By Charli Moore
“It must be difficult to make friends, don’t you get lonely?”
More often than not this is the first question I’m asked when I tell people that I travel the world solo, pet sitting through TrustedHousesitters.
In reality I actually find it very easy to socialize when I’m on the road. By stepping into the shoes of someone local to the region I’m visiting and caring for their home and pets, I also inherit their friends, relatives and neighbors who form the basis of my social circle and help me integrate into the community during my stay.
After over five years of traveling in this way I’ve a wealth of experience arriving at new destinations unsure of what my time there will entail. How can you make friends and build your social network when you travel solo?
Here’s my guide.
Make Connections Outside Of Your Usual Social Circle
Solo travel taught me social independence, how to leave my insecurities at the door, and encouraged me to “put myself out there”; but I must admit it wasn’t until faced with the prospect of traveling alone that I realized these were skills I lacked.
When you start planning your trip look for ways to connect with local people who can help you make the most of your stay.
During one of my first pet sits in America I joined a local quilting society after the homeowner had told me she was a member; by the end of my first class I’d an invite to a birthday party taking place a few days later. While there I met a yoga instructor who invited me along to her weekly class, and through her I was inducted into a fabulous group of friends who met once a week for an evening out.
After just a few days I had a network of people I could socialize with and call on for support. I no longer felt like an outsider just visiting, but a local experiencing the true culture of the region. These and other relationships I’ve made whilst pet sitting have lasted long after I’ve left the sits, and consequently I now have a number of lifelong friends in countries all over the world!
Find Safe, Free, Home-From-Home Style Accommodation
One of my first concerns when considering a solo trip was where to stay. As a single female I’m considerate in my choice of accommodation and have a checklist of features I look for. My main concern is security, but comfort and location fall in close behind.
For the budget savvy, hostels and out of town options are often first choice. However I’m never enthused by the idea of sharing a dorm with 20-something travelers and a night bus home after an evening meal doesn’t appeal, so until I discovered TrustedHousesitters I found I had to dedicate more of my budget to central accommodation options.
As a pet sitter I am offered free, home-from-home style accommodation and have the security of neighbors and friends to support me during my stay. I’ve also saved thousands on the cost of my trips, not only through the fact that I now stay for free in beautiful homes all over the world but also because I no longer find myself paying exorbitant prices for tourist-trap attractions; instead I’m taken to hidden gems by the locals I meet during my stay.
Opt For a More Meaningful Itinerary
We all travel to get a better understanding of the world, to enrich our own lives, and add experiences to our Curriculum Vitaes, however I’ve found that in reality my travels are far more rewarding when I’m helping or enriching the lives of the people I meet.
Choose to donate your time to a charitable organization, teach, or directly benefit the local community while you’re away and more often than not you’ll find you’re soon connected to a network of like-minded people with whom you can spend time during your stay. You’ll also be rewarded with a more meaningful and enriching experience.
While pet sitting in Costa Rica I stepped into the shoes of the homeowner and took over her position as a voluntary veterinary nurse for a grass-roots animal charity. Spending my Saturdays spaying and neutering upwards of 100 animals I could see that my time there was having a direct impact on the community I was visiting.
I’ve also found that pet sitting itself offers similar rewards. Every time a pet owner returns home to an obviously happy and contented animal I feel a huge sense of satisfaction. The owner’s gratitude is worth far more than any fee I could have been paid to take on the same role.
Feel Like a Local When You Travel
There’s nothing better than feeling like a local while in the places you visit, yet this can be a difficult task if you’ve only just arrived.
As a solo visitor there are a handful of things you can do to blend in; don’t walk around with a map or stand in the street looking lost, tailor your clothing to match local fashions and learning a few phrases in the local language can really help. However I think one of the most effective ways to look and feel like a resident is to head out and about with a dog.
While pet sitting in Australia I took to walking everywhere with the two dogs I was looking after. From our early morning constitutional along the local beach, to short trips into town for groceries, we were inseparable. And consequently not only did I feel like a local but I was treated like one! People would stop me in the street to ask for directions, cafe owners would engage me in conversation about local affairs, and other dog owners would approach me for a chat whilst out in the local park.
I never felt lonely and I certainly wasn’t without entertainment! So if you’re keen to make new friends and build your social network when you travel I highly recommend that you become a pet sitter. You’ll find you can easily explore new locations with confidence and will always be in good company with a pet by your side!