Loneliness is a fact of solo travel no matter how independent you are. Anyone who says it isn’t, well, I don’t buy it.
Sometimes the intense positivity and joy of the travel community can feel overwhelming.
There’s so much pressure to love every second of your travels, learn how to make a living while traveling or succeed at building the “digital nomad” career you’ve already started, make lots of money, get lots of followers, cross lots of countries off, finish your entire bucket list, and look on point while you do it all, green smoothie in hand and a smile on your face.
There’s so much pressure to…be happy. All the time.
Sometimes, it feels like there’s no room for sadness, angst, and self-doubt, for apathy or for solemnity or for loneliness, something we all feel regularly as solo travelers. Sometimes we all just want to lay in bed for a day wondering what the fuck we’re doing with our lives. Sometimes we walk through museums filled with brilliant paintings from Rembrant and Van Gogh and feel nothing. Sometimes we miss our friends and family back home, and sometimes we’ve been traveling much that we wonder if we even still have friends and family back home. Or if maybe your friends have forgotten you by now.
Yes, sometimes you meet people while traveling. But sometimes you don’t. And sometimes you do, but it’s really just for a few hours at a pub crawl where you’re all smashed and forget each other’s names by the next morning, if you even asked for them in the first place.
Yes, solo travel is incredibly rewarding, and learning how to be happy on your own is important. But sometimes you just don’t feel like eating yet another nice dinner all by yourself.
So, in keeping with the age of technology and the sharing economy, (and for those of us who can’t always muster up the positive energy to just strike up a conversation with a rando in a foreign country), here are my favorite apps for beating solo travel loneliness. Spoiler Alert: Tinder is not one of them.
Couchsurfing…but not for the couches
Secret: I’ve actually never used Couchsurfing to stay at another person’s house. I’ve tried, multiple times, but it’s never worked out. It’s on the bucket list.
But I have been on Couchsurfing for 2 years now, and I use the app all the time while I’m traveling. Aside from the option to host or be hosted for a night, the app has a special app-only feature called “Hangouts”. It’s basically a mecca for quickly organizing group meetups with new faces in new places – think Tinder but in a group and without the pretext of awkward hookups.
The app uses your location to find people in your area. You can browse hangouts that other people are already trying to organize (“Let’s meet up at 9pm for drinks!” or “Let’s go hiking at 3pm!”) or start your own hangout. People who are interested in a hangout will let the app know, and once the organizer has approved everyone (you’re able to see the person and their profile), a group chat is started so that everyone can chat about the details.
I used this in Spain when I really wanted someone to go get tapas and watch a flamenco show with me. I ended up organizing a group of 2 other travelers and 2 locals who all came out for tapas and drinks. After that, only one of the girls wanted to stay and go to a flamenco show, but we ended up becoming friends. The next day we hung out, and she brought her 13 year old daughter along (the two have traveled to 14 countries together!).
While I have trouble finding women hosts on Couchsurfing because they seem to be almost all male, the Hangouts feature is nicely balanced between men and women.
Find someone to eat with, AND get a local, home-cooked meal.
EatWith (and Vizeat) are communal dining experiences that exist in over 200 cities around the world. Basically, chefs and foodies alike can host big group dinners in their homes or restaurants and travelers can book a seat. The dining is communal, so you meet people from all over the world, and the hosts work hard to create delicious, welcoming meals for guests.
The meals aren’t always cheap, which is mostly why I haven’t used this one yet, but I’ll probably give it a try the next time I’m traveling in a city and want to splurge. I don’t mind eating alone, but fine dining is always best when shared!
Workaway.info is one of my favorite ways to travel. For people who are traveling for a longer time and feeling burnt out, it’s a great option.
Workaway is a website with work exchange opportunities – you work part-time (20-30 hours a week) and in return, you get room and board. Every opportunity differs (some only offer a bed, no food…I avoid those and go for the luxe ones). I’ve helped out at a ranch in Costa Rica, a hostel in the Caribbean, a vineyard in Italy, a coffee farm in Nicaragua, and a petsitting business in NYC. These have all been some of my most memorable travel experiences.
I’ve also made some lifelong friends through these work exchange gigs. You stay with a host (sometimes a small business or organization, sometimes a local family), so you get to feel more at home AND get to know the culture better. Most places will also have multiple volunteers at once, so you meet and make friends with other travelers. I just met up with a girl I did workaway with TWO YEARS ago while I was traveling through France.
Bla Bla Car
I discovered this one while traveling through Europe (oh how I wish this app would come to the Americas), and I instantly fell in love. This is a carpooling/rideshare app – think of it as a cross between Uber and hitchhiking.
Anyone can make a profile and sell seats in their car for long drives. You can look up “Paris to Madrid” for example, and possibly find some people who are headed that way and willing to give you a ride for a small price (almost always the cheapest transportation option, by far). It’s huge in Spain and Austria, where I used it, but the app is everywhere in Europe.
I met some awesome travelers on my rides, saved some money, and I was more comfortable. It felt more like going on a fun road trip than the misery that is sitting on Flix Bus for 8 hours while someone reclines into your crotch.
When I took a Bla Bla Car from Slovenia to Villach, Austria, I met a Ukranian girl who was living in Villach. She knew I would have to wait in Villach for 5 hours for my train, so she offered to show me around her town and invited me over for coffee and snacks. She gave me a mini tour of the beautiful area (which I will now have to return to), and before I left she took me to her favorite pub where I got some Austrian beer and goulash stew. This was after one of those exhausting solo travel weeks where EVERYTHING goes wrong, and her kindness totally turned my trip around.
My favorite accommodation hack while traveling solo is to search for private rooms in people’s homes on Airbnb. Hear me out.
In many places, they’re just as cheap as hostels while offering more comfort and a homey feeling. I got kind of tired of meeting college students in hostels (I’m a little older than them, ha). I also didn’t want to stay in empty homes, though, because I still wanted to be able to socialize.
So, I started looking for cheap rooms from hosts that were not just well-rated, but with ratings that specifically talked about the host’s hospitality, friendliness, and ideally, willingness to show tourists around. Every city has those hosts.
I booked a $15 room in Almeria, Andalucia, Spain where two older Spanish women showed me around, took me out to the best tapas place in town, went on walks along the beach with me, invited me to drink beers with them in the living room, and taught me all about Spanish history. In Granada, I booked a $10 room in the BEAUTIFUL neighborhood of Albaicin, in one of its iconic white houses with a rooftop view. The owner and his roommate invited me to the restaurant where they worked for tapas one night and we stayed until long after they closed. In Cadiz, I stayed in another $10 room with marvelous rooftop views stretching out to the ocean, and the host and his roommate invited me to a rooftop party for the building where the whole building enjoyed wine, cheese, meat, and danced under the full moon.
Sometimes, I really hate technology, because I feel like it keeps us at a distance from each other. But at the same time, apps and websites like these have really helped me connect with people I never would have met otherwise.
I love solo travel. But a big part of the reason I love it so much is that it forces me to get out of my comfort zone and meet new people. My best experiences while traveling have almost always centered around the people I was with or the people I met.