travel intel as well.
To be honest, I’m not a big user of Facebook and I’ve not found it much use in terms of making genuine connections – but that’s probably because I simply haven’t spent the time trying to figure it out. It’s been useful to keep in touch with people I’ve met while travelling but that’s about it. There is a large,active Travel Bloggers group but that’s about the most useful discussion board I found
When meeting anyone for the first time, however safe they seem, meet in a well-lit, public place and spend some time there before going anywhere else with them. If anything seems wrong, then gracefully withdraw from the situation and book a hotel instead. It is a little bit like a blind date, and you need to follow the same common sense rules for personal safety. In other words – try not to get falling down drunk on your first night out together…
I’ve had some memorable experiences meeting up with people online to go travelling. Back in 1997 I hitched a lift from San Francisco to Nevada’s Black Rock Desert to the Burning Man festival via Burning Man’s website forum, managing to organise my entire ride online from London with the lovely Patty. It seems trivial now, but back then it seemed like a real big deal. Everyone at home thought I’d get axed to death in the desert. (Or, at least, were secretly hoping…). I had a real blast at Burning Man – I wrote my account of it here – in part because it seemed so unlikely that a British bloke who couldn’t drive and had no real idea where it was would ever actually get to Burning Man…
I digress. Any comments on the sites above and suggestions for better ones, plus recounting of experiences, good and bad, all gratefully received. Have fun.