How to Use Tinder (Safely!) While Traveling: Looking for a Tour Guide as a Solo Female
For the solo female traveler, this is probably going to be the most helpful post in this series for utilizing Tinder abroad. At the same time, however, it’s likely also going to be the hardest of the three to get comfortable with. Because Tinder is used/thought of as a hookup app, when it comes to actually meeting up with one of your matches, there's definitely a sort of dance that you might need to learn when navigating expectations. So, this guide is going to be a bit of a long one, but I'm hoping that it'll cover all of the bases and give you a pretty good idea of how to go about doing this safely and effectively.
Let's jump straight into it:
Disclaimer: This post is going to say some things that may go against modern ways of thinking about male/female relations, and while I don't think that's the way things ought to be, I think we all need to realize that these modes of thinking are still prevalent. And maybe you live somewhere where you don't really have to think about things like how the clothes you're wearing will be perceived, and it's easy to assume that everyone thinks the same way we do when that's all we're exposed to, but the truth is that in a lot of places it's still something you need to consider. So I'm going to do my best to point these things out at risk of sounding outdated, just to make sure you're aware of all possibilities.
1. Tailoring your profile
Because the point of this is to match with people you're actually interested in meeting up with, I do recommend being choosey about your pictures. While I would take down photos that could come across as overtly sexual (keeping in mind the culture that you're visiting and their ideas of what constitutes sexual vs. what you're used to, of course), don't be afraid to try to sell yourself a bit and look like someone people would actually want to spend time with doing things that you want to do.
For example, when it comes to my own profile, the image I try to portray is "fun." These are the pictures that I keep in rotation that I'll change out depending on where I am (though I try to have at least four on my profile at all times):
Notice that they're all very outdoors-focused and kind of paint a picture of me being on the more easy-going side. This is how I would describe myself, and the kind of person I'd want to match with and potentially spend a few hours to a day with would be the kind of person who would appreciate that.
So if you're a huge foodie, maybe include a picture of yourself at a restaurant. Or if you've done a lot of traveling, have some shots of you in iconic locations. Really though, don't be afraid to be yourself. Again, your goal here is to match and meet with someone who you might end up spending quite a bit of time with platonically, which generally means a lot of talking. And if you aren't real about who you are, it could lead to a pretty dull/uninteresting date. Of course, you can narrow down your pool later when you get to actually messaging, but might as well start strong.
Some general tips when it comes to pictures though, make sure you have at least one shot that shows your face pretty clearly, and do not, under any circumstances have a group photo as your first picture. No one likes to play the guessing game.
So now that you've got their attention, it's time to keep it and turn it into a right-swipe. The most important thing, in my opinion, is to state that you're visiting and want someone to show you around/hang out with. Letting them know that you're a tourist gives a sense of urgency to meet up (which you want!), and also weeds out the ones who wouldn't be willing to show you around. Win-win. You don't have to state the specific dates that you're going to be there, but giving a general timeframe (e.g.: for a week, until the end of the month, for Spring Break, etc) wouldn't hurt.
After that, you don't need to write a novel. Just put one or two things that could potentially get a conversation going. A hobby, a few of your favorite musicians/movies/etc, where you’re from. Again (and I'm going to keep reiterating this since it is a little counterintuitive to how Tinder is normally used), the goal here is to find someone who will help you to do things that you're actually interested in and who you'd be okay talking with for a while. So even if your profile back at home just says, "Buy me pizza," and it's effective for you there, it might be a good idea to change it up a bit while on the road.
As for the stuff on the bottom of your profile, like I said in the first post, I'm a huge fan of including your Instagram or other social media profiles because it lends credibility and can act as a talking point. And if you're into music or are hoping to maybe see a concert or show while you're there, it helps to have your Spotify attached, too. Basically, just fill out everything to give as complete of an image of who you are as possible.
For some context, this is what my profile looked like when I was in Malaysia in March:
These are the settings I use and recommend.
