When I first set off to travel the world on my own, my biggest concern was loneliness. I wondered if I’d be wandering the streets of a city, exploring deserted beaches daily, and sitting in a restaurant in the evening, all on my own.
As soon as I showed up at my first destination, that worry was laid to rest. And after four years of solo travel, I can confidently say that the only times I have been alone on the road, have been by my own choice.
Thanks to hostels, tours, busy bars and cafes, curious locals, and the friendliness of travelers on the road, there’s always someone to pass the time with. I’ve been invited to tours and parties and excursions moments after checking into a hostel. I’ve been fed dinner by locals on the street. I’ve been engulfed in conversations as soon as I’ve sat my bum down in a café.
Not to say that I haven’t been lonely. I certainly have. Because simply being around people doesn’t mean feeling connected. Just because you can find companions at the drop of a dime, doesn’t mean you find soul mates.
And quite frankly, the longer I spend on the road, and the more purpose I find in my life, the less I want to give my time away to anyone and any experience. The more I travel, the clearer I’ve become in how I want to use and share my energy. The longer I spend on the road, the more I’d rather be alone than engage in a shallow interaction.
Though as much as I love my alone time, and as much as I believe that I am my own true soul mate, on long travel stints, finding deep connections with others is important. We all need to feel intimacy, love, and support, especially when we’re wandering the world and discovering our own depths.
So how do we find those people and make those connections?
This is a question readers ask me often. They don’t ask me how to meet people when traveling or how to ensure they won’t be alone. They ask me how to make true, genuine friendships. Friendships that offer the same kind of fulfillment of loving supportive communities and families at home.
While there have been plenty of times where I’m completely on my own, I’ve been blessed to have found so many soul mates while traveling the world. Like the travel writer I bonded with on the beaches of Colombia and her best friend who took me in a year later while I was traveling in Vietnam. Or the yoga teacher I met in Cambodia who I went deeper with than childhood friends. And the many many beautiful souls I have met and shared my heart with over the years.
I’ll be the first to say that the connections I’ve cultivated on the road, even if brief encounters, go even deeper than the friendships I built over the course of years while living in the states. And it’s not by coincidence. It’s because since leaving to traveling the world, I approach life and relationships differently. Here’s my best advice, after four years of solo travel, to find your tribe while traveling the world.
Become Your Own Best Friend
Yep, YOU are where it all begins. Most of the time when we’re feeling a sense of lack, it’s because we’re not giving enough to ourselves. If you want to cultivate a tribe of soul mates, you must first recognize YOURSELF as the soul mate.
Before I left to go travel, I didn’t really enjoy alone time. I scheduled up all of my free time with friends or my boyfriend. Though the initial phase of loneliness on the road introduced me to a very important relationship I had neglected. My relationship with MYSELF!
Make time for you. Get to know yourself. Sit with your own thoughts. Practice loving yourself. Begin to like yourself! Some of my favorite ways to build my relationship with myself include: journaling, taking long walks alone (especially in nature), meditation, and yoga. These are all opportunities to sit with your body, your breath, your thoughts and get to know who’s in there. The fun part is, there’s always new depths to uncover.
Once you recognize yourself as the soul mate, finding other soul mates is so much easier. For one, you know yourself better! You’re more in tune with who you are, what you like, what matters to you, and who you want to be around. You’re also less likely to spend time in relationships that don’t nourish you, because you’re not surrounding yourself with people out of fear of loneliness. And best of all, once you learn to really love yourself, you unconsciously attract people who reflect that love back to you.
Be Willing to be Vulnerable
This, this, this, is what I believe to be the MAIN reason why many people feel alone and disconnected. They’re not showing who they really are! How can you expect other people to open up if you’re not open yourself? When you let yourself be vulnerable, you make it safe for other people to do the same.
I’ve learned consistently, that the more I speak openly and share my heart with strangers, the faster and deeper the connection forms. And the good news is, you’ve got nothing to lose! Most people you meet on the road will only be around for a few days anyway, so why not let it all out? There’s such freedom in expressing who you truly are, knowing that you can completely disappear in a moment’s notice.
