Where to Meet Other Travelers on Your Europe Trip
Traveling alone is an adventure and experience in itself. But chances are you’ll reach a point where you want to share some travel stories, and maybe a beer or two, with a real life person. Fortunately, Europe is crawling with Eurailers and you’ll easily meet other travelers. And if you’re after new local friends, chances are you can make a few of them as well.
Places to meet other travelers in Europe
Hostels offer more than just budget-friendly accommodation and free WiFi – they’re also fantastic places to meet other travelers. Over the course of my trips I’ve met people in hostels who’ve been fleeting friends with whom to visit new museums. I’ve also formed lasting relationships with people from all over the world, who turned into extended travel friends.
Hostels are packed full of people eager to brag about their adventures. Don’t be that guy. As tempting as it is to brag about your incredible experience in Cinque Terre, or how drunk you got at Oktoberfest, your stories are unlikely to win you new travel buddies. Ask people about their trips – their highs and lows, favorites and recommendations. It’s a great way to learn about potential places to visit, and to make lasting personal connections. And if you’re really stuck for an ice-breaker, the old cliché “So where are you from?” usually does the trick.
2. Bars and restaurants
I walked alone past the window of Sub Rosa in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, sometime after dinner, and looked longingly at the small groups of people in the dim light seated around high-top tables playing cards, drinking beer, and chatting enthusiastically.
“Not much to lose,” I thought. Then I stepped inside to order a beer before heading to my temporary AirBnb home down the street. I sat down at a table adjacent to three young women from the U.S. deep into a game of cards, and decided to use the atmosphere to catch up on some trip notes in a pocket book. But before long they’d invited me to join their table, to accompany them to the next bar – or three – and hang out over the subsequent days in the city.
Drinking or eating alone is not just for the lonely. But if you’re self conscious about a table for one, avoid the temptation to flick through your phone. You’ll learn nothing and be totally cut off from your surroundings. Notebooks and pens, or even actual books – remember those? – make for much better bar or restaurant entertainment.
The very first time I set foot on a train in Europe, I met two of the most interesting and inspirational individuals of all my trips combined.
I’d just boarded a shiny new RailJet train from Budapest to Vienna and unknowingly sat myself down in a previously reserved seat. Jerry and Lorna, two 80-something travelers from the States on a last hurrah around central Europe, witnessed the commotion and sparked up a conversation. We shared stories and exchanged email addresses. Although our plans to meet up in Vienna never materialized, that brief but rich social interaction has stayed with me all this time.
Perhaps because there’s the ability to escape an annoying neighbor, or because breaking the ice is so easy (just throw in a “Where are you heading?”), trains can be amazingly social. Much more social than many other forms of long-distance travel. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for other passengers pulling out the iconic Eurail Pass, or the Eurail wristband. Ask them where they’re heading or where they’ve been. You’ll have an easy conversation starter, and possibly a new friend with whom to explore your next destination.
4. AirBnb and Couchsurfing
Four nights in the Spanish party hostel was about all I could handle. Don’t get me wrong. The electric social atmosphere, free dinners, and nightly trips to bars and clubs were all fantastic. But eventually the somewhat repetitive small talk and 2am club missions took their toll.
I hesitated before checking out – I’d leave behind a few dozen instant friends in one of the most vibrant cities in Europe. But a room in an AirBnb apartment nearby served as the perfect middle ground. While I didn’t spend much time with the two hosts, they were a wealth of insider tips and useful info. They offered interesting small talk and insight into the city, and also gave me enough space to explore the city at my own speed and relax in a large, private room. And it was all for less than the price of a hostel dorm.
If you’re on an even tighter budget and happy to forgo a private room, give CouchSurfing a go. CouchSurfing hosts are often more engaging than AirBnb hosts. Chances are you’ll have a new local friend willing to show you around, or at least point you in the right direction during your stay.
To meet other travelers is great, but to meet locals can be even better. There are few better ways to do this than by renting a room, or borrowing a couch, in a local apartment.
A few days in San Sebastian’s off-season – as in, being the only occupant in the hostel – started to take its social toll. Miguel, the friendly Basque host, couldn’t speak much English. My Spanish and Basque aren’t exactly up to scratch either. I figured I could use some company on that night’s pintxo run in the old town. Rachael was an expat English teacher eager to converse in her mother tongue for the first time in a while. She agreed to show me around her favorite spots. Over the next few days I discovered bars, restaurants, and coffee shops that I’d never have tracked down – nor had as much fun in – if I’d ventured out alone.
Forget the connotations and stigma. The app that everyone loves to hate is actually a pretty useful way to meet new friends on the road. Ask people if they want to hang out – or even if they just have a recommendation or two – and chances are you’ll have a new friend to show you around for a few days.
5. Free walking tours
Maria was a friendly, passionate and engaging Porto walking tour guide. She would visit the hotel breakfast room I was staying in to entice new people to come on her tours. I resisted the tours most mornings, thinking I had a better plan for the day. But eventually I decided to go along for the ride.
I met a handful of other travelers from hostels and hotels throughout Porto on that tour. I also learnt a significant amount of interesting info about Maria’s home city. Not only that, but Maria joined me and my new walking tour friends for drinks later that night. And the next night, when all my traveler friends had departed, she invited me out with her friends to experience a unique folk dancing evening somewhere in the heart of the city.
6. Eurail parties and meetups
Eurailers instantly have a lot in common. There are few better places to meet fellow rail travelers than at official parties and meetups. This year’s Eurail summer party in Budapest allowed pass holders free access to a fun-filled night aboard a boat on the Danube. Meanwhile, Eurail meetups allow you to meet other travelers and staff who can share insights, suggestions, or simply a beer or two.
Traveling alone is great, but making new friends and sharing moments with strangers makes a trip that much richer. Don’t worry if you’re stuck for company on your Eurail adventure. These tips may just help you meet someone new and interesting to hang out with for a few hours, days, or even months.