Welcome back to Women Who Wander. For those who don’t know, Women Who Wander is a series here on Young and Undecided where fellow female travellers can share their Solo travel stories. It’s hard to believe it’s been over a year of incredible and inspiring tales from all over the globe! Reading all these stories has no doubt help encourage me to take that leap into long term solo travel, and I hope that they will also inspire you to start that journey. Be it a weekend getaway, or booking a one way ticket to Timbucktu. This week, Suzy talks about the joys of meeting people on the road. The friendships formed through travel can be fast and fleeting, but oh so important!
Suzy loves to tell a story. Travelling part time in between her job as a social media manager in London, she loves to explore the landscapes and sights around Europe and takes the trip to her favourite country, New Zealand, as often as possible.
With a passion for philosophy, culture, food, and photography, there’s always a story to share within these areas that can be found around the world.
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Whether you’re travelling solo, in a pair, or in a group, friendships have the power to influence your memories and experiences of a trip. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel solo and as a pair, and along the way I’ve made a few observations on the struggles and triumphs of friendships that appear in travel.
Meeting new people
One of the hardest things I experienced as a solo traveller was meeting new people. With a mix of both introverted and extroverted characteristics, I find I’m eager to talk to new people and enter an interesting discussion, but too nervous to approach them. This means I struggle at first to get out there and make those lifelong friends halfway across the world, whereas others are easily chatting away to any old stray! There are so many people out there to meet and learn about, but finding the ones you’ll connect with most can be tough.
One way that helped me to overcome that fear of putting yourself out there, was to simply ease into it. While it was challenging at first, taking the time to enjoy my own company made me more confident and secure in reaching out to others while on the road.
Another approach I took was to start off with the internet. Thanks to the ultra modern world we live in, like-minded and interested people are just a click away. I signed up for sites designed for travellers such as WWOOFing and CouchSurfing which were my first steps to meeting locals and other travellers in a new destination. Even if a meet-up didn’t come of conversing with online strangers, I still felt a boost to my confidence and abilities to try it out in the real world eventually. Best of all, when I do get the chance to meet new people, I already have a basis for their personality, background, and mutual interests.
After a couple of meetups to grow my confidence, making friends around the world became so much easier. No more was I stressing over what to say as an introduction, or over-analysing the interactions. Naturally, the occasional worry over entering a new group of people creeps back in, but on the whole I find that just allowing myself the time to become more self-assured is the key to being a more confident traveller.
A notable experience of making lifelong friends was meeting my WWOOFing companions in New Zealand. An already established group of workers at a hostel in a tiny town on the West Coast, I was the new kid and tentative to how I might fit into this close-knit group. They were incredibly welcoming, and it was simply a matter of making that initial introduction over a slice of pizza and cold beverage to take the time to get to know each other.
A few weeks of living with one another and complaining about our workloads, we bonded quickly and with ease, thanks to mutual patience and understanding that we all had outgoing personalities but also needed the occasional break from socialising. It made me realise that other travellers aren’t really that scary after all! We’re all nervous to impress and be liked, and we all have a love for travel which gives us a story to share with one another and an immediate connection.
Lending a hand
One saving grace of struggling to meet people while travelling comes in the form of existing friends. Not even friends, but friends of friends, distant connections, even never-before-met old family friends. The kindness of these strangers creates an instant bond, and in times of need when someone helps you by offering a place to stay, a comforting meal, or even a patient ear, is there anything to call them besides a friend?
On more than one occasion I was put in touch with family friends who offered me a place to stay for a few days in a new city. Their welcoming kindness was so heartwarming, and it made an experience as a long-term traveller that much easier. Talking with someone who knows the same people as me brought my home to a new country, and instantly put me at ease.
Although initially reaching out is scary for the fear of being thought of as rude or a sponge, I was surprised at how quick people I’d never met were to generously offer their homes. I’d always recommend to give it a try if you know of anyone in the locations you’re heading and you think they might be able to help you out. Especially in the event that you need a little support or advice, write to them! Worst case scenario is they can say is no, and the best outcome is that you make a new friend who can give you some help, whether that’s tips on where to go, a home cooked meal, a friendly chat, or a bed to sleep in.
Of course, new interactions don’t always go so smoothly. In one couchsurfing instance, I didn’t have so much luck. Although my host was perfectly nice, we had very little in common and our values, lifestyles, and interests were pretty different. So much to the point where I chose to actually part ways sooner than intended, but that was ultimately the right decision rather than being in an environment where I felt wary and insecure. This experience was probably the only time I’ve truly felt somewhat unsafe as a solo traveller, and it’s in these moments that having a friend by your side would be incredibly welcome.
Despite conversation and time spent together being harder than if we’d had more similarities, it still showed me that even a negative experience can have positives to be learned from it. I felt stronger in my own opinions and proud of myself for maintaining my character (and sanity!) during the stay.
Similarly, in group settings there are other travellers one might meet who you just don’t click with. That’s ok! It took me a while and a lot of “why not?” questions to figure that out, but really, you don’t have to get along with everyone. You might find them rude and obnoxious, but that’s the benefit of travel – you can simply move on and find an environment that is helpful for you to thrive and conducive to your happiness.
A familiar face
When travelling solo, sometimes you’re fortunate enough to find another similarly minded traveller with whom you really click. This person might become your travel partner for a short time, and if or when you do part ways, you might even be so lucky as to seeing them again further down the road. These people are gems to find, and I’ll be forever grateful for those that have made solo travel that much more fun along the way.
In other circumstances, I’ve been met with friends from home who on their own travels have crossed my path, and have become my travel partner. Travelling with someone you already know can be hugely eye opening. They’ll teach you things about yourself, and you’ll learn to see each other at your best and worst throughout the challenges and highlights of a trip. This chance to rediscover yourself, enhance your friendship with a shared love of exploration, and creating unique experiences together should not be missed. Think of all the stories you’ll get to reminisce from your travels together!
I’m an advocate for following your instincts when travelling. If you’re struggling to connect with strangers, listening to yourself can be so beneficial. Regardless of whether you need to take time out or if you need a little help, you’ll get there and once you do the good memories will soon outweigh the challenges. There’s no wrong way to travel, as long as you’re trusting in yourself and keeping on a path that you’re happy with throughout your journey that’s all that really matters.