It seems like most people haven’t heard of Couchsurfing Hangouts. That’s a shame.
This post—indeed, my whole trip—is inspired by Rich Meadows’ excellent post by the same name, How to Make Friends as a Solo Traveler. He captured the experience of loneliness and elation so perfectly—but he didn’t mention CS Hangouts at all! When I emailed him about it, he said he hadn’t heard of it, and that’s why I’m writing this post.
I think Couchsurfing Hangouts should be one of those basic pieces of advice that everyone’s heard of.
Like when people ask “How do I have a better internet experience” and the top comments are “Install AdBlock” and “Everyone already knows you’re supposed to install AdBlock, how about something new for a change, geez”—the top comment for “How do I make friends as a solo traveler?” should be “Use Couchsurfing Hangouts!”
(Shoutout to my adventurous sister Gemma for telling me about the app in the first place.)
How to use Couchsurfing Hangouts
1. Download the Couchsurfing app and create an account. You’ll need to provide your name, age, and a profile photo showing your face.
2. Turn on location services and allow the Hangouts app to access your location, if you haven’t already.
3. Make yourself available to hang out. You can usually see this option on the dashboard page (which opens as soon as you log in). Simply click Hangout Now. Otherwise, go to the Hangouts tab and click Become Available.
4. Find a group hangout to join or a person to meet up with, and click Say hello. They’ll either accept or ignore your request. (Pretty much everyone clicks Accept, though.)
5. If there is a pre-existing convo, read through it to see what everyone else is doing. If there isn’t, send a message and start making plans!
6. Close the app and relaunch it (and repeat as necessary, because the app is super laggy).
Notes & tips
Start looking around 6 pm
Most people are available between 6 and 9 pm. Before that, people are busy doing whatever they do in the daytime. Unless you’re in a really big city, you’re better off trying to meet people in real life, such as by talking to people in your hostel, or finding a local event.
After 9 pm, people have usually found a person/group to meet up with, so they’re not as active on their phones. (Which means your message of “Hey guys, are you still at the bar?” is much more likely to be ignored. Don’t take it personally if this happens.)
However, that’s not to say you can’t find people outside these times. I met one of my best travel friends, Gaetan, because he and this other guy we met with were the only other people online in Chiang Mai at midnight. (Of course, I checked both their profiles for any sign of sketchiness first.)
When I first signed up for Hangouts, I was confused as to why no one was requesting to hang out with me. But then I got it: you have to be proactive. People do sometimes request to hang out with me without my having to do anything, but if I relied on that method, I wouldn’t have nearly as many friends. (And I’d probably have had far more experiences with creepers.)
If you want to meet a group of people, you have to scroll through the available hangouts, find the one or two that everyone seems to be flocking to (usually ones with three or more people in them, and with recent messages—the app tells you how long ago the last message was sent in a group), and say hello.
Chill out about the details
Don’t worry about what it says in the description (e.g. “Going to explore the area,” “Going to grab food”). We often end up doing something completely different.
Also, there will probably be a bunch of lurkers in the group who never send any messages or meet up in real life. Why are they there? Who knows. Maybe they’re in multiple groups and found something better to do. (I’m often in multiple groups myself, since it’s rare for all of them to materialize into actual hangouts.) Don’t worry about it.
Expect people to take at least 30-60 min to actually meet
When people say “Available now,” most of them aren’t really available: they’re out doing something else, or at home getting ready, and they’re just checking their various options for the night. If you’re in a group chat, the best course of action is to find one person in the group who’s willing to meet at a defined time and location, meet them, and then let the other people join you later. (It usually takes an hour, and sometimes three or four, for everyone to actually assemble.)
Maybe don’t meet with lone dudes who have no text on their profile
Lessons Learned Abroad has a post on this topic with the following advice:
Sometimes there’s no one online
It really depends on your location. In Luang Prabang, Laos, there was literally just one other person available to hang out on each of the four days I was online. Fortunately, all four of these people were awesome! So despite there only being one person on the app every few days, I didn’t go a single day alone for my whole three weeks in Luang Prabang.
In Chiang Mai, there were around 10-20 people per night.
In Bangkok, Hanoi, and Tokyo, there were upwards of 50 people online every night.
And someone told me that in Barcelona one time, there were 700 people available to hang out!
People are super nice
This is what I love about meeting other travelers. Almost everyone is remarkably laid-back and accepting of others. Practically no one is uptight, rude, pretentious, insular, or judgmental.
It’s not like in high school (or university) where if there are a bunch of people in their 20s who all speak English well, and one much older or younger person from a non-Western country who barely speaks English, the former will automatically form a group that shuts out the latter.
On the contrary, even though it might be easier for all the fluent English speakers to carry on their own conversation and share inside jokes, everyone I’ve met has been unfailingly kind to the odd one out in the group—such that by the end of the night/week, there is no odd one out.