Solo travel doesn’t have to be lonely: Here’s how I make friends on the road

Solo travel doesn’t have to be lonely: Here’s how I make friends on the road

I was walking along the Guadalquivir River in Seville, where I had just begun my latest solo travel adventure.

The weather was warm, the riverfront was bustling with people, and the view of the golden Torre Del Oro was breathtaking. But something was missing — even surrounded by all this beauty, I was incredibly lonely.

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Solo travel can be empowering, providing a sense of freedom and adventure, but there’s also a downside. I looked around at couples holding hands and friends laughing, and suddenly, I longed for connection. It was the beginning of my two-month stay and I knew I would end up hiding under the covers in my Airbnb if I didn’t make an effort to meet new people.

I decided it was time to get connected.

My favourite part of Sevilla is the walk along the Guadalquivir River.Aileen Weintraub

Online groups led me to real-life meetups

I headed back to my apartment, opened up my laptop, and joined an online expat group, where I introduced myself as a writer and inquired about events.

The next evening, I was sitting at an outdoor cafe with five new friends participating in a language exchange trying to remember a few words I had learned from high school Spanish class.

That one online post also led to meetups with other travellers and locals at music venues and flamenco shows. I learned about the American Women’s Club too, which helps connect women of all ages and nationalities around the globe.

Facebook and Meetup are both great for finding traveller and expat groups, as well as local events.

I met locals by signing up for fitness classes

Strolling my local Sevillian neighbourhood, I found a yoga studio, introduced myself and signed up for classes.

These were conducted in Spanish, but it didn’t matter — I knew enough yoga to wing it and everyone was warm and inviting.

Then I bravely decided to sign up for boxing classes. This proved to be much more difficult, but the woman next to me was so helpful. We walked home together and made plans to meet for dinner the following night, which soon turned into a regular occurrence.

Shared spaces are a gateway to local experiences

Staying in an apartment with a shared outdoor space was a lifesaver. I sat outside at my little table each morning sipping cafe con leche and chatting in Spanglish with my neighbour Carmen as she watered her plants.

She introduced me to another neighbour who invited me over for wine and pizza. Then Carmen’s daughter-in-law began inviting me to the finest restaurants in Seville, including hidden gems that I never would’ve discovered on Yelp.

Even without a good command of Spanish I made friends by making an effort and knowing that a smile can bridge almost any language gap.

I looked forward to seeing Carmen each day, and she introduced me to the other neighbours and her daughter-in-law, both of whom I also became good friends with.Aileen Weintraub

Tell the world where you’re going

We live in a global world and when I tell my trusted friends where I’m going, I’m almost always introduced to someone else living in or travelling to the same place.

Having just one connection at your destination can take the awkwardness out of trying to make new friends.

I had coffee with a couple from Germany and a writer from my hometown whom I’d never met but happened to be in Seville at the same time.

On my way to meet a new friend in Maria Luisa Park in Seville.Aileen Weintraub

Scope out the best cafes — and put your phone away

This may seem basic, but one of my favourite parts of solo travel is people watching, so heading to a cafe while also focusing on much-neglected work serves two purposes.

Here’s the secret: do some work and then close your laptop, stop scrolling on your phone, and just sip your coffee. Inevitably, I end up chatting with the person sitting at the next table.

While it doesn’t always lead to lifelong friendships, I’ve had some great conversations and have garnered invitations to rooftop bars, festivals and even religious processions.

Find people who share the same interests as you

If I do something I love at home, I can do it abroad. As a writer and avid reader, whether I’m staying a week or a month, I always search online for book-related events. This way I’m sure to meet people with common interests.

I’ve discovered workshops, writing groups, panel discussions and author events. This has not only connected me with people who share my interests but has allowed me to make new professional connections, and has led to some great work opportunities.

Whatever your passions in your hometown, find those while travelling solo and like-minded friends will follow.

Get out of your comfort zone

Chances are if you’re travelling solo, you don’t mind taking a few well-calculated risks.

I signed up for a small immersive cooking class, learned to make paella, and sat down to dinner with people I’d never met before. It was so much fun that I then signed up for a tapas tour where not only did I get to try authentic Andalusian cuisine, I got to see parts of the city I never would have discovered on my own and made a new friend in the process.

Within days of arriving, I had invitations to dinner, shows, music festivals and other adventures.

Now I have an arsenal of solo travel hacks in my back pocket, and I know that when I next travel to Seville, I’ll have a full schedule filled with parties, classes, lunch dates and day trips.

I’m confident those lonely day doldrums will be far and few between. And I’ll always have company for those long walks along the Guadalquivir River.

Aileen Weintraub is the author of ‘Knocked Down: A High-Risk Memoir’, a laugh-out-loud story about marriage, motherhood, and the risks we take.


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