Meeting fellow travelers can be intimidating, especially when you first start traveling. But it doesn’t have to be. These tips and tricks will help you find fellow green travelers to join you on the next leg of your journey – whether it be a day in a nearby village or a month in Costa Rica.
Become a couchsurfer. At CouchSurfing, you search for locals to stay with in thousands of destinations across the world, from Switzerland to Sri Lanka. You can search based on language, gender, age, and key words, so it’s easy to find someone with interests and passions similar to yours. Odds are if people are hosting couchsurfers, they probably couchsurf themselves so you could meet a future travel companion. It’s our kind of organization – it’s free, it’s a non-profit, and it has a conscience. According to its website, CouchSurfing’s mission is “to internationally network people and places, create educational exchanges, raise collective consciousness, spread tolerance and facilitate cultural understanding.” For other couchsurfing sites, check out The Top 5 Couchsurfing Sites from the Times Online.
Volunteer for the environment. At Volunteer Abroad you can search for volunteer opportunities by region, city, and interest area, including “environment.” Volunteer Latin American focuses on sustainability and conservation and offers a variety of green volunteer opportunities throughout Latin America. At Idealist.org, you can choose an interest area and a location to search for volunteer opportunities and jobs. For more green volunteering abroad ideas, check out this Green Guide post.
Use social networking sites. MySpace alone has over 20,000 groups categorized under “Places & Travel,” including World Travels, Travel Thailand, and Brazil. Join an international group or find your destination and post a call out for other green travelers in the forum.
Take the bus or train. In addition to being less environmentally-friendly, traveling by rental car is isolating. It’s hard to meet other travelers while you’re locked inside your Prius. But intracountry public transportation sets you up to be much more social. If you’re looking for traveling friends, choose to sit near other backpackers and when you get the chance, take the opportunity to talk with that German couple in your train car.
Seek out group activities. Ask the person working the hostel desk what kinds of low-budget group activities he or she would recommend. Find something that sounds interesting and sign up for it. Whether you’re whitewater rafting or taking a day trip to a nearby city, spending an entire day with other travelers will help you get to know them. And if you pick a green activity, odds are you’ll meets lots of other green travelers.
Arrange a group activity. Can’t seem to find a prearranged group activity? Set one up yourself. Ask other hostelers what they’ve done and if they’d recommend it. Look online or in your travel guide for day trips or local activities. Pick some interesting activities and invite your fellow hostelers to come along. Don’t be shy – you’ll be surprised how many others will take you up on your offer.
Search online forums. Before you head to your next destination, check out travel or backpacker message boards and forums. There are country-specific forums, like Backpacker Board in New Zealand, and international ones like those on Eurotrip.com, Trip Advisor, and Hostels.com. Try a search for “travel buddy” or “travel partner” if you’re seeking a fellow green traveler to join you on the next leg of your trip.
Strike up a conversation. It’s easy to be intimidated in new situations, but remember that everyone in a hostel is in the same boat. Start a conversation with other travelers in the hostel kitchen or the town square. Ask people where they’re from, what they like to do, where they’re headed next. If you share the same interests, suggest going out for dinner at the local organic restaurant you heard about.
Go to a meetup. Meetup.com is a free way to organize online and in-person around just about any interest. You can find meetups in your hometown before you start your travels or you can look for meetups in your destination. Join the meetups that look interesting to you and make friends with people who share your interests. In addition to great travel advice, you might also meet some future travel buddies. You can start by browsing the travel, backpackers, and environment meetups.
Contact a green travel organization. Ask around about or search online for green travel associations in the country you’re visiting. Organizations like Camp Green, Canada, which is “a national campaign of Canadians working together to improve the environment,” will be able to tell you about local green activities and connect you with other green travelers.
Take an Ecotour. Ecotours are becoming increasingly widespread to the extent that even non-environmentalists are checking them out. It’s a double-edged sword – it’s good because it means people who wouldn’t otherwise care about the environment are doing something to help it, but bad because it means it might be harder to meet other sincere green travelers. Planeta.com, which “has provided tips for travelers and locals who share a vision of eco-friendly, people-friendly and place-friendly travel” since 1994, is a great place to start.
Peruse online classified ads. Community-based online classifieds like Craigslist in the U.S. and other countries and Gumtree in Australia are good places to look for green travel events and travel partners. On Gumtree, click the “travel/travel partners” under “community” to browse ads other travelers have posted. As always with situations when you’re meeting strangers, be smart and use your better judgment. If you find a perspective green travel buddy, meet him or her in a public location.
Talk to your friends and family. Even if they don’t travel much, friends and family members likely know people who do. You never know – your mom’s college roommate’s daughter who’s majoring in environmental science might be in Costa Rica when you are. Keep your family and friends in the loop on your next travel destination and let them know you’d like to meet up with anyone they know in that country.
Bonus Tip: Remember sometimes it’s ok to travel alone. So you follow the steps above and meet Barbara, a fellow green traveler, in Munich. She’s nice enough but by day 3, you’ve realized a long-term friendship isn’t in your future. Good thing you’re leaving for Prague in the morning, right? But when you get up to head to the train station the next morning, Barbara’s waiting and excitedly tells you she’s changed her plans and can go with you to Prague.
Think it won’t happen to you? This is a true story, as told to me by Toby, an Australian backpacker I met in Poland. Barbara had followed him to two countries and was planning to tag along to a third. His plan? To escape to Budapest under the cover of darkness to avoid confronting her. If this happens to you, have no fear – Brave New Traveler has outlined How to Escape An Undesirable Travel Mate.