There’s a certain romanticism in the life of an intrepid solo traveller—solitary and stoic—braving venturing unto new frontiers. But do you want to know the truth?
Some of my warmest, happiest, and most sincere memories from the road are of experiences shared travelling with a friend.
Now, that’s not necessarily to say a friend from home. No, rather, a travel buddy that I met on the road. People that, astonishingly quickly, became treasured friends and companions.
Because that’s the underlying magic of finding a travel buddy: it’s a shared experience, and that makes it more real. Suddenly, there’s someone to tell that story with—someone to reminisce with. At the one-year reunion, the two-year reunion, or, hell, maybe (if you’re lucky enough), then when you’re old and grey and still complaining about the price of cigarettes together.
And that’s exactly why I want to teach you how to find a travel buddy! Because remembering and sharing those stories together… that’s more special than the travels themself.
We’ll be covering the basics today, i.e. how to make a friend (in case you missed that 101). But also the peripherals: how to find a travel buddy online AND offline, the (more practical) benefits of travelling with friends, and even the stampeding elephant in the room that is the variable of gender.
Why Travel with a Stranger?
Ok, so ‘stranger’ is a bit rough. Sure, when you first meet a travel buddy they’ll be a stranger, but that’s the beauty of travel relationships: they get real deep real fast.
Imagine a friend that you see every day of your life, be it for 3 days or 3 months. Every decision is shared, resources are shared, stories—new and old—are shared. Rapidly, this person becomes a staple and constant in your life.
It sounds almost like a… real relationship, right?
But it is, essentially, albeit platonically (most of the time).
If the idea that you won’t find a travel partner is holding you back from travelling, that’s daft. Short of disappearing into the frozen expanses of the Alaskan tundra, you will never be alone. Often, alone time can almost be like black gold for a traveller.
The world is a big place, and no matter how hard you try, you’re never really alone.
The Benefits of Travelling with a Friend
Outside of all the esoteric mumbo-jumbo about meeting people to travel with and forming lifelong kinships of an almost spiritual substance, there are heaps of logistical reasons to travel with someone!
- Saving money – Duh—budget backpacking 101! Someone to split costs with means spending less money overall.
- Taking nicer rooms – Kind of an offshoot of the last point but think about all the private room options that will open up if you’re sharing. You can take swanky Airbnbs at a steal or share grimy single rooms (with one person on the floor) for a pittance!
- Sharing resources – “Hey, dude, got any mozzie spray?”
- Someone to watch your back – Safety in numbers, naturally, but not just that. You’ve got someone to watch your stuff when you wander off for a piss or to talk to on the long train rides. It’s the little things.
- They might not finish their meal – Cha-ching!
- Photo-ops – You’re gonna be featured in way more Insta-basic-beach-poser shots with someone around to take them.
A Message from Will – The OG Broke Backpacker:
Travelling with a friend is not only epic fun and good for your budget, but it is also a very effective way to minimize risk. If you get sick or injured, your buddy can look after you.
Whilst in India, I literally carried a friend (who was suffering from anaphylactic shock) on my shoulder to a medical clinic where he was injected with adrenaline. In Nepal, I slipped (whilst suffering from altitude sickness) and ended up hanging over an icy ridge with a sheer drop below me. My trekking buddy was able to pull me back onto the path and quite realistically saved my patootie.
Amigos, trust the buddy system.
Travelling with a Friend from Home
Personally, I’m not a fan of the ‘bring a friend’ method. You know how sometimes friends choose to live together and then they discover they’re shit housemates and it gets petty and causes schisms within the whole friendship group? (No, you’re a projection!)
I know the dream is to have your mates from home tag along for the adventure, but a dream can quickly turn to a lucid nightmare. Once your travelling—solo or with a travel buddy—you’ll discover the glory of freedom. Both the freedom of the road and freedom from home.
Travel is a chance to be free of the perceptions of who you are held by the people closest to you. It’s a chance to grow, develop, and learn about yourself, with yourself, in brand new and unprecedented scenarios. Bringing a friend from home along to that experience is like sneaking a flask into an AA meeting.
I wouldn’t say doggedly avoid travelling with a friend from home. I would, however, suggest to experience travel in its fullest before you bring that home-friend.
