When I travel, I make every effort to get my eyes off my phone in order to actually experience what’s around me. What a concept, right? But with increasingly accessible data and wifi around the globe, it can be tough to meet the people standing around you when everyone is too worried about checking their Instagram feeds or Snapchats. When you’re traveling alone, this can be especially challenging, as meeting new people is often one of the best advantages to traveling alone, but can be quite difficult to manage. Sigh. There’s nothing we can do to change this in our current social media and selfie-obsessed culture, right? Wrong!
On a recent trip to Visby, Sweden, I decided to try to give the “if you can’t beat them, join them” mentality a go. I got myself on Tinder, and I started swiping in an effort to find someone that I could meet that didn’t massively creep me out. I felt that Visby was a pretty great place to do this for a couple of reasons; the city/town of Visby is so tiny and it seems like everyone knows everyone, which is a pretty comforting feeling. Visby is also an incredibly safe and cosy city, so the risk didn’t seem as great as it might be in other, bigger cities.
I ended up talking to someone via the chat function the first night I was there, and we agreed to meet for a drink the next day at a pub right off the the central town square. Even before I met my Tinder friend in person, he was surprisingly helpful by giving me ideas of things to do in Gotland while I was there. I actually received a lot of great tips from people I ended up not even meeting with, which goes to show the friendly and helpful nature of the beautiful people in that city, and how useful Tinder can be in other areas, as well.
Anyway, after an incredibly long day of site-seeing (I walked nearly 40 miles while I was in Gotland!), I met with Charles (Tinder friend) to try the local Visby beer at a small Irish pub. We spent a few hours in the pub talking over some great beer- it was really a nice and unexpected experience. We talked about politics, current events, Swedish/American/Czech/British/French cultures (there was a lot of experience to draw on from both sides), language, and about this beautiful town of Visby with which I’d already fallen in love. This is exactly the kind of meeting I hope for every time I travel, and I’m not always so lucky to find it given that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to meet people. I think that in those few hours I learned as much about Visby as I had while walking all over the city for hours over the course of three days. I felt more connected to the people and the culture of this place as a result of this exchange with a local Visbian (if it wasn’t a thing, it is now).
After a couple of beers, we decided to take a walk around part of the old city, which was an equally interesting and engaging experience. I had already walked down almost every passable street earlier in the day, and had spent an unimaginable amount of time staring at the beautiful architecture, but it was a very different experience walking around with a local in the evening. We walked to one of the many ruined cathedrals in the town and stood admiring the architecture and view for quite a while. I found it so interesting that Charles mentioned on multiple occasions that he hadn’t stopped to look at some of the things that I’d become so infatuated with in the city- I guess this may work both ways! His comments to that effect also demonstrated to me how easy it is for me to do the same in my home environment. While I recognize that I’m in an incredible unique and fortunate situation to have a view of Prague Castle from my office window, I can’t help but think how many times I blew through the beautiful country roads near my hometown in New York without admiring the natural beauty of the region.
I digress; walking through these streets in Visby for what seemed like the hundredth time that day was actually one of the best walks I had through the city that week. Walking through a city, any city, and having the opportunity to look at it through someone else’s eyes is an incredible experience, and one that will likely teach you even more than you thought possible about your perceptions, as well as the city itself.
So, for the result of my experiment: I vote yes to Tinder While Traveling. I think that it’s an interesting way to meet new people, especially local people, and can be a great cultural immersion tool. With that being said, I think it’s incredibly important to “Tinder safely”, as it’s obviously necessary to be safe and smart while meeting any strangers while traveling. Make sure that you only meet with someone in a very public place, and also be sure to tell someone else where you’ll be, even if they’re out of the city/country. I think it’s also good to recognize that it’s absolutely fine to use Tinder for non-romantic purposes as I did in Visby! Tinder can be a great resource for meeting new people while out traveling in this ever-increasingly digital atmosphere where it’s hard to even make eye contact with a real human.
Tinder and travel safely, my friends!