Distance: I only want to match with people within a reasonable distance from where I am/where I want to see to maximize the chance that they'd be able to meet up and show me around.
Gender: Personally, I don't really care if it's a guy or girl showing me around as long as they meet my other criteria. If you're a girl only looking to meet other girls though, remember that your available pool will be much smaller. Though depending on where you are and how seriously Tinder is taken locally, there definitely could be a number of girls who are also looking only to meet up with other girls to hang out with/make new friends (which is the case in Japan - more so than back in the US, anyways).
Age: I feel like if there's too much of an age difference, it's a lot harder to find common ground in casual conversation, and someone closer to your own age is more likely to share interests and know what you're looking to get out of a ~tourist experience~. ALSO, if you're a young woman, and a man a good deal older than you is trying to match with you, then you basically know what he's after. So let's steer clear of that, shall we?
2. Swiping Strategically
Okay, so you've got the attention of everyone you want to have the attention of, now it’s time to figure out what you're looking for. First of all, let's turn off (or at least tone down) the internal filter that makes you immediately swipe left on people you're not physically attracted to. That's not the (whole) point here. Instead, focus on other aspects of their profile: Do they look like they'd be interesting to talk to? Do they have similar interests? Are they even from the area? Try swiping on those kinds of things instead.
Another thing to keep in mind while swiping is whether or not this person looks like a creep. When it comes to this kind of thing (that is, platonic Tinder usage, or even normal Tinder usage really), I’m a huge proponent of judging a book by its cover. Better safe than sorry, right? So if they look like they’re definitely only looking for a hookup or even if they’re just giving off strange vibes, by all means, swipe left!
Here are some other things that I like to consider when swiping:
- Connected Instagram - bonus points if they look like they’re a good photographer! It doesn’t hurt to have someone around who knows how to frame a photo to help you fill your own feed!
- Original caption - they don’t have to have the wittiest one-liner in the history of dating apps, but originality shows effort
- Only one picture - extra minus if their one picture isn't even them.
- All of their pictures are selfies - do they not have any friends?
- No description - that's just sketchy
3. Assessing Your Matches
There’s only so much you can glean from a few pictures and a sentence or two of description, which means yes, you’re going to have to message them. Depending on your time frame and urgency, I suppose you can wait to see if they’ll message you first, but come on, you’re on vacation, you’re not trying to impress anyone or play games. You just want to get out and meet people.
But don’t worry if you don’t want to take the time to put a lot of thought into each first message. As a female, you’ve got the upper hand on this front. Even a “Hey,” or “How’s it going?” will be enough to get a guy’s attention and elicit a response. They aren’t very used to girls kicking things off.
After that, though, I suggest maybe not just right away asking if they'll show you around. Instead, let the conversation flow naturally to get more of a feel of who this person is because, again, the last thing you want is to find yourself on a date with someone who isn't as they seemed. Also, by talking a bit, you're able to kind of suss out what they're after or what they're hoping to get out of a date/meeting with you. If they're being overly flirtatious or only asking you out for drinks, then you might want to assume they're looking for a hookup. And while that's still something you can work around if you're comfortable, if you're not, then you know to not continue with this person and move on to the next conversation, saving yourself some time.
And maybe this is just in my head, but I feel like by not directly asking them to show you around and letting them bring it up instead (it's in your description, they'll definitely bring it up if they've read it. If they haven't, that's another red flag really), you're much more likely to actually get a guide/date who'll follow through. People tend to be more willing to do things when they think they've thought of it themselves and aren't just responding to a request.
One very important thing to remember when conversing (whether online or in-person) though: Never tell them that you're traveling alone. Not only does that leave you open to being taken advantage of, but you lose your excuses to get out of a bad date. If they ask, I would say that I'm either technically traveling alone but staying with relatives who live in the area or that I'm tagging along with friends who had their own day plans.
