Traveling on your own in the United States can be rewarding, especially if you connect with locals.
“By meeting locals, you’ll see things and understand a place better than you could if you were with eight other travelers,” says Robert Reid, who frequently travels solo as National Geographic Traveler’s Digital Nomad. What’s more, “Locals can become the heart of your trip really quickly.” The challenge, of course, is meeting them. Consider these strategies:
Go to Restaurants and Bars
Meeting locals in restaurants and bars isn’t always easy, especially if you find yourself surrounded by couples and groups engaged in conversations. But knowing how to present yourself is half the battle.
When you sit down at a restaurant or bar, don’t focus on your mobile phone or a book. Look around. Make eye contact. “If you walk into the room and you’re smiling and curious, people will respond to you differently than if you immediately dive into a book and ignore everyone,” Reid says. And if you have a foreign accent, don’t hide it. “People will probably be curious about you.”
Also, be honest that you’re a visitor, and instead of asking locals general questions about top sights, consider your own unique interests and ask for specific advice, such as where you might find the best margarita in town or where you could see a particular aspect of the local culture. Says Reid, “People are very interested in helping people on little quests like that.”
To meet locals, consider following your own passions and unique interests.
Sign up for Small Tours
Sure, small tours and classes draw other travelers, but they can also attract a fair number of locals — especially the kind of locals you want to meet: people who are outgoing and curious about their hometowns. What’s more, while exploring a new place or learning a new skill, conversations between strangers arise spontaneously, which makes meeting people easier and less painful.
Stay at a Bed-and-Breakfast or Airbnb
Where you stay can affect whom you meet — and don’t meet. Says Reid, “If you’re staying at a fancy hotel, the concierge is going to be happy to talk to you, but you won’t likely meet locals that way.” So if you’re traveling solo, consider staying at a bed-and-breakfast, a house rental or at a home listed on Airbnb where the hosts also reside. The key, whether at a bed-and-breakfast or an Airbnb, is finding places with friendly, outgoing hosts.
How do you do that? Read the reviews. On Airbnb, guests often comment on their hosts — especially those who are friendly and spend time with guests. The same goes for bed-and-breakfasts, where you’re at least likely to find yourself having coffee with your hosts each morning.
Social Media and Apps
Technology offers all sorts of new ways to meet people. It also carries risks, so you’ll want to proceed with caution. With that said, consider trying:
- Meetup.com: The site features gatherings for people with common interests — from group runs and hikes to wine tastings and museum outings.
- Eventbrite. This organization lists many events in big cities.
- Facebook: Ask friends if they have friends or acquaintances in places you’ll be visiting; if they do, request an introduction.
- Tinder: This popular dating app is often used by travelers seeking a romantic connection with a local.
- Bumble: In 2016, this dating app launched a “BFF” feature aimed at facilitating platonic friendships.