To meet locals Online or Offline?
For most of us, Solo travel is about Meeting Locals. Question is, how to find ones you can trust.
Here’s a beautiful travel story: a traveler from the other side of the planet journeys alone to experience the people and culture of a nation she has only seen on TV. She is curious about simple things like ‘what is their hand gesture for saying “okay!”’, and about deeper things like ‘what is their tradition for bidding farewell to the dead’. One day she is at a local market to buy fruits and has driven the seller to frustration confused over how much spare change she owes the seller. So a kind local steps in and helps her out. They laugh about that tumultuous interaction and decide to grab a bowl of noodle soup at the shed nearby. Both have a pleasant conversation in broken English and show each other pictures of home in their phones. Turns out, they’re both single moms and a beautiful bond is created instantly!
That is not just a story folks. It’s me recounting the experience of a fellow solo traveler whom I met few years after that incident. Serendipity came through for her when she needed it the most. I gotta admit — even as I write for Solopacker, which I use in Singapore to help give quick answers to lost travelers’ questions — meeting locals offline sounds far cooler than online. But can we run away into that romanticism without confronting what often goes wrong when solo travelers meet locals, offline or online?
The safety issues are real, and as a solo female traveler they matter to me even more. I’ve been unwittingly lured into a traditional tea house in China by two very friendly ladies only to be slapped a bill of US$64 (then I googled it, it’s a pretty popular scam). I’ve also been stalked, thankfully without any physical harm, by a over-friendly 20 year old boy in Iran who skipped school and followed me over a 8 hour train ride. I’m sure you have your own charming scammer or creepy stalker stories from your travels.
Online, I have used (but quit them since I found Solopacker) apps and online forums to get local advice or interesting meet ups with locals. I can only speak for myself when I say this; I find it very uncomfortable to share my phone number or add people on facebook simply on an online interaction. I respect the choice of people who readily share their contact details in the comments section, but it’s not for me. It doesn’t help that the apps like Couchsurfing or Travello I used before allowed locals to filter profiles like mine with Gender & Age filters like a dating app. I prefer the way Solopacker does it — find who matches your travel preferences first, and control if they can see your profile picture or not. It may not be a 100% stalker-proof, but the app take you through multiple verifications and permissions to safeguard safety.
So if you enjoy rolling the dice and meet locals in markets, guesthouses or hostels — go for it and take basic precautions for your safety. But if you’ve had more negative experiences, especially as a solo female traveler, meeting locals offline, you may wanna consider trying Solopacker. Fair warning, you won’t be able to exchange messages with just anyone on Solopacker unless a current member of their community can Vouch for you. So be patient, get verified, get vouched and then we’ll welcome you to our community with open arms!