A home-friend, or, yes, a partner, is—to be blunt—a ball-and-chain. A travelling friend is someone you meet on the road. You have no unspoken contract to uphold; if it goes south, then so do you (while they go north).
A friend you travel with, however, has all sorts of potential to get messy, and it’s not a good first-time introduction into the backpack-o-sphere. It’s a commitment and one that works counter-intuitively to the freedom of travel.
It can be a real restriction.
Will here again!
While planning an entire backpacking trip with a friend (or friends) can lead to surefire disaster, a short stint through the crazies of Asia or clubs of Europe is a blast!
When it comes to getting my friends to come out and travel with me for a bit, I am absolutely a convincing bastard! What I like to do on longer trips is to make a Facebook group, add my favourite homies, and then post my—extremely rough—itinerary and any general directional updates. That way, people can work out where I’m heading and decide if they’d like to swing by for an interlude.
I tend to much prefer to go my own way during the adventures, but seeing the peeps from back home is always such a heartwarming experience, especially in the reaches of some far-flung land. It may just take some persistence to convince them. 😉
Travel Alone or with Someone: Shoulda Put a Ring on It
While travelling with a friend may be the dream, solo travel is the real journey. If you find a travel buddy, you’re not solo travelling, and that, simply by nature, is restricting.
As a solo traveller, you’re living on a whim. Anywhere you go is entirely in your hands. And experiences come a lot more frequently as a result of your solitude.
- Hitchhiking alone is easier.
- Meeting locals is easier.
- Having someone host you is easier.
That’s not to say that this stuff doesn’t happen when travelling with someone. Only, it’s more restrictive.
A pair of exotic foreigners is a lot more daunting to approach than a single dazed soul. And you haven’t got to hash out decisions with someone either before you do something crazy in the spur of the moment. You do you.
However, you do lose a lot too. Travel isn’t about being alone: it’s about all the people you meet. It’s about all the things that they teach you, and all the things that you learn together. Meeting a travel buddy and earning a travel companion is a natural extension of that.
What I’m trying to say is that sometimes you just wanna smoke a joint by yourself. I get that—we all do. But, at the end of the day…
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How to Find a Travel Buddy Online
It’s the 21st-century. Of course, we’re doing this digitally! Isn’t the main reason to travel to be looking at your phone more?
Ok, so finding a travel buddy online may not be my favourite flavour, but it does work. There are no shortage of travel companion sites and ‘find a travel buddy’ apps fit for the purpose of hooking you up with some loose cannon through cyberspace.
The most obvious is social media and this does work:
- Facebook – Is the no brainer. Check general backpacking groups, backpacking groups for the country you’re in, groups for specific hobbies (hiking, climbing, etc.), or even ride offering/asking groups in the famous road trip countries (Australia/New Zealand/etc.).
- Instagram – Yeah, Insta does have its purposes; try posting a photo or story showcasing where you’re at now. Chances are someone you met on the road before will hit you up.
- Twitter – I’m not even going to pretend to be an expert on Twitter, but if you’re already an avid tweeter of twits, then I’m sure you know how to utilise it. I have heard success stories!
Your socials are already covering a lot of ground given that so many people—and travellers—are active users. But your also looking at a huge gene pool of many splendid examples of the lowest common denominator. There are no referrals, no rating system, and no barrier of entry.
They definitely have their uses, but there are plenty of much more nuanced travel friend apps and sites to find people to travel with.
Best Travel Buddy Apps and Sites
- GAFFL – On the reverse end of social media’s low threshold to sign up is GAFFL with its 4-step verification process—yikes! There’s a site with a yummy UX and an accompanying travel buddy app, plus you get some extra bonus features for planning the trip itinerary and securely splitting the costs even prior to the trip.
- Travel Buddies – Well the name certainly fits! It’s kinda like a social media platform with the explicit purpose of advertising your upcoming trips and seeing other peoples’. It’s pretty straightforward to contact people and overall a pretty clearcut travel buddy site.
