Use apps to turn strangers into friends
I don’t mind traveling and sightseeing on my own. I actually enjoy having the freedom to do whatever I want when I’m on vacation. However, I still find it awkward to have dinner by myself, let alone go out for drinks or to a club alone,” says Astrid Hofer, a journalist living in London.
Hofer’s not alone in her thinking – dinner is the meal that matters to many. But thanks to Couchsurfing, MeetUp and Tinder, you can control your dining destiny. Because, yes, even that dating app is also being used to find dinner and sightseeing companions.
While she has never actually used Couchsurfing for accommodations, Hofer does use its events features as a way to meet locals and find things to do. “One of my best memories was from a last-minute solo trip to Paris. As soon as I arrived, I posted a message to the group that I was there by myself and would love to meet people to explore the city with. Monica from LA answered straight away and we met for dinner that night and then every night until we both left.
“One night we watched fireworks from Montmartre while eating baguettes and cheese and sharing a bottle of French wine. That was in 2012 and we’re still in touch now. What I like most about the Couchsurfing app is that the majority of people are just looking for friends or company to go sightseeing, share a dinner or to hit a bar with.”
Christabel Lobo is a freelance writer and Hatha yoga teacher living in Washington, D.C. and Mysuru, India who has used Tinder as well as the dating app Hinge and social/dating app Bumble, both as a solo traveler and when traveling with friends. “I much prefer the opportunity to go out and explore the city together, be it going to a museum or park or meeting for a coffee.
“I always put in my profile that I’m visiting a particular city and looking for recommendations so they know what conversation to expect when we match. In Los Angeles, I met with a local street artist who offered me a tour of his neighborhood. I got to meet a lot of other creatives and discovered some hidden gems that even my friends living there had never heard of before. To this day, this is one of my favorite travel experiences,” she says.
‘You get to see how people live, eat, work and even how they enjoy their lives’
Kendra Valentine is a story strategist from Boston who was in Berlin for a month. “I was on a mission to not be in a relationship, because I was just out of one,” she says. “But because I don’t think it’s as much fun to eat alone, I went onto Tinder, posting that I was visiting and asking if someone could show me around the city and go out to dinner.”
She ended up chatting with a local. “I asked for a recommendation on where to get sneakers and he offered to take me to his favorite store – so we went shopping at Overkill, which is the best sneaker shop around, as well as PP Berlin. Then, we went for drinks at Zur Fetten Ecke and later we got a Döner kebab – he knew the best spot in the area, called Bagdad Bistro. We stayed out for hours and really made a connection.”
Valentine found the perfect Berlin tour guide and the couple quickly discovered that they had more in common than the same taste in sneakers – so much so in fact, that she ended up moving to Berlin, and three years later, they’re still together.
Another option for travelers is Meetup, a platform for meeting people and trying everything from surfing and skateboarding to cooking and dancing. Katja Hvenmark Nilsson is a high school teacher living in Stockholm who uses it both while traveling and at home.
“I’m not afraid of going to museums or tourist sights alone, I actually prefer it. So I mostly use Meetup in social environments. If I go clubbing I prefer to go in a group or at least to know that I will have someone to talk to there.”
In New York City, Nilsson used Meetup to join Fun and Fabulous Girlfriends of New York. “It’s a group of ladies who had brunch on Sundays, went shopping, met up at sky bars after work and so on. The second group I joined was called Shut up and Write – we met up at cafés with our laptops and did exactly that,” she says.
Meetup also provided Nilsson with one of her most memorable nights in Manhattan – a river cruise. “It was a 1940s theme, so everyone was dressed up in that style. There was a live band playing swing music and people were dancing on deck. I looked up as we passed by the Statue of Liberty – I’ll never forget it.”
Nilsson is proof that you just can’t beat hanging out with the locals to find amazing experiences. Likewise, Rosie Bell, a British author now living in Panama City has used Couchsurfing’s events feature to go on hikes, walking tours, do food tastings, take dance classes and more.
‘If I go clubbing I prefer to go in a group or at least to know that I will have someone to talk to there’
“It really helps you immerse yourself in a new place in an authentic way,” Bell says. “You get to see how people live, eat, work and even how they enjoy their lives. If you’re traveling solo and anxious about meeting people, it’s great for extending your social network.”
Published: July 16, 2019