Offline networking: tips on travelling solo
comment 7 Written by on July 9, 2010 – 9:27 pm

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During my recent stay in Miami I decided to take my travel networking offline. How? With the oldest trick in the book. It goes a little something like this…

1) Go to bar
2) Sit at the bar
3) Order a drink
4) Get out a notebook
5) Wait

In my experience, sooner or later, someone will come up and ask what you are writing about.

In Miami, I was also blessed with some good luck. On my first night, I went to Haitian restaurant Tap Tap and I didn’t even have chance to get to step 4. I asked the barmaid who owned the bar and she said ‘You’re sitting right next to him’. Before long, we were engaged in deep conversation, broken only when he disappeared to fetch props (and people) to illustrate his point – a Haitian DVD here, a map there, until finally he brought me to meet Manno Charlemagne, a revolutionary musician who also served as mayor of Port-au-Prince and who now plays in the bar every week.

Luck plays a big part, but open-mindness and an ability to go with the flow is even more crucial. Also, I should point out that there are a few sub-rules to the above plan:

a) A notebook works better than a laptop. Hiding behind a screen makes you look unapproachable.

b) Go easy on the alcohol. No one wants to talk to the strange drunkard. As a solo female traveller, you definitely don’t want to be this person.

c) Mid-afternoon to early evening during midweek is the best moment. Not at 10pm on a Saturday. In the latter scenario, you’ll lose the aura of an enigmatic stranger who just happens to have popped in for a little refreshment between other plans and instead you’ll look more like a loser with no one to hang out with on a Saturday night.

d) Note that this technique doesn’t always work. Sometimes you have to be prepared to make the first move yourself. Or sometimes you don’t meet anyone at all. If you’re comfortable with your own company for half an hour or so and not completely starved of company, this shouldn’t be a problem.

e) Sit at the bar, not at a table hidden away in the far corner. Similarly, don’t go and bother the person already sitting at the table hidden away in the far corner. They picked that for a reason. People sitting at the bar are the ones more open to spontaneous chat with strangers.

f) Have a good opening gambit. When someone asks me what I am writing and I say ‘notes for an article about this city’, 99% of people have an opinion they want to share. However, if you’re not a journalist, a dose of genuine interest does the job just fine. “I’m jotting down some of my favourite spots in town” will often do it. “Really? What have you got?” they’ll ask, before no doubt telling you what you’ve missed.

g) Don’t expect to instantly make life-long friends. Just look at it as a nice, little interlude and the potential chance to get a few local tips. Anything else is a bonus. (Like the time on the same Miami trip when I got talking to the Argentinian barmaid and realised we had a mutual friend from Buenos Aires, and we then proceeded to hangout for two days straight.)

h) On the flipside of the coin, if you’re the local, note that not everyone writing in a bar wants to be interrupted. Body language is key.

For most of us, it takes a bit of courage to walk into a bar or restaurant alone. I remember the first time I did it I was on on assignment in Girona. I didn’t really enjoy it. I made the mistake of picking a cute little pizza place, best suited to groups of friends and couples, and I went a peak time. It wasn’t awful but I was convinced everyone was staring at me.

I think the first time you do this is always going to be awkward. These days, I don’t care. In fact, sometimes I relish the moment of being alone and I deliberately hide behind my laptop. When I am feeling more sociable, I find that the best stories and encounters often happen when you are travelling alone.

Aside from staying in hostels, going on group tours and using online travel-networking websites, does anyone else have any tips for travelling solo? Does the idea freak you out? Any tales from how you got over the fear?

And if you’re not comfortable travelling alone, relax. You don’t have to do this to prove you’re a more worthy traveller. I’ll leave you with this unusual post entitled: I’m a travel writer and I’m terrified of travelling alone by Canadian writer Carlos Alcos. Also see back to this previous post about how travelling with ‘a giant monster tyre‘ has worked for some…

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons Marcin Wichary

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7 Responses to “Offline networking: tips on travelling solo”

  1. Great article, Vicky! I’m glad you enjoyed your trip to Miami. We’ll have to catch each other on our next trips!

  2. Thanks Michelle. I pass through v briefly on my way back to BA. I’m not sure i’ll have much time to get out into town, but if I do, I’ll give you a shout.

  3. This is fantastic, Vicky. I love this post. What worked before the social media wave still works—differently (and often better) than the admittedly enthralling social media-driven tools. And Tap Tap is amazing, no? It’s my favorite spot in South Beach.

  4. Thanks Alex. I *loved* Tap Tap! Great decor, great music, great people, great food and great mojitos – what more does a person need? Well worth stepping off the main drag at South Beach.

  5. Hey, awesome ideas! I’ve only recently started blogging in earnest about my travel and expat experiences; but even aside from blogging, that sounds like a great way to meet people or just to get some of your ideas down about a place. I sometimes have a hard time expressing my opinions about a place when put on the spot, but if I’ve written something down it tends to help. Also not the most naturally outgoing person, despite having traveled alone a fair amount, so this sounds like a good way to get out there and have some interesting experiences. I’m always looking to meet locals, but if you’re not one of those loud and charismatic people it doesn’t always work out the way you want…

    Check out my blog if you’re interested. wandererfrombirth.blogspot.com

  6. Great article, Vicky! I’m glad you enjoyed your trip to Miami. We’ll have to catch each other on our next trips!

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