When Daniela Castillo was planning a recent vacation to Mexico City, she opened up her Tinder app. But she wasn’t looking for a romantic date at Chapultepec Castle, or even a quick hookup while in town.
She wanted travel advice.
Like other solo travelers, Ms. Castillo, 27, who writes a travel blog, has increasingly found dating apps like Tinder and Bumble a convenient way to meet locals, see the sights and get recommendations on where to eat and where to go when visiting an unfamiliar destination.
But there are the obvious risks. “You need to make very clear from the beginning what you are looking for,” she said. “Most people do want the romantic aspect, so it is hard and takes a bit of time to find the profile of someone who is O.K. being friends.”
Dating apps can be an interesting way to learn about local culture, said Craig Johnson, who works for a real estate company in Seattle. “You’re looking at the city through the lens of its dating pool and how people describe themselves.” He uses Tinder and Bumble when he travels abroad. Mr. Johnson said he was interested in connecting with people from other countries, “and there’s always the excitement that it might turn into a romantic encounter.”
Link Salas, the creative director for a small technology company in New York, said he used Grindr, a social networking app for gay, bisexual, and transgender men, to learn about the places he’s traveling to and to meet men there. “I change my profile to say I am in town and looking for someone to show me around,” he said. “Some guys suggest a gay neighborhood to check out or a club,” he said. Some offer to meet in person. “The way you phrase your paragraph affects the responses you get,” he said.
The gay dating app Scruff also recently started a new service for its users, Scruff Venture, in which travelers can search more than 500 destinations, and then contact local “venture ambassadors” for advice on where to go and what to do.
And while many solo travelers may indeed be single, and thus potentially open to romantic encounters, still others are on their own because their spouses or partners are back at home, unable to make this trip.
That’s one factor that in 2016 led the dating site Bumble to expand its offerings to friendship (Bumble BFF) and, in 2017, to work-related connections (Bumble Bizz). Jess Carbino, a sociologist working for Bumble, said the company’s research showed that more of its users were using the app to meet local residents when traveling solo. “People in their 20s and 30s are in different places in their lives, so it can be hard to find someone to travel with,” she said.
Of course, personal safety is always a concern for solo vacationers. “When you don’t know the area and don’t have friends there, it’s even more important to be cautious,” Ms. Castillo said. She said she always shares with a close friend the name and phone number of the person she is going to meet, where they are going and when she expects to be back at her hotel.
Other dating app users say they stay safe when meeting strangers abroad by only meeting during daylight hours, in busy parts of town, or in places that do not serve alcohol. And they state clearly that their intent is platonic. If someone tries to push past these parameters online or in person, they advise cutting off the interaction. Sharing your location with a friend is another precaution. (The Grindr, Bumble and Tinder apps also supply advice on staying safe when meeting strangers.)
To dissuade people from creating false identities that could be used for nefarious purposes, Bumble moderators ask people setting up new accounts to follow a set of prompts on camera, to ensure they are submitting an authentic photo for their profile and not copying an image from the internet. Emily Wright, a company spokeswoman, said reports of inappropriate actions are dealt with “swiftly and seriously,” and users who break the code of conduct can be banned from the app.
While some travelers may not be looking for romance, sometimes it just happens. In 2016, Ms. Castillo met a man through Tinder while she was traveling through Europe and ended up in an 18-month relationship with him. “I guess it’s not the most romantic app in the world,” she said, “but it does bring you some interesting possibilities and the opportunity to meet people you would have never met otherwise.”
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