Traveling is all about getting outside your comfort zone and tasting the local flavors – which don’t have to stop at food and drink – and being receptive to things you’d might not encounter at home.
Once considered taboo, dating apps have become the ultimate travel essential, especially if you’re hitting the road solo. A fast-track to plugging into the hometown crowd, they’ll help save time you might otherwise spend taking a blind chance on a nightlife scene, and open you up to a subset of people you’d otherwise never meet.
Connecting with locals can help you experience a destination more deeply than you would if you were charting your own path. From underground dance parties and hidden watering holes to home-cooked meals and language exchange, you could make new friends, go on fun dates, have hot hook ups, and maybe even find real love – anything is possible with a sense of adventure, an open mind, and a handful of best practices.
The different dating apps
Pick the platform that best suits you, and install it ahead of your trip so you can hit the ground running when you arrive.
With users in more than 190 countries, Tinder is among the most popular dating platforms worldwide. It offers the ability to change your location so you can browse in any city with its “Passport” feature, available with a paid “Tinder Plus” subscription. This feature is well worth the money (nevermind the ageist pricing: US$9.99 per month for the under 30 set and $19.99 per month for those older), as it allows you to get a head start with swiping so you can start conversations with matches and tee up plans before you’ve even packed your suitcase.
For many women, being bombarded by creepster solicitations can be overwhelming, if not downright repelling from dating altogether. Women-focused Bumble puts the control in the thumbs of its female users, who must initiate contact with matches within 24 hours before the connection disappears. And the guys are hotter than on Tinder – any woman, anywhere, can corroborate.
For some, a handful of photos and a 500-character profile doesn’t cut it when it comes to determining a suitable match. OKCupid features more robust profiles, a categorized search function – you can easily set your location to the destination that you’re headed to – and in-depth questionnaires that feed into an algorithm, which determines a percentage-based compatibility score between matches.
While the above apps are all LGBTQIA+ friendly, Grindr has long been the go-to for gay men. Users who subscribe to the “XTRA” service ($29.99/mo) can use the “Explore” feature to search for matches in any location and lockdown dates in advance; just be conscious of the customs and laws surrounding homosexuality wherever you’re visiting – authorities in some countries have been known to target, track and arrest gay men by using the app.
Grindr touts itself as a space that includes all queer, trans and non-binary people and is open to women, but their presence is virtually nil. HER was created for lesbian, bi and queer women, and to ensure that the platform is safe for its intended demographic, users can report profiles of straight men or couples on the prowl for threesomes.
Couples in search of a guest star while on holiday should try Feeld – which appeals to anybody with an open mind, partnered and single alike. From swinging and polyamory to kink and radically transparent one night stands, it’s a sex-positive platform where anything goes. Feeld also allows you to change your location to one of their “Cores” – major cities across the world with a high number of users, such as New York, São Paulo, Melbourne, Paris and Singapore.
Getting it right
There are a few things to think about to ensure the best experience when using dating apps on your travels.
Perfect your profile
To optimize your profile, list where you’re from, the dates you’ll be on the ground, and a few things you’re into, like a type of food or activity; you can even make a call for recommendations. And if you aren’t down to hook up, do state so – people are presumptuous no matter where you are in the world.
Keep the text brief, punchy and digestible. Post up-to-date photos that show you and your interests clearly, so matches can use them as a conversation starter – a handstand photo in front of Machu Picchu will have more people sliding into your DMs than a pixelated group shot in a bar where you’re barely discernible amongst your friends.
It’s important to go into this experience knowing exactly what you want. A tour guide? A dinner companion? A language teacher? A cross-cultural romance? Many locals are happy and proud to show off their hometowns, so be up-front about what you’re looking for when communicating.
You’ll likely find that people are intrigued by you, a mysterious foreigner with an interesting accent, and aren’t put off by the prospect of a short-term connection.
If you’re staying in a big city, keep your location setting within a five-mile radius. You may also opt to adjust the age range to narrow it down to people who more closely fit your ideal. Time is of the essence, so don’t be surprised if your match wants to go from zero to 100 – if they swiped knowing that you’re only around for a short time, odds are they’re down to skip the small talk and get straight to the point.
If that's what you want too, then keep the conversation snappy and don’t let it linger without some move to action for too long – ideally, you should exchange numbers within a couple of scrolls down your screen.
Take it to text
WhatsApp is the most commonly used texting app across the world and works across operating systems and on wi-fi, so be sure to download it if you don’t already use it. When communicating with a match, be upbeat and candid – but also direct and politely firm.
Ask for last names, more photos, or links to social media profiles, and internet stalk away if you want a better sense of who they are. Anybody who refuses most likely has something to hide. If it eases your mind to have a phone call or video chat before meeting, don’t hesitate to initiate it.
When it comes to dating, cultural norms vary around the world. Be sensitive to customs around courting and remain aware of what’s socially acceptable when it comes to public displays of affection. This especially applies to the LGBTQIA+ community, as some 70 countries criminalize homosexuality. Know the laws of country you’re planning to visit (this map is a good place to start).
Tinder users will find that a travel alert pops up when the app is opened in a country where LGBTQIA+ status equates to a crime, and they must opt in to be shown in these locations. Grindr issues warnings to users as well, and the app is completely banned in Turkey, Indonesia, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Common sense, clear boundaries and direct communication are critical when swiping. You can always unmatch the moment you feel uncomfortable or change your mind. Remember that these are perfect strangers and you don’t owe anyone an explanation – ever. Never share exactly where you’re staying and avoid letting on that you don’t know your way around.
The first date
For a first date, meet in a busy, public place during the daytime, no further than a mile from your accommodation. If you drink or use substances, know your limits and never take your eyes off your drink. Carry enough money to pay your own way and get back to your accommodation. Trust your instincts and don’t feel pressured to do anything you don’t want to do; if a date starts to take a strange turn, bow out immediately.
Always make sure someone knows where you are. If you’re traveling solo, leave a hand-written note in your room, stating where you’re headed and who you’re with, or tell the receptionist. If that feels awkward, shoot a text with your date’s contact details, profile and message screenshots, or your live geolocation to a friend back home.
If you find yourself in a seedy nightlife scenario where your date knows every single person working there, stay conscious of shifty motives or a ruse. In some countries, it’s not uncommon to swipe on matches who turn out to be sex workers in pursuit of clients.
When going the route of hooking up, enthusiastic, informed, and ongoing consent is imperative. Be direct about your expectations and intentions, moreso if there’s a language barrier – don’t be timid about using a translator on your phone to communicate clearly.
Temper your expectations
Cast the net wide and don’t get too hung up on one person or experience. When deciding on activities, it’s cool to mention some things your list, but go with the flow and let your date make suggestions, too.
Splitting the bill can help keep any expectations in check for both people, but if someone goes the distance to show you around, picking up a meal or a round of drinks is a nice gesture.
While true love can certainly come from this experience, if you keep your focus on making meaningful human connections, having lighthearted fun, and experiencing the destination in an alternative way, you’ll go home with fond memories of new friends, steamy stories for your homegirls or lads, and maybe even a new long-distance love to lure you right back.
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This article was originally published in January 2020 and updated in February 2021.