- Meetup – It’s not actually a site for finding a travel companion but rather a site for group meetups and events—hiking, pub drinks, Taco Tuesdays, LGBTQ Taco Tuesdays. You may never meet a travel buddy through meetup, but you’ll definitely meet some friends!
- Backpackr – Just a straight app without a website. You can browse people’s profiles (so, yeah, it’s a bit dating-ish) and a ‘Common Room’ for asking questions, getting tips, and screaming into the void.
- 5W: Women Welcome Women Worldwide – I wanted to throw a ladies-only choice in, and this one is more like a worldwide network than just an app for meeting travellers. 5W is a non-profit that’s been around since 1984. You’ll have to complete an application process first to ensure you meet the prerequisites (i.e. having a vagina), but once you do, you’ll be given the keys to the kingdom: the members list with plenty of opportunities for attending gatherings or organising one-on-one meetings.
Then there are Traveller forums. They’re a dime a dozen for both seeking tips and finding travel buddies. If you’re not a massive fan of apps, these are the major players you should look at:
- Thorn Tree – Lonely Planet’s dedicated forums with an active community and a track record of helping travellers dating back to 1996.
- Tripadvisor forums – People ask a lot of questions over there too.
- Reddit – There are endless subreddits divided by different destinations, communities, and hobbies. Check out the Travel Partners and Solo Travel boards particularly.
Couchsurfing – A Broke Backpacker’s Secret Weapon
While the above apps certainly serve the cause, there’s only one platform that I believe takes the true crowning jewel of being the best app to find a travel buddy—Couchsurfing! I have Couchsurfed in all manner of weird and wonderful locales—Iran, Venezuela, and Jordan just to name a few—and I have always found the Couchsurfing community to be absolute gems.
As well as being a fantastic platform for finding free accommodation and meeting locals, Couchsurfing is also a great site and app for making travel friends. I have found numerous people through Couchsurfing’s groups who I have travelled with, and I’ve won some truly treasured friendships as a result.
The best group to look in is either the ‘Backpacker’ group or the ‘Travel Buddies’ group as well as checking out the specific group for whichever country or region you are travelling and Couchsurfing in. Often, people will post in country or city groups asking if other CSers are around for drinks, an adventure, or to see if anybody else is trying to find a travel mate. It’s also definitely worth heading to any local Couchsurfing meetups in your area too!
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How to Find a Travel Buddy Offline
Look, I’m old fashioned. I don’t like Tinder, I prefer paying in cash, and I do enjoy popping the odd Werther’s Original. Finding someone to travel with offline is my jam.
You’re going to meet travel companions organically as you travel alone (assuming you’re lovable with a winning smile). It’ll be in any number of differing formats too. They could be a:
- Solo human with an equally unquenchable thirst for the world’s most adventurous places.
- Pair of humans who are either previous friends or also travel buddies.
- Group of any size and connecting factor (though a group of all solo travellers is always madness of the finest calibre).
- Romantic pair of humans. This actually happens more often then you might think and is more-often-than-not excellent fun! Bonus points to the couples who argue in their native tongue for the sake of politeness.
There are probably other formats than this, but that’s the basics. And again, it will happen organically, even if you’re not lovable with a winning smile. (Unless, of course, you’re a total prick, but then you have bigger issues).
Meet Other Travellers (But Never Settle for Second-Best)
Do let it be organic. You’re a solo traveller! Be the badass motherfucking homeless-hero thou most certainly art.
Go and solo travel. Brave new ventures, be lonely sometimes, and make many, many new friends. When the right companion to travel with comes along, you’ll know it. Forcing this issue is just like forcing relationships – it doesn’t work out very well!
Usually, finding a travel buddy (or buddies) is a matter of something shared. A shared desire for the same off-beat adventure. Or it could be a shared matter of convenience—we were both going to the same place, but then we stayed together.
Often, for me, it’s just a shared love for the same simplicities in life: living cheap, travelling without money, eating local, smoking the finest dankeries, and, sometimes, sleeping under the stars. The dirtbag life.
My point is, don’t settle for mediocrity! You’re way too good for that. Wait until you meet travel buddies that truly deserve you.
Just do you, soak up the journey, and let the opportunity come to you. Ultimately, it’s gotta flow.
