When I first set out to travel the United States alone in my van, I did so with the assumption that meeting other people on the road would be relatively straightforward. I had images in my head of pulling into a campsite and finding myself surrounded by other solo travelers, cracking beers around a campfire. However, a month into nomadic living, I still had not experienced such community apart from the few other van lifers I gave a thumbs up to while driving. I was confused. Was I doing something wrong? Where were all these people?

There are so many joys and merits to traveling alone, and I am the first to defend solo travel as a powerful tool for self-growth and learning. But sometimes, I miss having a community. Through my own journey, I have been exposed to the wonderful community of nomads and van lifers, and have slowly been discovering how to find them. It is a fiercely supportive and selfless group of individuals, a community that genuinely desires nothing less than joy for all its members. But seeing as nomads and travelers are naturally, well, nomadic, discovering ways in which to tap into this can prove to be more challenging than I expected.

Utilize social media

Although it can definitely drive us crazy at times, social media definitely has merit in bringing together the travel community. A simple Facebook search for groups named “van life” or “solo female travelers” or anything related will automatically put you in touch with many amazing individuals. Reading stories from other travelers, having different people contact you to vocalize their support of your journey, and connecting with other encouraging travelers is a definite morale boost. I have been able to meet up with different solo female travelers thanks to the power of social media. Being able to grab dinner with someone who can relate to your experience and shares similar sentiments is such an inspiring and beautiful experience.

Find van life gatherings

These happen at various locations throughout the year, and therefore it is no guarantee that there will be one where and when you are in a specific location. However, if you find yourself lucky enough to attend, they can be a fantastic networking opportunity with like minded individuals. These gatherings tend to last a couple days, and provide ample opportunity for walking around and talking to other individuals, couples, or families, all of whom embrace what it means to live on the road.

Learn where to camp

Forest roads = hotspots for vans and travelers. Forest roads allow for free camping up to 14 days, and thankfully, this hack is well known within the van life community. Drive into any forest road, especially out west, and odds are you will see a few other rigs scattered along it. Campgrounds, although guaranteed to house other people, are more often frequented by families. Don’t get me wrong, there are some awesome families who frequent campgrounds, but forest roads and BLM land (also mainly a western thing) are your best bet for connecting with more long term travelers.

Put yourself out there

Much easier said than done. As an introvert, I can heartily attest to that fact. Even if you do find other vans on a forest road, in a grocery store, or any of the other places where they reside, it can be daunting to approach them and introduce yourself. But if there’s anything that this community has taught me, it is that people are generally interested in others, and often open up when someone else does first. When we allow ourselves to meet others and open ourselves up to the world, we simultaneously open ourselves up to the spontaneity that arises when we engage in the present. This engagement with the present is one of the best ways to connect with others while living on the road.

Being alone is not the same thing as being lonely. The opportunity to be alone is a necessary aspect of the human experience. But there can be times when we experience loneliness, too. To be lonely, however, proves that we know what it is like to not be lonely, and that is a gift in itself. When we experience the travel community in a moment of loneliness, the beauty of that human connection is further amplified. For in this community sit individuals who love to laugh, who support the pursuit of the unknown, and who share the desire to learn about the world and those within it.

Article written by Katie Harris. You can check out Katie’s adventures on Instagram at @katie_harris_16 or her website byvanandbyfoot.com.