USA TODAY’s “Go Escape” magazine
Published 8:00 AM EST Nov 16, 2019
Roger Leary wanted to travel, and he preferred to not do it alone. The 56-year-old DJ from Massachusetts was in search of fun, hassle-free travel experiences with like-minded individuals. After experiencing some pretty horrific dates, he decided to turn to social media and eventually used it to find companions of a different sort — those who were willing and available to join him on his excursions.
Since joining Meetup.com in 2007, Leary founded South Shore Hike, Bike & Social Club, which has nearly 4,000 members (about 500 are active). He’s led four trips to places that include Belize and Costa Rica, and he’s currently planning one to Ireland.
Leary’s experience is part of a trend of perfect strangers who consider connecting online the perfect way to find companions.
Black & Latino Traveling Singles, which was founded in March and caters to those age 30 and older, currently has more than 750 members interested in meetups in New York City and group travel. “Want to take a trip or do something interesting in NYC or around the world … but you don’t want to do it alone … this is the place for you,” reads the group’s Facebook page.
More than 1,500 users have joined the Travel Buddies Facebook group, launched from Oxford, England, in 2016. “We are a community set up to link fellow (travelers) who want some company on an upcoming holiday,” the page reads. “The idea is that you will post your idea or information for your holiday and, hopefully, find a travel mate to share your adventure with.”
Many of these “social travelers” prefer sojourning with strangers to avoid the potential pressure that can come with traveling with family, friends or romantic partners.
“People would rather travel with strangers than people they know because, with someone new, they can take on any new fantasy identity they want,” says relationship expert and author Gilda Carle. “Why interact with someone who already knows your warts — and may even criticize you for them? Instead, new people equal brand new behaviors and interactions, and we never know what these new connections can evolve into.”
For many, connecting online with strangers to share a traveling experience is considerably easier.
However, Leary advises caution when meeting strangers for trips. He screens potential travel mates before they go: “Those that drink too much or seem picky or like they might be difficult, I don’t go out of my way to encourage.”
Beforehand, decisions are made about how bills will be paid and which expenses will be shared. In some cases, money may be deposited into an account to pay for housing or transportation.
For some, embarking on such adventures with total strangers might be a difficult decision, but for Leary, it made perfect sense. “I just wanted to find like-minded people who wanted to enjoy nature, be healthy, get outside and have some fun,” he says.
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