Making friends in a hostel isn’t always easy.
In this article, we’ll talk about a few simple, natural ways to form friendships in hostels with fellow travelers without forcing awkward exchanges or hurt feelings over potential rejections.
Like many things, making friends can get harder the more we try due to the ways our brains are impacted by scarcity, In scarcity mode, we tend to push away the very thing we want or need most (see this this NPR podcast for more), so it’s important to be extra kind to yourself when working hard to make new friends while traveling.
How to Make Friends in a Hostel, 10 Tips:
Tip #1: Avoid prioritizing new relationships over your travel goals
Sometimes, when we’re on the road and feeling lonely, it can be tempting to toss aside our heavily researched and much-anticipated itinerary to tag along with new acquaintances for a bit.
Be careful, however, when making decisions that sacrifice the goals that you have set for yourself for a fleeting connection.
It’s true that at times it is a priority to be intentional about connecting with others (especially during long-term solo travel where connections are an important aspect of travel self care), but if your trip is brief and very full, and you’ll soon be headed home to the people and relationships you miss, you may want to skip socializing and stick to your itinerary.
Tip #2: Invite new friends for a morning or afternoon out, but leave evening plans open
Although it is common in hostels for new friends to be made over evening drinks, if you are a solo traveler, especially a solo female traveler, socializing over drinks is not the safest way to make new connections.
Instead, invite new acquaintances out for a daytime excursion. Get up early and explore a market, museum, or tourist hotspot together where you can get to know new acquaintances while fully sober.
(NOTE: As I covered in my tips for solo traveler safety, you should be wary of someone who is a little too friendly, comfortable, or agreeable to quickly as this can be a red flag of various scams that prey on lonely travelers).
Tip #3: Show curiosity and interest
Just like back at home, telling the best stories or showing off the mos impressive itinerary may not be the best way to make authentic connections with other travelers.
Instead, show interest in others’ travels. Ask questions about their itinerary and let them feel like an expert by telling you their tips for visiting destinations that you might enjoy. If asked to offer advice on their upcoming travels to places you have been, ask them about their travel style and what they enjoy before offering advice. When people feel valued and listened to, an authentic connection is more likely to form.
Sometimes, striking up a conversation with another traveler is as simple as asking, “so where are you from?” This simple question is generic but that’s kind of its power- it’s not too specific or aggressively friendly but it casually invites someone into a conversation about who they are and where they are from. Yes, you’ll have this conversation over and over if you talk to many other travelers, but each time will be different if you pay attention and really listen to what the other person is saying.
Tip #4: Hang out in the common spaces
While in many hostels a dorm room can feel like a communal space, respectful travelers may avoid striking a conversation in resting spaces out of consideration for other travelers.
Signal that you are free and open to having conversations by spending time in your hostel’s common spaces like kitchens, lounges, or dining areas. If you don’t want to look overly eager and ready to pounce into the conversation, consider working on a travel journal or travel hobby as a way to both keep yourself occupied and as a prompt for striking up conversations.
Tip #5: Sign up for group excursions
Although the quality of hostel-hosted tours can vary dramatically (from chaotic and unorganized to well-curated guides to the hidden treasure of a city), there’s one thing you can count on from hostel-hosted tours: conversations.
While many hostel travelers are more interested in their travel itineraries than making friends, folks who sign up for group excursions generally do so because they want to spend time with other travelers. Group excursions are also a great way to get some great photographs of yourself while solo traveling.
Tip #6: Bond over shared interests
After a conversation in a hostel common space or on a hostel guided tour, the next step is to invite someone with who you felt a connection to accompany you out on an excursion. While generic travel outings are fine – most cities have a few locations that everyone wants to visit – you may find yourself able to create a more meaningful connection by bonding over affinities, aka shared interest.
For example, if, while printing and pasting photos in your travel scrapbook, someone strikes up a conversation about their own interest in photography or travel sketching, you might invite them to spend the next morning with you photographing a particular landmark or sketching at a café with a great view. Spending time together with a purpose also helps move conversation along during lulls that could otherwise be awkward.
Tip #7: Be willing to use our practice other languages
If you know another language- even at a beginner level – your ability to communicate with people who are not English speakers can help you to connect with people who speak languages other than English. Google translate can help bridge the gap where your own language skills are limited, but you might be surprised how much you enjoy a new friend even though it’s a struggle to communicate. Traveling with them for a few hours or more may even give you insight into a different perspective on the world.
Tip #8: Adopt a learning mindset with a trial and error approach
Listen, making friends is hard, and just because you are in a hostel alongside other solo travelers doesn’t mean making friends will necessarily be easy. The trick, much like forming any other kind of relationship, is to put yourself out there and to not beat yourself up if the first, sixth, or 12th conversation with a stranger fizzles out.
Travel is all about getting outside of our comfort zone, and if making friends is a goal for you, then give yourself the permission to take risks. Be curious, experiment with new ways of engaging others, and commit to yourself not to shame spiral while doing the very brave work of taking a risk.
Some solo travelers even enjoy centering parts of their personality that in their day-to-day life are less pronounced. For example, if you work a 9-to-5 office job in HR, but your passion is creating art, perhaps you might intentionally choose, for the length of your hostel stay, to introduce yourself as an artist and engage with other people in the way that your artist-self directs. Doing so can help you get to know parts of yourself and you may even decide that the experiment worked so well that you’ll make those behaviors more common when you return home.
Tip #9: Make friends using food
Building relationships through hospitality is as old as humanity. Making and sharing a meal is one of the easiest ways to make a new friend in a hostel.
If your hostel has a kitchen available to guests, one of the best ways to make new friends is to pop over to a local market to purchase a few basic ingredients and make a simple meal to offer to other hostel guests.
You don’t need to spend a lot, or have impressive culinary skills. Simple boxed pasta and canned sauce is a meal that can gather other budget-conscious travelers, and a meal like chicken and rice is a heartwarming meal that can be prepared 1,000 different ways using local ingredients. Click here for more ideas for recipes that can be easily prepared with just a few ingredients in a hostel or Airbnb kitchen.
Tip #10: Use social media or friend apps
If striking up a conversation in a hostel with potential new friends is terror-inducing, turn to the Internet.
A number of travelers report that using dating apps has resulted in enjoyable connections with other travelers and locals. Meet-up groups may also be an option. If you’re in one destination for a few weeks, consider looking for a group of ex-pats from your home country.
When I moved across the country from Seattle to a lower cost of living city, so I could afford to travel more often and for longer periods, I used Bumble BFF – a spinoff of the popular dating app Bumble – to connect with locals in my new city who were also seeking new friends.
What if I don’t want to make friends in a hostel?
For many, many solo travelers, travel is time away from the pressures of relationships, friends, partners, and families. It’s okay if your focus while traveling is not on meeting new people are forming new relationships. For some people, meeting new people is an enjoyable part of travel, while for others it’s not. Everyone has their own travel style and making space for each other enhances everyone’s travel experience.
Hostel life can be tough, especially if you’re traveling for an extended period of time. Relationships, connections, and even single conversations are essential for thriving during long-term travel. Along with conquering the challenge of sleeping in a hostel, making friends in hostels can be a key way to support positive solo travel experiences and sustainable travel.
Lynli Roman’s unique approach to travel is informed by decades of experience on the road with a traveling family and, later, years spent as a solo international traveler. When she’s not writing about Seattle from her Pike Place Market apartment, Lynli writes on-location while conducting hands-on research in each destination she covers. Lynli’s writing has been featured by MSN, ABC Money, Buzzfeed, and Huffington Post. She is passionate about sharing information that makes travel more accessible for all bodies.