These days, I connect with people very quickly. Whether it’s local taxi drivers or other travelers, I immediately take the conversation to a deep level. It saves me time and energy, but cutting through the small talk and filtering out the people who aren’t on the same wavelength as me. More often than not, I experience people from all walks of life opening up tremendously within hours (sometimes minutes) of meeting me.
A simple way to start is to set a goal for yourself, to take an emotional risk every single day. Say something that you wouldn’t ordinarily say. Approach someone you wouldn’t normally approach. GO THERE. Showing your heart and giving others the space to show theirs is a truly beautiful thing. You’ll be amazed with the connections when you let yourself be vulnerable. And if people reject you? There are so many other fish in the travel sea.
On the road, it’s easy to give your time away to anyone. How can you attract what you do want, unless you make it clear what you don’t want? Honor and respect your own time and space by setting boundaries. You don’t have to say yes to everyone and every invitation. Respect your precious time and learn to say no when something or someone doesn’t interest you.
Choose Where You Go Wisely
While I do believe that its possible to connect with anyone, you can make it much easier on yourself by choosing environments that like minded people gravitate towards. For example, if you’re a more mature traveler you may not want to stay in a party hostel. Choose where you stay and what you do wisely, to put yourself in situations where you’re likely to be surrounded by the kind of people you want to meet.
For meeting people, I highly recommend staying in hostels (not party hostels, but more mature/clean/quiet yet still social hostels) and social guesthouses as opposed to big hotels. Stay places with common hang out areas and social events that interest you. Yoga studios are also a great place to meet people who are open to connection. If you can find a yoga hostel, I highly recommend it! You can also look into some local events happening in the community like farmer’s markets, open jam sessions, drum circles, etc.
Attend a Retreat
This one is an obvious one. If you want to connect on a deep level with a group of strangers in a foreign location, go on a retreat. Consider what it is that you enjoy doing, and seek out a retreat that offers that. You can find anything from a yoga retreat to a surf retreat to an outdoor adventure retreat. Focus on what you’re into and you’re likely to meet other people who are like you.
Many retreats are designed to facilitate intimacy and not only offer space to make new friends but teach you how to be more open after the retreat ends. It’s like showing up to a new place with an instant tribe. It’s not guaranteed that you’ll become best friends with everyone, but if you’re open to it you can connect at least on some level with everyone.
My desire to support other women in living more adventurously, open heartedly, and in honor of themselves and nature, inspired me to start leading my own retreats in my home base on the South Caribbean of Costa Rica. By living together in a big beach house, doing daily yoga, going on fun excursions, and participating in all kinds of exercises for building intimacy, we go very deep very fast. Consistently the women on my retreats tell me they leave feeling like they made lifelong friends. (You can get more info on my Jungle Bliss Women’s Retreats here.)
Create What You Want to Attract
I’m a huge fan of this one, because once again it puts the responsibility on you. All too often we can complain that the community or connection or experience we’re looking for doesn’t exist. Ok, so what are you going to do about it? CREATE IT!
Last Halloween I was in Oaxaca, Mexico for Day of the Dead and went on a tour organized by the hostel. We all complained that it felt shallow and lacked the spirit of the holiday. So, rather than dwell on discontent, I invited everyone to join me in a ceremony. A few of us went to the main square and I guided us with songs and meditations to connect with the pure essence of death. We drew oracle cards, shared our feelings on death, and people opened up tremendously.
I’ve made friends with traveling yoga teachers who showed up to a hostel and offer to lead classes on the roof. Chefs who organized a huge communal dinner with all of the guests. Musicians who threw together a jam session. One of the beautiful things about travel, is that people are open and everything is possible. If you want something to exist, create it! Create a gathering that draws in the community you are looking for, and watch how quickly you find your tribe.
Learn to Let Go
This is the hard part. The transient lifestyle living on the road means saying goodbye often and quickly. I’ve formed deep bonds with people who left a day later. Fallen in love with someone in a moment just before catching my bus. The remedy? Appreciate and honor the connections when they happen and be willing to let them go. Letting go keeps you open to meeting even more beautiful souls, here to offer you even more beautiful lessons.
It takes practice, but over the years I’ve gotten pretty good at letting people go. You become adaptable and accept the inevitability of goodbye. And for all of its downfalls, one of the wonderful things about the online world is that you can stay connected to people you meet on the road forever.