I don't believe in fate, but sometimes I wonder. Life is filled with chance encounters, and though it sounds trite, to me the world feels smaller the more you see of it. In a life filled with missed connections, there are some connections that you make where it seems that everything had to fall in place for you to meet.
Meeting people and not being alone is a concern for some solo travelers, myself included, but the reality is you can meet people anywhere and through the most tenuous of circumstances. I’ve made and met friends through the traditional channels for solo travelers — hostels, walking tours, friends of friends — but these are some of the more unlikely stories of how I met friends whilst traveling.
Bangkok Rooftop Bar
I met a Swiss couple on the rooftop of a bar in Bangkok through a friend who I had met and traveled with in the Philippines, who coincidentally had the same flight with me from Mandalay to Bangkok over a month since we parted ways.
My friend was on the rooftop waiting for me when he had met them, and we followed our drinks with dinner at another location. I exchanged info with the couple but didn’t make any plans to meet up later, though we did talk about the Full Moon Party in Koh Pangan over 12 hours away, and how they were considering going.
The world feels smaller the more you see of it.
The Full Moon Party in Thailand is attended by over 20,000 people spread all across the beach. There are mainly stories of people losing their friends for the night, yet whilst walking around aimlessly through the massive crowds, I ran into the Swiss couple battling the same crowds. The funny thing is that we were both looking for friends at the time and it took a lot longer time to find them. One thing that I’ve learned while traveling was that Swiss people are super friendly and are some of the first ones to offer you a place to stay, oftentimes when just recently making their acquaintance.
I Sat Next to a Girl on the Airplane
I’m the type of person that doesn’t talk to the people sitting next to me on the airplane. Yet on a trip from Kuala Lumpur to Myanmar, which is less popular as a backpacker’s destination, I wound up being seated next to one of the five other backpackers on the plane. We struck up a conversation and I found out she was meeting a friend at the airport, but other than that, they didn’t have any plans yet, much less a place to stay for the night.
We then decided that we would take a taxi together from the airport to the city center where they would take a look at the hostel I booked to see if they wanted to stay there.
We got to the airport and met up with my new friend’s friend and while waiting for our bags, a Swedish backpacker approached our newly-formed group and asked if we would like to share a taxi into town. He was staying in a different hostel, so we exchanged info and planned to try and meet up the next day.
We ended up traveling together for about two weeks across four cities.
The next morning I got a message asking of our plans, but the Wi-Fi was so spotty that I wound up not replying and accidentally just saving the email as a draft. The girls and I then went on a tour of the city, and in the afternoon we sat down to eat in one of the less touristy parts of town, guided by the cousin of a friend.
I initially was seated with my back to the street, but because of the rain, we had to change tables. The girls went to the bathroom, so I looked down at my phone because Wi-Fi hotspots are precious. For some reason, I glance up toward the street for a split second and I see a tall blond guy walk by. I quickly ran into the street and called out his name, and it was our friend from the night before. We invited him to eat with us, but since he had already eaten he just stayed for drinks.
What was originally planned to be a dinner at 5pm turned into multiple rounds of 80-cent mojitos at a bar nearby and a plan formed to travel together. We ended up traveling together for about two weeks across four cities.
We Missed A Tour But Kept Trying
In Florence, a group from the hostel went to check out Michaelangelo’s David, and after, we split up to do other things in the city, with the possibility of meeting at a free walking tour later on. Our group hadn’t eaten yet, so we went to go get something to eat.
We wound up being late and the tour had already left, but we decided to see if we could catch up and find the tour anyway. We went to the second stop and didn’t see the tour there either, so we decided to walk back to the hostel while taking a slight detour as the third tour stop was on the way back.
We found the tour on the third stop, and there a girl complimented my friend on his University of Wollongong jumper. It turned out that she was from “around Sydney” as well. The tour guide was really boring and hard to understand, so we decided to ditch the tour and return to the hostel, and the Australian girl decided to come with us.
We met up with two more friends at the hostel that we previously split up with and decided to walk around and explore Florence on our own. That day ended as one of the perfect days, and I ended up visiting my Australian friend later on in Kraków a month later (Editor's note: and writing for her magazine 😉)
I Went On The Wrong Tour
A friend I met in Florence, who was from the south of Austria, met me in Vienna because I mistakenly thought that that’s where she was from. After Vienna, I went to Budapest and went solo to a free walking tour, only to join a different free walking tour that was meeting close to the same spot because it was the first one that I found.
That day ended up as one of the perfect days
Later on, I asked someone to take my picture for me and I found out that the group consisted of students from the same town as my friend I met in Vienna. I then took out my phone and pulled up my friend’s Facebook and asked if they knew her, and not only did they know her, one of them was actually good friends with her and she was actually supposed to join them in Budapest.
It ended up that she had cancelled on going to Budapest so she could meet me in Vienna. On top of that, they were actually supposed to be on the same tour I originally was planning to go on, but missed making that tour because there was an eclipse that morning and they were trying to find a way to view it.
A Kiwi Was Late For The Bus
I arrived in Bangkok early in the morning to meet with a friend to travel to Siem Reap. While wandering around the night before, my friend had found a travel agency with a good price for a bus into Siem Reap, but she didn’t know what time it left. We arrived around 8.15 and found out that the bus was scheduled to leave at 7.30, but that they would call and see if the bus had left yet.
It hadn’t left yet because a Kiwi guy had booked a seat and they were still waiting for him to show up. We excitedly booked what turned out to be the last two seats on the bus and headed off to Cambodia. What we thought would be an afternoon arrival turned out to be a 12-hour ordeal involving multiple busses, split up groups and scammy travel companies, but in the end, we bonded with the Kiwi guy and two British girls.
We were in different hostels for the first night but decided to meet up later that night for drinks. The next day, my friend and I switched to their hostel and I ended up traveling together with them for the next 10 days in Cambodia.
In the last 13 months that I’ve been on the road, I have probably been alone for less than two weeks combined. Sometimes, my destinations include going somewhere to meet friends or family, but many times I’ve headed off to somewhere without knowing a soul and wound up meeting not just friends, but traveling companions, on the first day.
You may think that you’d have to be quite extroverted and social to meet so many people, but to be honest I actually tend toward being more introverted. One of the things I learned about traveling solo is that it isn’t hard to meet people, the hardest part is saying goodbye.
About the Author: Mike Ian
Originally from LA, USA, Mike likes mushrooms and climbing up things. While not the most graceful, he rarely ever falls. His nemesis is slippery surfaces. You can find him stumbling on uneven sidewalks in cities across the world.