Most people I talk to at home aren't comfortable with the idea of traveling solo. They all share the exact same fear: that they won't make friends on the road.
I'm about to alleviate all of your (rational) fears about meeting people and making friends on a solo journey. There are tons of things you can do to guarantee that you'll be successful.
Stay in a hostel
You must do this. I don't care that you've watched Hostel movies or that your mom told you a story about someone getting raped in a hostel. This shit never happens, so suck it up and go.
Hostels have amazing social facilities: lounges, kitchens, and sometimes a bar. In hotels, socializing is weird. In hostels, it's expected.
If you hate the idea of sleeping in a room with strangers, most hostels offer private rooms. Just keep in mind that you can make friends with your neighbors if you choose to stay in a dorm.
Seriously. Think about it. When's the last time you had a social experience that was more than a Tinder date in your hotel room?
Choose a social hostel
Some hostels cater to older or less social crowds. Avoid these places because people staying there will generally keep to themselves. That doesn't mean that making friends is impossible, but you want to make things as easy on yourself as possible.
Choosing a social hostel means you'll be around social people, which means they'll be more comfortable and open, which translates into a better experience for you.
How do you know if a hostel is social? Easy. Scan reviews on HostelWorld for people talking about making friends and meeting people. This is the best thing you can do.
Also, check out the hostel's website. Look for pictures and events. If a hostel has a bar, there's a good chance that it's a social place.
Just keep in mind that pure party hostels can be dangerous because the drinking and partying can interfere with travel plans, budget, and sleep.
Pretend that it's the first day of college again
Whether you bask in nostalgia or cringe in horror at the thought, you know what I'm talking about.
Just get up and fucking talk to approachable looking people.
The nature of solo travel puts you on an even playing field with everyone there: new people are arriving everyday, friendships aren't usually very strong, everyone's in the same location, and you all have a story about how you arrived there. There are no solid cliques and loads of possible conversation topics.
And honestly, everyone who chooses to stay at a hostel should be comfortable being approached by a stranger.
You'll have all sorts of conversations, some good, some excellent, and some a little awkward. Just be confident, and do your best. You've got nothing to lose.
Girls, you have it a little easier here. If you hate approaching people, sit by yourself in a social area. As long as you're not wearing headphones or you look seriously unapproachable, there's a high chance you'll be approached. But it never hurts to break out of your comfort zone.
Invite people to do things
You can only bond so much over small talk. People build relationships through activities and experiences. If you're in a hostel, you're definitely in a place that has things to do, so pick something, invite people, and go.
And if you can't think of anything, just go exploring aimlessly.
Friendship will happen. I promise.
Avoid looking anti-social or uncomfortable
Relax. Look comfortable and approachable. Don't cross your arms. Stay hygienic. A few nerves during first interactions are perfectly fine.
Approaching new people isn't easy for everyone, so it might take some practice getting the nerve to do it. However, it's crucial that you never half-ass it. Don't stare or glance at people excessively before approaching them. Never start walking toward someone and change your mind mid-walk.
If you're doing work on a laptop, don't do it in a social area. You'll look unapproachable, plus some people will remember you working and they may choose not to approach you later. Do it in your room/bed or at a coffee shop.
Choose a hostel that serves breakfast
Breakfast is a wonderful opportunity to meet people and make plans. You may even be invited to join a group on a venture they've already planned if you're lucky.
You also have the most willpower in the morning, so approaching people will be easier.
Attend a hostel's events
Like I said, people bond over shared experiences. This is about as shared of an experience as you can get, and it takes absolutely no planning effort on your part.
Just show up and be friendly.
Go to a bar
People love going to bars to socialize. If you go during the day, sit at the bar and see if anyone's open to chat. At night, everyone should be pretty relaxed. It's much easier to talk to people when they're drunk.
This is a wonderful way to meet locals and fellow travelers.
Most hostels have bars too, and that's an excellent choice. Just be sure to talk to people while you're there because drinking at a hostel alone is way sadder than drinking at home alone.
In a country with a different national language, talk to people who speak (or look like they speak) your language
You'll have the experience of being a foreigner in common, so it's a good icebreaker and starting point for a relationship. It will tie you together more strongly.
You can do this anywhere: in public, in your hostel, or at bars.
On my trip to Venice, I walked out of my hostel with the intention of spending the day exploring alone. When I was in line to buy a ticket, I spoke to someone who looked like he spoke English. Sure enough, he did, and I could tell he was a Kiwi (New Zealander). We chatted for a bit, and he invited me to join him and a German girl on a walk around the city.
It turned out to be a really great day, all because I asked a guy if the second ticket machine was broken.
On Approaching People
Listen, I won't lie to you and say that talking to people you don't know is easy.
You're not going to be perfect or consistent at approaching people right away. You'll fail. You'll have some moments when you're kicking yourself because it would have been easy, and you didn't. You'll never know what could have happened if you had made the effort.
Hesitation to talk to new people is partly an innate human behavior and partly learned behavior. It takes some practice to overcome the anxiety. Give it your best shot, and make yourself stronger.
The more you practice talking to people, the easier it will get. As long as you're making progress, never be discouraged.
Keep your expectations of the conversations low, and you can only be surprised. Sometimes wildly so. I've been a lot of times.
There are a lot of variables in flux when you start talking to someone: their personality, their native language, their general comfort, their existing plans, their conceptions, whether they're a good conversationalist, etc.
Long story short, if the conversation doesn't go anywhere, move on. Equally important, if you can tell you don't vibe well with someone, move on.
So, there you go. You have all the knowledge you need to conquer the single greatest fear of the prospective solo traveler. Now it's up to you to put it into practice.
Keep putting yourself out there and be patient with yourself, but most importantly, just have fun with it. That's the entire point of travel, right?