Meeting people and making new friends is one of the great joys of travel and it is a true loner that prefers their own company 100% of the time.
Many travellers extoll the virtues of solo travel but even the most ardent usually needs to socialise during their trip. Whether sharing a restaurant table for an evening meal, taking an excursion together or merely reliving the day’s events over a few beers most of us enjoy some social interaction with other travellers or locals.
It is not always easy when travelling alone to find and make new friends, not everybody is a social butterfly. Overcoming that initial obstacle of ‘first contact’ is awkward for some and a natural shyness can often mean sitting alone more often than not.
Considering my own long and short term friendships it might be useful to discuss the qualities which can turn ‘passing ships’ into lasting relationships.
“Good friends can be independent”
Dependence – The old adage ‘a friend in need is a friend indeed’ is undoubtedly true however if the only time a friend seems to make contact is when they have a problem it can lead to feelings of being used. Friends can usually rely upon each other for some support and help but this should also work both ways.
Good friends can be independent, the strongest relationships can often go weeks or months without much contact but ‘pick up’ exactly where they left off once they meet up again.
Loyalty – As an ex-member of the armed forces this is one of the most important qualities for me. I have friends that would walk through fire and they know I would do the same for them. We have a bond which has been forged in times of great stress and has required implicit trust.
It is not necessary for such loyalty in ‘normal’ friendships and certainly not when just meeting somebody in a hostel or bar. Knowing somebody ‘has your back’ is a special relationship but feeling confident that any friend won’t be talking behind your back when not around is basic.
Trustworthy -Knowing your friends well and they are reliable makes for harmonious relationships. It is not merely about honesty, we should all be able to expect that from our friends but not being let down at crucial moments is equally important.
“snigger at your confession for a love of flavoured condoms”
If constantly needing to race for trains or flights because your travelling partner is always late will soon put a strain on the relationship and newly found friendships will unlikely last long.
There is not any desire to dwell on the negative aspects but caution should be used with information shared with new acquaintances. Having the rest of the hostel snigger at your confession for a love of flavoured condoms is one thing but informing the guy just met in the bar that you withdrew £1000 in local currency and you sleep like a log after a couple of beers is especially unwise!
It’s an unfortunate state of affairs but women need to be especially vigilant; don’t accept drinks off total strangers and have somebody watch any you buy when visiting the ladies room.
Sense of humour – Most of us enjoy a good laugh, a joke or some banter, so the ability to make light of a tense situation and laugh at ourselves is valuable quality. A travel companion that can make us laugh when the stress is beginning to show is worth their weight in gold. A sense of humour is essential.
Compatibility – This covers a wide range of ‘sins’ from similar interests to avoid too many clashes regarding sights to visit or things to do or personalities that ‘mesh’ together well. It is quite true that opposites often attract and they also can make great travelling partnerships. They provide balance for each other, the impulsive with the cautious planner, stressed out with the laid back, punctual with the tardy or thrifty with the shopaholic. There may have a few disagreements along the way, but if able to compromise these can prevent either party from leaning too far one way and spoiling the travel experience.
“Those that consider themselves socially challenged”
There are plenty of qualities which we value in our friends and it seems likely that these are the same individual traits which will attract us to travel companions.
Those that consider themselves ‘socially challenged’ may be interested in another article; ‘Becoming a Solo Travel Rockstar’. It provides some decent tips with a light hearted approach which should be appealing to most.
There is not however any reason for anybody to spend too much time alone, coping with loneliness, which is often quoted as a hazard of solo travel.
If making contact with others seems difficult, look out for other travellers staying in the accommodation which are probably equally shy. Somebody that always seems to be on their own, watching television, on a computer or smartphone is unlikely to have chosen to be. Grab the bull by the horns, put on your most winning smile and say hello, they will almost certainly welcome the company.
Connecting with a large group can seem particularly intimidating but often they will be pleased to include another member in their group. Try to find a time when some are separated from the main party and introduce yourself, once they are aware you are alone most friendly groups will invite you to join them.
“fear of rejection that can become overwhelming”
Eating out alone is one of the main times many feel the solitude of solo travel. However if arriving in a restaurant and there are other ‘single’ diners be bold and politely ‘invite’ yourself to join them. Eating alone is rarely a pleasant experience and it is unlikely they will refuse the company.
It is rare but there maybe the odd occasion that a true loner or busy traveller is encountered and even your smile fails to win them over. This is particularly unpleasant for the shy traveller as it is the fear of rejection that can become overwhelming. Don’t take it personally; there is probably a perfectly innocent reason for their reticence and will often apologetically approach you the next time your paths cross.
Finally for those that are happy to meet and engage with others or in a large social group remember that there are a few that are feeling the loneliness of travelling alone. Take a moment to go over, introduce yourself and offer them a ‘lifeline’ of a little company for a day or so. It maybe the start of a beautiful friendship!