There are a slew of different apps and tools I love for meeting people when I’m traveling solo — Couchsurfing (and Couchsurfing forums), BonAppetour, EatWith, Meetup, Goceity — but two that I often find myself using are Tinder and OkCupid. These two dating apps, while I’ve used them occasionally at home, have come in incredibly handy for me when hitting the road on my own.
For those who are thinking, “Wow, that seems dangerous,” I have a few words. As someone who regularly uses apps to meet people as well as hosts an Airbnb in NYC and uses CouchSurfing, I’m often questioned about the safety of interacting with strangers I meet online. When you have an exchange on these websites there is a middleman “watching” and documenting the exchange, meaning people are held accountable for their actions.
Of course there are always exceptions and things happen; but guess what, you could get hit by a car crossing the street or choke on a candy bar. That doesn’t stop you from living your life.
It’s always funny to me how the people afraid of apps like OkCupid and Tinder have no problem going home with a stranger from a bar, where there’s no accountability for who this person is. That’s just my two cents on meeting anyone — friends, dates, accommodation hosts — online. To me, the best part about technology is it’s made budget travel and interacting with locals and other travelers so much more accessible to the masses. Now you can stay on a couch for free, or plan a meetup in advance with a local when you’re traveling solo instead of wandering out on your own.
Of course, there are ways to effectively use these as travel apps in a safe manner while avoiding any, ehem, awkward encounters (read: having someone nibbling your ear when you just wanted to grab coffee with a local). Here is some advice from my experience:
1. Be Upfront
I’m starting with the most important tip on the list. These are dating apps, so you should assume the person you’re chatting with is looking to date. Whether you’re just looking to meet locals as friends, date casually or have a one-night stand its best to be upfront about your desires BEFORE you meet. If you’re like me and fall somewhere between the making friends/casual dating line, also be clear you’re not looking to add notches to your belt while you’re in town. In my experience, guys will sometimes take the “dating a girl who’s only visiting” as a “perfect scenario for no-strings-attached sex.” If that’s not what you want, say so.
2. Meet In Public Places
One simple way to alleviate any pressure of hooking up — and to keep yourself safe in case your date is an axe murderer — is to meet in public places. You may also want to casually drop in that you told your friend back at the hotel (whether you have one or not) you were going on a date and where you’d be; something like “I told my friend we were going on a date and she raved about this restaurant,” to show others know your whereabouts.
The public places rules is really essential if you’re not trying to hookup. In college my friend and I were using OkCupid, but while I was going on lots of dates she was having a ton of one-night stands. She couldn’t understand why, but to me the answer was obvious: I met guys at restaurants while she always went their apartments for drinks. Even if you don’t want to sleep with someone, once you’re getting tipsy in their home you may feel unwanted pressure or do something the booze led you to think you wanted to do. Just avoid this situation, at least for the first few dates until you know what you really want from this new person.
3. Trust Your Gut
While the internet makes it easy for weirdos to hide their weirdness, in my experience — I’ve been using online dating on and off for eight years — I’ve never gone wrong with trusting my gut. Obviously I haven’t met my Prince Charming (I am currently accepting applications for this position!); however, I have met many great, interesting guys around the world, some of which I still keep in contact with.
Typically, guys who are missing a few marbles or just desperate to hookup show their true colors before you even meet. See the examples below. Warning: some of this is painful to read:
4. Don’t Give Personal Information
I hope I don’t really need to say this, but telling someone your hotel information or other uber personal information before even meeting is a bad idea. Ask yourself, “If this person ends up being a stalker, what information could hurt me if they had?” This isn’t a likely scenario — I’ve never had this happen and I’m a regular user of these apps — but better safe than sorry.
5. Meet Separate
Decline offers for car pickups in case you end up feeling uncomfortable with the date/meetup. It’s much easier to flee — well, I’ve got early morning tour plans, gotta go! — when you’re not relying on them for transportation.
6. Use Tinder For Airplane Delays
I wrote an article this year for Road Warrior Voices on why Tinder makes the perfect travel app for plane delays. In it I provide a number of tongue-in-cheek but useful tips, though my favorite part of the piece is a personal “Tinderella” airport story from Alyssa Ramos, Tinder user and blogger at My Life’s A Movie:
“I swiped right on *Bob, and he asked if I wanted to grab coffee. I told him I was already two Chardonnays deep at the bar, but he could join me and save me from all the suits staring at me like I was fresh meat. Luckily, I already knew what he looked like, so when I saw him walking up I waved like he was my boyfriend. We carried on the conversation like we’d known each other for years. We still text and Facebook to this very day.”
Also Check Out:
How Tour Guiding Showed One Traveler The World — And True Love [Blog Inspiration]
Voyages and Visions: Towards a Cultural History of Travel by Jas Elsner [Great Reads]
Black Lewis N. Clark Rfid Travel Wallet [Travel Style]
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