Places to Find a Travel Buddy Offline
If you’re steering clear of the apps and socials in your travels (or are just terrible at using them), then there are still some classic meeting points to find a travel mate:
- Hostels – Staying in backpacker hostels is the tried-and-true classical method to meet travellers and find someone to travel with. But remember to pick hostels that match your vibe.
- Work Exchange Programs – Absolutely! Things like Workaway, WWOOF, Worldpackers, HelpX, etc… doing these programs are tops places for meeting travellers. Particularly solo and long-term travellers.
- Public Transport – If you’re carving a typical backpacking route for any given place—say the Banana Pancake Trail in Southeast Asia—then you’ll always encounter travellers en route between the major destinations.
- On the Plane – You can find a travel buddy before you even leave the airport! Scout the plane and passengers (at the baggage claim is also a smart spot) for any smelly backpacker vagrant types, and ask them if they’d like to share a taxi to the nearest backpacker hub of whatever city you’ve landed in. A general rule: the cheaper the flight, the more likely you’ll walk into some fellow broke backpackers!
- Declaring a Grand Adventure – It’s happened to me no short number of times. You declare with great intention (no bluffing allowed) about some grand adventure you’re planning—say, hitchhiking across India or finding some legendary hidden mountain village. If the chances of death are still low enough, people are always gonna want to tag along.
Often, if the flow is right, someone that you met as a short-term travel buddy (say, on the bus) can end up being someone you travel with for a while. Sometimes, it can be a long while.
Seriously, work exchange programs are a brilliant method to meet other travellers. Given that the people you meet—not even counting the local friends that you’ll make—are more than likely going to be dedicated to the slow travel life (and to exploring a country away from the tourist bubbles), forming substantial friendships is just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
It also helps to know your way around the voluntourism sector, and how to choose worthwhile programs (ideally, with a steady influx of travellers). We have reviewed both Worldpackers and Workaway—two esteemed platforms for volunteering abroad—on this site. We’ve also got some tasty bonuses for readers that sign up!
Check it out!
The Ins-and-Outs of Travelling with a Buddy
Nobody said it was easy. No one ever said it would be this hard.
Yes, indeed, the man known as ‘Coldplay’ was correct. While sometimes it flows effortlessly, sometimes it is hard.
They’re not a true friend until you’ve seen them at their worst. They’re not a true friend until you’ve considered throwing them out of a 6-storey window.
If you’re going to choose to travel with a stranger, you’ve got to be prepared for some strangeness. Sometimes it gets tense. Sometimes it gets uneasy.
Finding a travel partner is only half the journey.
Oh Boy, We’re Discussing Genders
Yay for minefields! I really wanted to avoid this topic because finding a travel buddy should never be about the potential to get inside another traveller’s Thailand Elephant Pants. However, we can’t honestly pretend that gender isn’t an influencing factor and so… it’s into the abyss we go!
Yes, finding travel companions for singles, as a single, is definitely a thing. Finding love and sex while backpacking is a potential natural conclusion of this. Fairly often, it ends poorly once the honeymoon bubble of travelling together wears off; but it does work out too… sometimes.
BUT, it’s more important to shift your thinking away from that and to more consider the variable of gender, i.e. how gender affects travel.
I remember travelling with a friend—female and very much treasured—in Sri Lanka. She cracked the shits at me one night after dinner because I failed to see the host was ignoring her and taking executive decisions on the meal order from me: the man. Truthfully, I was completely oblivious; I was just pumped for dinner.
However, having a female travel companion does help create insight. Many parts of the world are substantially more difficult for a girl to travel in solo or otherwise (though certainly not impossible)…
The Arab World is tricky. South Asia is not the best either? South America is… mmm.
Being a female looking for a male travel partner in these parts of the world—while not a necessity—is smart. It does mitigate the intensity. With a couple of fake wedding rings thrown in, you’ll be coastin’.
If you do end up travelling with someone of the preferred gender and orientation you most enjoy diddling, again, you guys do you. Just remember the variable.
Dudes, stay aware of your female travel companions. Just stand a bit tighter in the surge of a crowded bazaar, or keep an eye on her drinks during a psy-banger in Goa. Remember that her experience will always be different.