4. Having a Successful Meeting
Great! So you've talked with someone a bit, decided they wouldn't be terrible company for a few hours, and have been offered some local hospitality. Finally, it's time to decide what to do and hit the town (or wherever). Of course the whole point of finding someone local on Tinder to show you around is to get a local's perspective, so you're obviously not going to want to dictate too heavily what the two of you do, but there are some conditions that you may want to bring up for them to think about when they're making your itinerary.
I'm going to be pretty upfront about it, if all you decide to do is dinner and drinks, there may be an expectation that something more is going to happen after. So, I recommend keeping your activities to something more daytime-focused. You should also decide if you're comfortable getting into someone's car or if you'd rather arrange to just meet at the place and take public transportation/a taxi/uber yourself. If you aren't totally comfortable being driven, then it may be better to request someplace nearer to where you're staying. When they've decided what you're doing, make sure to look the place up ahead of time so that you're not going in totally blind.
Once all that is figured out, and it's time to meet up, it's best to go into it with a plan. Decide what you are and aren't comfortable with, what you might consider a red flag, and what you would do in the case that things didn't go as planned. It might also be a good idea to pay extra attention to what you're wearing and how it might be taken given the place/culture you're in.
In the end, if all goes well, don't hesitate to accept a second date! If you've got a good rapport going and feel like you can trust this person, feel free to just use your judgement on how to best proceed whether that's doing a similar thing again or maybe letting your guard down a bit and accepting that offer for drinks.
5. Getting Out of a Less Than Stellar Situation
Try as we might to avoid sticky situations, sometimes they happen, and so it's always good to have escape routes. Hopefully the worst that happens is that the person you're with just ends up being incredibly boring or even kind of a dick and you simply cannot stand to be around them for the entire duration of your planned outing. In that case, you can simply say you aren't feeling well, or, if you want something a little more believable you can have a friend ready to call you so that you can fake an emergency that you need to attend to (because, as you've told them, you're not traveling completely alone). Alternatively, there are several apps that can make it look like you're getting a call. For the iPhone, "Fake Call Free" has a lot of good reviews, though I've never used it myself.
In the off chance that the situation is a bit more dire, say they've got you in their car and are driving off somewhere or they're being forceful or pushy, remember, the number one priority is your safety. Who cares if you embarrass yourself, who cares if it turns out that you've completely overreacted. Safety first, guys. Scream, shout, make a big commotion. If you've got calling capabilities on your phone, make sure you know what the local emergency number is (the equivalent of 911).
On that note, though, don't overanalyze! Understand that cultural differences are bound to exist and that maybe what you're taking as a weird vibe is just a product of that. The vast majority of people are good and don't have bad intentions. Be safe, be vigilant, but have an open mind and let yourself just enjoy your experience abroad!
6. Other Things to Think About
- At some point during your exchanges with people, you're probably going to want to take your conversations off Tinder (it is kind of a clunky app for back and forth messaging, after all), and if you don't have a local number/one of you doesn't have an iPhone/you don't want to give out your phone number, then messaging apps are the best way to do that. While everyone on Tinder is guaranteed to have a Facebook account and thus Messenger, maybe you don't want to share that right away. If that's the case, it's good to figure out what the main messaging app in the country that you're in is and set up an account so you're ready to go. For example, in Korea KakaoTalk is popular, in Japan it's LINE, in China it's WeChat, and basically for the rest of the world it's WhatsApp.
- Yes, these are technically dates, but you shouldn't expect the other person to pay for everything you do. If they insist, fine, but always try to pay for your portion because that's just the polite thing to do. And, though I really hate that this is a thing, but the reality of it is, if you pay for yourself you're less likely to be seen as "owing" them anything. You and I both know that being bought something doesn't mean that anything is required in return, but let's be real here, a lot of people (guys, especially) do see it that way, even if just subconsciously. So to dodge that toxic way of thinking as much as possible, try to always pay for yourself. Think about all the money you're saving on a real tour guide, anyways.
Remember, this is all just kind of rough guide for what to do so that this is the most comfortable experience for you. Ultimately, what you decide to do and not do is completely up to your own judgement! So go forth, have fun, and live life like a local everywhere you go.