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Miami Beach 411
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Meeting People on Vacation

How to Make Friends and Influence Tourists

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Traveling Solo in Miami
Centenarian travel writer Freya Stark once wrote, “To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.”  Most people tend to travel in pairs or groups, but solo travel is one of the most exciting things you can do!  It allows you an unparalleled freedom: you’re on your own schedule, doing what you enjoy best.  It’s easier to strike up conversations with new people, and to rest assured that what happens in Vegas really stays in Vegas! Naturally, of all the places you can travel solo, Miami is one of the most exhilarating destinations you can visit.  Here are a few ways to make sure you enjoy it to its fullest.

Plan, but Not too Much
Sure, do your homework! Spend a few hours in Barnes & Noble, devouring the local guidebooks, learn the maps, the public transportation, the neighborhoods to see and the ones to avoid.  Google wikitravel entries, forums like ours, photos, and youtube videos dedicated to your travel destination.  Find out the best places to stay, where you want to eat, things you’d like to do.  But don’t draw up your itinerary too vigorously! Leave it open-ended.  Give yourself some room to experience the joy of spontaneity! You may find yourself inspired to go a completely different direction once you arrive.  I remember in 1994, I’d originally planned on spending my entire time in England.  But a few weeks into my stay there, I got the urge to take off for the continent.  I hopped on a ferry to the Netherlands with only a Let’s Go guide to lead my way.  I had no idea where I would go or what I would do.

On the ship, my cabin mate was an English guy who was taking his car over to Amsterdam.  He offered to give me a ride into the city, and I found a hostel a short distance from the train station.  There, I met a couple of French travelers.  “If you make it to Paris, look us up!” they said.  “We’ll show you around!”  So Paris became my next destination, and they were excellent hosts.  From there I met up briefly with a friend I knew from the US, and we ended up in Nice, after an impromptu bike trip through the Loire Valley.  In Nice, I stayed in a pension and met a guy from Milan.  He gave me a ride into Italy and told me I should see Florence.  I scouted out pensions there and found an inexpensive place I could stay for a week.  I got to see the Statue of David, the Uffizi Gallery, as well as the medieval splendor of Il Duomo, and the Ponte Vecchio (old bridge).  From there, I went on to Rome, where I met some Israeli backpackers.  After a week, it was off to Venice, and then a train to Munich, where I serendipitously discovered that I’d arrived just in time for Oktoberfest (who knew it was in September?)!  Four months later, my savings depleted, I returned to the US, feeling about 40 years wiser.  It ended up being one of the most dynamic experiences of my life. Likewise, when you plan your trip to South Florida, leave it open-ended.  You never know where you could end up! Key West? The Bahamas? There is so much excitement just a short distance away.

Where to Stay
Your first instinct will likely be to book a hotel.  But when traveling alone, hotels can be rather lonely.  You can save money and meet new people much more easily by staying in a hostel.  And South Beach has plenty to choose from.  In a hostel, there are more opportunities to meet and interact with people from all over the world.  What you may lack in sleep and privacy will be more than compensated for by the wealth of new experiences you’ll have.

Meeting People
Some of the most wonderful encounters you’ll ever have with others happen when you travel alone.  This is because the novelty of being someplace unknown fills you with euphoria and makes you automatically more interesting to everybody else! You were just one of the crowd back home, but here you’re exotic.  Maybe even a foreigner! It has been said that without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps.  Escaping from your rut is just the way to awaken. 

One of the best ways to make new friends on your journey is to be interested, rather than interesting.  Often, we become overly concerned with impressing others with our accomplishments.  But you’ll have more fun during your travels being an observer.  Listen to the sights and sounds of the new places and people around you.  Resist the urge to be a tourist.  Try to see life through the eyes of the locals.

If you’re a woman traveling solo, when making new friends, it’s best to travel in groups You’re less likely to be taken advantage of by some of the more unsavory types.  If you’re a guy, don’t think you’re immune from danger, either! Solo traveling guys are often targets of the club girls.  They work with some unscrupulous establishments and will flirtatiously lure you in and help you run up a drink tab.  And when the bill comes, you’ll see that it’s exaggerated by about 400%! So don’t let your libido overpower your common sense! Be wary of overly-friendly girls luring you into bars you’ve never heard of in the tour books.

Eating Out

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When you experience life like a local, you’ll generally want to save the more upscale restaurants for special occasions.  For everyday eating in Miami, you’ll want to experience one of the many Cuban markets scattered around town.  Many serve hot, homestyle meals at very reasonable prices.  Fresh juices are some of the staples you’ll find there.  A couple of empanadas (meat pastries), a tall cup of pineapple-papaya juice and a cafecito (thimble-sized espresso) make the perfect start to a fun-filled day in the tropics! When you do decide to try one of the nicer restaurants, before shelling out the tip, make sure it isn’t already included on your bill.  Many places pre-include it, due to the abundance of European travelers who are used to this custom.

Activities
During the day, it’s pretty obvious: hit the beach! The section of South Beach between Fifth Street and 14th is the most popular stretch of sand.  Before jumping into the water, check out the flag posted on the lifeguard stands.  Different colors represent different water conditions.  For example, green means peaceful seas.  Yellow means the surf is a little rough.  Red means that the swimming conditions are dangerous and you should avoid going in the water.  Purple flags mean that there are dangerous marine life in the area.  And no, that doesn’t mean there are great white sharks in the area! Shark attacks are actually very rare in Miami.  Mostly, the danger comes from jellyfish, whose stings can smart like a bad sunburn.

Once you’ve experienced the beach, you’ll want to go a little further afield.  A great way to familiarize yourself with the city is to take one of the city tours offered by this site.  On rainy days, there are many museums to explore, such as the Holocaust Museum, the Wolfsonian, and the Bass Museum of Art.  You may want to go to one of the local outlet malls, such as Sawgrass Mills, which you can get to via the Sawgrass Express van..  There is also Jungle Island, the Seaquarium, Monkey Jungle, the Miami Zoo, and a host of other possibilities! You might like to go kayaking, snorkeling, or jet-skiing, as well.

At night, many people like to try the clubbing scene.  There are several popular places to go.  Some of the most well-known venues include LIV, SET, Arkadia and Mynt.  Nikki Beach is a great place to hang out.  It’s the only club located right on the beach, and its combination of teepees and trance music give it a personality all its own.

Traveling Safely in Miami
People often ask how risky it is to walk around South Beach and Miami.  On South Beach, most areas are considered safe.  Just use the same common sense that you’d employ in any large city—don’t wear flashy jewelry or take your money out to count it in public view.  Avoid conversations with people on the street.  At night, try to stick to major streets in commercial areas with good lighting and lots of people around.  In South Beach, that’s pretty easy to do! If you must go to the beach at night, be extra careful of your surroundings.  Violent crime isn’t much of a problem, but there are lots of petty thieves who will make off with your belongings if you let them out of your sight for even a moment! As for Miami proper, if you’re not very familiar with it, try to explore it only during daylight hours.  Stick to the south side of town as much as possible, and travel with other people when you can. 

Hopefully, I’ve given you a few useful ideas for your trip.  If you have any specific questions that aren’t answered here, join our forum! It’s free, and there are lots of locals on hand to make your next visit to Miami an adventure you’ll treasure for a lifetime!

About the Author:

Douglas Eames is a freelance writer, homespun philosopher and budget bon vivant who divides his time between Southern California and South Beach.

See more articles by Doug.

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