As for the Mademoiselles travelling with a guy friend, just keep communicating: be chill, girl-bros. If you’re gonna crack the shits, do so gently. Sometimes, we’re just not paying attention.
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How to Travel with a Friend: On Fights
Yeah, arguments do happen on the road. Travel with a friend long enough, and, eventually, it’ll happen.
The first time I had an argument with a travel buddy, it got ferocious. Imagine two colourfully dressed hippies shoeless on the side of a New Zealand road screaming and cussing each other out—one in broad Australian, one in angry Japanese. That wasn’t our last argument either.
The next time I hitched long distance with someone, I warned him:
“Alright, dude. At some point, we’re gonna fight. We need to decide now, what we’ll do then.”
He thought I was joking.
“Oh, yeah, well how about we roll a joint on it.”
Several days later while being held semi-captive in a buttfuck-nowhere Indian village, we had our first fight, and that’s exactly what we did.
Assume it’ll happen, make the necessary plans in your head, and communicate well. When you find a travel companion, you’re gonna see that person every day. Often, for every meal.
Travelling relationships can be every bit as intense as romantic ones. The only difference is you don’t get the catharsis of a make-up bang afterwards.
How to Travel with Someone – Tips and Pointers
- Talk – And communicate; if you’re having an off-day—a case of the traveller blues—mention it. Talking is important, especially if it’s about something that affects the team.
- Share – If you’re both giving and taking fairly, you’ll end up a stronger team for it. Pool your resources!
- Don’t be an accountant – For big sums of money, sure, but keeping track of the little things is going to wear very thin. Often, it’s easier just to go 1:1 on buying each other chai, meals, bus fares, and whatever else.
- Take Space – When you feel you need it, and sometimes when you don’t too. Timeout is rarely the wrong choice.
- Compromise – You ain’t solo travelling anymore which means sometimes you’ll need to make concessions! Somedays, you’re just not going want to do the same thing.
And remember that word—team. Because that’s what you are. You’re a team working together towards a shared goal.
You gotta function as a unit.
Travel Alone or with Someone, but Get Insurance!
I once had a friend spot his travel buddy several grand when she got herself into a medical mess in Nepal (which is yet to be returned, to the best of my knowledge). Now, granted, he’s self-sacrificing to a fault, however, it’s a picture-perfect example of exactly why you should have travel insurance.
Because it ain’t you who’ll be cleaning up your mess.
All kinds of things can happen when you travel, and they do happen.
Be sure to consider some quality travel insurance sorted before you head off on an adventure! There are heaps of top insurance companies out there, but our favourite is World Nomads.
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And Now You Know How to Find a Travel Buddy!
And how to travel with them. It’s kinda cool, right?
Ding-dong—I’m a solo traveler!
For me, one of the greatest thrills of backpacking is to rock up somewhere completely new and meet a whole new crowd of people, travellers and locals alike. I have done a huge amount of solo, partnered, and group travel, and I highly recommend you have a crack at all of them.
Moreso, I can’t stress enough that if the fear of being alone is holding you back from travelling, it shouldn’t. One of the main reasons some would-be vagabonds never leave home is because they’re worried they won’t meet anyone and will be lonely. One of the lessons you’ll learn travelling is that that’s simply never going to happen.
The backpacker community is awesome; everybody is extremely friendly and, in general, people just want to meet-and-greet (the same as you). It’s really quite easy to find people to travel with. And the times that you are, you’ll still be having a damn good time!
It’s something someone said to me a long time ago: some things you can only learn in a relationship, and some things you can only learn on your own. I think the same is true of travel.
Travelling solo is only one part of travel as is travelling with a friend, buddy, stranger, partner, or even in a group. Don’t find a travel buddy because you’re scared. Be scared and be awesome, because the two aren’t mutually exclusive.
Travel in all ways, experience it in all forms, and when you do find travel buddies, experience that too. Because many of those shared stories—and those shared photos—will be the ones that inspire your kids to travel.
1+1=3… which is to say that a unit is greater than the sum of its parts. A team, a friendship, and travel buddies—when it’s right—are stronger together than they are apart. And the end results?
They’re worth all the stupid fights.
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