How to meet backpackers and influence people

| June 24, 2009 | 8 Comments
shibuya How to meet backpackers and influence people

How to meet backpackers and influence people

To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.

—Freya Stark

While one of the most positive aspects of round-the-world (RTW) travel is the time it allows you to relax and really get to know yourself, committing to long-term travel has the added benefit of opening up a whole new social circle to you—like-minded vagabonders!

Today on the BootsnAll message boards, a ‘Bootsie’ posed the question: “How did you find the stomach for a solo RTW trip?” Elaborating, they wrote:

I was in bed last night and started wondering if I could wake up in a different place every few days. I got a bit nervous and wondered if I had the stomach for a RTW solo trip for about a year.

While the prospects of a solo RTW might appear daunting at first, the truth is that meeting other backpackers on the road is easy—whether you’re travelling in a group or are rolling solo, there’s a real sense of community among vagabonders.

On a six-month solo stint through Asia, I quickly learned that the majority of solo travellers are on the lookout for other travellers to socialize with. Of course, you’ll be tempted to move in very tight social circles with other backpackers and ex-pats as you travel as you hang out and share advice on where to go, what to do and share your opinions: restaurant reviews, flight reviews and hostel reviews! Hence, I think it’s absolutely essential that you go out of your way to make local friends while travelling, as well. Indeed, you’ll learn a lot more about the country in which you find yourself from a local. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself hanging out at hostels trying to impress other backpackers with random factoids plucked from some dog-eared Lonely Planet guide.

You might not find the idea of sewing a flag on a knapsack particularly appealing, but it’s an easy way to meet others. Once, on a flight into Beijing I spotted a young couple with a Canadian flag on their packs. “Cool” I thought, “maybe they’ll split a cab with me on our way downtown.”

“What part of Canada, you from?” I asked. Smirking, they replied “Pennsylvania”.

Dress for success. So pull out that old Phish concert t-shirt—the one that smells like Otto’s jacket—and wear it proudly. Or grab a bunch of lapel pins from your local MP and wear those (hand ‘em out, too). You’ll be amazed at how many conversations the most mundane articles of clothing will inspire, as long as they evoke a sense of time or geography.

Stay in shared accommodation. This is probably the easiest way to meet other travellers. If you are in a dorm room, it is fairly inevitable that you will have to talk to (and smell and see and hear) at least some of your roommates, especially if the dorm has bunk-beds.

From my brief stint in Asia, my favourite dorm was the Kolkata YMCA. On the flight into the city, I bumped into a Scottish-born Australian nun with a mouth like a dockworker who worked for Mother Teresa’s Home for the Destitute and Dying. She drank the water straight from the public fountains. “Never had a problem with Delhi-belly”, she said.

After checking into the Y, she threw me a sheet and said: “Here hold this up”. Before I knew it, she was disrobing. Before I had a chance to avert my eyes, I think I saw a set of nun’s breasts. Isn’t that some type of mortal sin? Likely going to hell for that one. But, I digress…

Even if you can’t find dorms of this type, most hostels and guesthouses have communal areas where you can meet fellow residents and travellers.

Ask for help when you need it. Smile and don’t be afraid to ask for help. By asking the advice of locals or travellers alike, you’re sure to find a friendly ear, and a friendship may just grow from that.

Tea for Two. Don’t eat alone! Although this might seem somewhat difficult, it’s worth a shot if you have the confidence. If someone makes eye contact with you, then there is a good chance that they are indeed dining alone and might relish the chance to find some company.

Be prepared for the odd brush-off of course, but don’t let it dissuade you. Remember, there are two ways to travel. Pack ample changes of clothes and stay in one place or pack one set of clothes and change places often.

Sure you’ll get shot down, but just leave it behind you with your invoice at check-out. Where one person will decline your company, another will welcome it.

CouchSurf. The CouchSurfing project is a free online hospitality service. Serving more than one million members in over 232 countries and territories, the network is the largest of its kind. Members use the site to coordinate home accomodation with other members around the globe. However, it’s not just about finding a couch on which to crash. Intrepid traveller Gary Arndt—on the road now for two years—uses CouchSurfing not for the accomodation, but for purposes of sharing information and occasionally meeting up for sightseeing—another way to break the ‘tourism bubble’. Of course, one of the biggest question that people tend to ask is “how safe is couchsurfing“? Check out our featured piece on the dangers of CouchSurfing.

So don’t be lonely—unless that’s what you seek. On the road, it’s good to remind yourself of the difference between aloneness and loneliness. And, if the prospect of waking up in a strange place all by yourself concerns you, just remember the words of Freya Stark: “To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.”

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About the Author ()

For nearly ten years now, Daniel of Two Go Round-The-World has explored how travel captures our imagination and engages our deepest emotions. One half of the duo that maintains the widely read Two Go Round-The-World blog, Daniel treats his subjects not only as works of art but also as symbols of the cultural and political forces that inspire them. Check him out on Google+.

Comments (8)

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  1. Dave and Deb says:

    Great advice. Dave and I don’t travel alone, but even for us, we like to hook up with other travelers and like to stay in busy guesthouses to make friends. I agree, it is essential to make local friends while traveling, but also nice to have a group to move on with too.

    • Daniel says:

      Thanks Deb. Much appreciated. My wife, Kathryn and I are similar. Travelling with a spouse is great. You get to enjoy have someone close along with you, in addition to all sometimes transient sometimes enduring friendships you make along the way. Thanks for commenting. Much appreciated.

  2. Kirstin Bali says:

    If you interesting to traveling to Bali, there are some place that backpackers always stay. The famous place are in Kuta Popies lane.

    Enjoy your travelling day :)

  3. flip says:

    i like traveling alone coz i find it convenient although sometimes sad but i also like traveling with people i met along the way, usually from hostels or on a bus


  4. Sherry Ott says:

    Traveling solo was the best thing I did! You meet so many more people that way – just open yourself up and don’t be afraid to do things alone. I moved to Vietnam alone and ended up meeting my best friend there while eating alone at a bar reading a book. She was doing the same…presto – a friendship was formed!

  5. Abel says:

    I love the couchsurfing idea.. but I’d be too chicken to try it! I might just have to leave it at approaching other loners in diners. ;-)

  6. KiteZA says:

    Great tips.. I was actually planning to stay in a hostel here in Rio de Janeiro purely for the purpose of meeting people (well… that and it was cheap).

    One tip that was missed out is that if you’re in a place for a while, you can try get involved in volunteer work or some kind of temporary position.
    I’ve met plenty of people through doing a bit of work with an NGO here, ranging from local Cariocas to fellow travellers who also speak minimal Portuguese.

    Also, try find people with similar interests – I managed to go trike flying with some locals last weekend who have invited me to go hiking with them, and next weekend I’ll be going to a Tumblr meetup (with shame firmly planted behind a desire to meet new people). Of course, it was lucky to have found out about those two events – but with a bit of Google-fu and some connections, you should be able to discover people who speak a language you do, and have at least one interest in common with you!

    Good luck making friends around the world.


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