It seems like everywhere you turn, we’re inundated with the message that alcohol is needed to have a good time. If you’re hanging out with friends, enjoy a beer. Having a romantic night out? Have some wine. Celebrating a milestone event? Champagne for everyone! It seems like it’s a necessity to have fun and meet people.
Traveling is about the journey and the destination, not about alcohol. Not drinking abroad is the same as not drinking at home and you can have just as much fun with friends who are drinking event though you aren’t consuming.
But what if you’re sober or don’t enjoy drinking? How do you meet people when everyone else is having a drink at the hostel bar or at dinner with your new friends? You want to fit in with your new friends but you don’t want to stick out and be the only one not drinking. Here are some tips to help you avoid the situation or get through it without the awkwardness.
Why you may NOT want to drink
Sometimes we put a lot of emphasis on why we won’t do something that we sometimes forget why we shouldn’t do something. Refraining from drinking may not be as bad as you might think.
Even before I stopped drinking, I actually didn’t drink too much as a whole when I traveled. The reason is that I wanted to stay sharp if I had to find my way back to the hotel. I learned pretty quickly that the city looks drastically different at night vs. during the day while in Paris. I was coming back late at night from the train station and mistakenly took a wrong turn. It took me a few hours to find my way back and I was almost debating to just sleep on a park bench somewhere and hope I wasn’t mugged. I think it was close to 4am when I finally found my way back.
Safety is also important because we all tend to do stupid things when we’ve had a few. But as tourists, we have no way of knowing ALL the laws of a country and we certainly don’t know the punishments. If you were to get arrested in a foreign country for doing something stupid and you don’t speak the language, how much more difficult is it going to be to get yourself out?
I put a lot of thought into safety when I travel because if something goes wrong, I only have me to get out of trouble. I can’t predict everything that will happen and there are certainly events that can occur that are out of my control. But I certainly want to be able to control what I can and being sharp in a foreign country so I don’t do anything stupid or put myself in a vulnerable or compromising position is something I can control.
Be Honest (if you want)
I don’t have a problem telling people that I don’t drink and I don’t have any problems being upfront about my recovery. I haven’t met ANYONE who didn’t respect that from the start. If I did, I wouldn’t want to hang out with that person very long. I’ve been offered countless drink in countless bars and I’ve always stuck with a water or a soda. To be honest, after everyone else has a few, they completely forget that I’m not drinking.
If you have other reasons for not drinking, you can just say you don’t like the taste or how it makes you feel afterwards. Maybe it’s a religious thing or maybe you’re allergic. It’s your choice so others can take it or leave it. I’ve used the allergic excuse just to avoid a long discussion. I also like to wake up early so that I can walk around a city when it’s nice and quiet to take photos so I’ll use the early wake up call as a reason to not drink.
Whatever the reason, if these “friends” can’t accept me without alcohol, I’ll find other people. I’ve just never run into that problem. I think I would find it so rude that I would immediately just turn and walk away and never look back.
How to meet people without drinking?
There’s nothing that says you can’t have a good time and join in the revelry with your friends without having a drink. You can still go with your new friends on a pub crawl or clubbing if you want. What you decide to drink is up to you.
But if you don’t want to be in that situation, how else can you meet people? Here are few things that have worked for me.
I don’t do organized tours very often but sometimes it’s unavoidable. If you’re going out on a tour of some islands, unless if you have your own private boat, you’ll more than likely be sharing a boat with a lot of other people. The fact that you’re all enjoying the same experience is a good starting point for common ground. I’ve met some incredible and fun loving people through these day tours that turned into meeting up later for dinner and other activities.
Day trips can be anything from an organized tour to go swimming to a food tasting tour where you go to different locations to try different local cuisine. They’re usually small groups of about 10 people so you get to know a few people pretty well. The one thing I wouldn’t recommend is trying to meet people where you’re trying to listen to someone. For example, if you’re doing a guided tour of the Louvre, I wouldn’t consider that a great opportunity to meet people. You want some “dead’ time in between where there is nothing to do but talk and get to know one another.
Other examples are things like bike tours, segway tours, or just free walking tours. If you’re in Sydney, do the Harbor Bridge Tour. The groups are small and by the end, you’ll feel like you just made 6 new friends.
Strike up a conversation on a train
A lot of older trains have compartments where there are 6-8 people in each and they’re all shared. Not only is it a great place to meet locals and get advice, it’s also a great time to practice your language skills.
My best example is when I was on the train from Marrakech to Fes in Morocco. On the last leg of the train, an older man came and sat in the compartment where I was sitting. We ended up having a great conversation and it turned out he was a guide. He took me all over Fes and the outskirts where I would have never gone had we not spoken. He volunteered his time for 2 days only because he loved his city so much. At then end, I didn’t really have that much money and I really wanted to give him something for his hospitality. All he said was, just pay whatever you want if it’s important to you. I’ve never had a more wonderful experience.
Sign up for a cooking class or a pottery class. Or whatever they hand make in that area that you find interesting. You’re again in a situation where you have a common interest and then build on that. You’ll also get a souvenir of whatever you made or get to eat whatever you cooked as well.
Meet People Everywhere
The fact is, you can and will meet people anywhere and everywhere. You just have to be open to striking up a conversation. If you meet other solo travelers, even better because they’re probably just as excited to meet someone new as well. And none of this involves alcohol. I’ve been with random people as we try to climb to the top of a bell tower or find a specific restaurant. If you’re open to meeting people, my guess is you’ll have ample opportunity to make new friends.
Why are you there?
If you’re struggling to meet people on your trip, ultimately ask yourself, why are you there? Is it specifically to meet people? Or is it enjoy the sites of the location? Put another way, is meeting people going to make or break your experience? Or is it just going to enhance it? We all want the best time possible. But if you were to travel solo to the middle of the Serengeti to see some amazing animals, would your time be ruined since you didn’t have anyone else there?
I really enjoy the experience of travel and take joy from seeing something new. That is my main focus when traveling. If I meet people along the way, the better. But it certainly isn’t going to make or break my trip. To be honest, depending on who I meet, it might actually make my trip worse.
I say this because it sometimes feels like we put so much pressure on ourselves to meet people that a simple topic like not drinking becomes a point of worry for some people. Sure, it might be easier to meet people in social settings like a bar. But that still doesn’t mean you need alcohol to have a good time and hang out.
Don’t overthink the situation and don’t feel pressured to do anything you’re not comfortable with. That’s the whole point of solo travel. No compromises. It might as well be the motto for all solo travelers.