5 Magic Words to Make New Friends On A Solo Trip
These magic words have brought me some of the most amazing experiences of my travels (like a free five-day tour of Tokyo with a local and a free stay in a high-rise apartment in Rome), and some of the best international friendships. ✨ I use these words as an opener every time I travel alone and want to meet new people.
You might think that, to make new friends while traveling, you need to boldly approach people armed with a great opener: something witty yet insightful, funny but not trying too hard, self-deprecating yet confident.
That's what I thought on my first solo trip (a week in Portugal at age 19). I was so worried about finding the right words to start a conversation that I ended up never speaking up at all. I made a grand total of 0 friends on that trip. 😶
But my second solo trip was seven months long. That was too long to go without making some friends. That's when I started using these five magic words that have brought me so much success in meeting new people as a solo traveler. They are:
Can I join you guys? (Or if it's one person, Can I join you?)
Simple as that. Don't psych yourself out thinking that making new friends on the road is like a job interview where your every word is being judged. These five words and a friendly smile are all it takes to get an in—and the results can be life-changing!
Here's an example of a time when I used these magic words to win myself three incredible new friends and two amazing (and free) travel perks on two different continents. 🙌
It was my first day in Inle Lake, Myanmar in 2014. There were no hostels. A private room in a guesthouse was my only option, so I was afraid it would be harder to meet people. I knew that the thing to do in Inle is to take a boat tour. But I wasn't super comfortable with the idea of hopping into a boat alone with a man I didn't know for an entire day. Besides, paying for a full-day boat tour alone was out of my budget.
So I was sitting in the lobby trying to figure out how I could meet someone to share a boat tour with...when two guys in their 40s came hurrying past me towards the door. They were speaking Italian, but I heard them say the word "boat tour" in English. Before I let myself overthink it and chicken out, I blurted the magic words: You're going on a boat tour? Can I join you guys?
Lucky for me, they spoke English, and I explained that I was looking for someone to split the cost of a boat tour with. They treated me like a friend they'd known for decades, and immediately invited me to join them on the tour they already had booked (which they were running late for at that moment). 🎉 YAY!
Alessandro, Luigi and I spent the whole day together with our boatman, watching the famous Inle fisherman, visiting local markets, and admiring golden temples. The boatman even took us to his home for lunch, where his wife and daughter cooked us fish caught from the lake. They gave us a tour of their neighborhood after, and we ended up playing soccer with some adorable kids at a school nearby.
It was one of my favorite days of my trip, and being with these two guys made it even better. I wrote in my journal at the time about how great A & L were to spend the day with:
"They're great guys to travel with, I learned quickly, because they're so outgoing and friendly and curious. Like they'll just go up to a vendor and ask what it is he's selling and get a taste of it, if it's food, or waltz up to a school and start playing soccer with the kids, which we later did. And they ask questions without worrying that the translation might be tricky...they just go for it and it really made it fun."
I found out A& L have been friends their whole lives, and every other year they leave their wives and kids behind and take a trip somewhere—and this year it was Myanmar. I told them about my Asia trip so far, and they asked where I was headed next. I said I wasn't sure, but that the plan was to eventually make my way up through China to South Korea and Japan.
On hearing this, Alessandro insisted that I connect with his Japanese friend Makoto when I get to Tokyo. This friend had lived in Italy for a few years, and Alessandro had helped him out in some way, so he knew Makoto would be more than happy to repay the favor and show me around. And then Luigi told me he owns some apartment buildings in Rome, and told me I had a free place to stay there whenever I wanted to come visit. 🛋 SO NICE.
So, in Seoul a few months later, I decided to message Alessandro's friend Makoto and tell him I'd be headed to Tokyo in a few days. I figured we'd meet up for lunch or something, and he could give me recommendations about stuff to see in the city.
Instead, he took five days off work and got on a boat from the Japanese island he lives on to come to Tokyo and give me a personal tour. 😱 HE WAS SO NICE. Just like with Alessandro and Luigi, Makoto made my Tokyo trip, because being with him meant I got to do things I wouldn't have had the opportunity to do on my own.
He guided me to the coolest shops in Harajuku, ordered for us at every restaurant so I could try the best dishes, paid for us to go to the very top of the Tokyo Skytree (which is the world's tallest tower at 634m), and set me up at a place where I could do cosplay dress-up and then have a complete photo shoot! 📸 Because he speaks Japanese and knows the city, he made all these awesome experiences possible.
My time in Inle Lake and Tokyo were highlights of my Asia trip, and it's all because I used the five magic words. So the bottom line is: Don't psych yourself out when it comes to meeting new people when traveling solo. Most travelers want to meet other travelers, and will welcome you no matter what your opening line is. All you have to do is say SOMETHING, no matter how simple. You never know what amazing things could come of it!