Last year I moved 8000 miles from home and found myself, for the first time ever, in a new place with no friends. I wanted everyone to instantly recognize how great I was and become my friend immediately, which was obviously bratty and ridiculous. But I hate working for things, and as a supremely lazy person, I just wanted to get making friends over with already.
So like most lazy (aka efficient) people, I wanted to find the easiest and fastest way to do it. Making friends requires actual work, like most things in life. There’s no way to magically drop into a ready-made social network. But there are a few things you can do to speed the process.
Making friends in a new city doesn’t have to be hard – in fact, it boils down to a pretty simple formula. You need to meet a ton of people, you need to see them regularly, and you need to turn them from acquaintances into friends. You have to feel comfortable initiating hangouts, and be open to genuine connections with just about anyone, in just about any situation. And if my bumbling, awkward ass can learn to do it, anyone can.
Stay in a Hostel
Your first goal, without worrying about actually making any friends, should just be to meet as many people as you possibly can. You’re not going to make any friends if you only know two people! One of the easiest places to do this is a hostel.
Even if you’re staying somewhere long-term, consider living at a hostel for your first couple weeks. They are so fun. You meet like-minded travelers. You see each other every day. You’re basically forced to get to know one another. Hang out in the common area or bar, join in on group tours, bar crawls, or other events, or start small by befriending the people in your dorm.
I’m notoriously bad at small talk and even I found hostels a breeze. Everyone has interesting stories – where they’re from, why they’re there, how long they’ve been traveling, etc – that they’re happy to share if you ask. And the environment is so open and social that even a cursory getting-to-know-you conversation will probably lead to an invite out later. Check HostelWorld before booking to see which places are great for socializing, and which aren’t.
Accept Every Invitation
Have you ever seen that terrible Jim Carrey movie Yes Man, where he’s forced to say yes to everything and it changes his life? That movie is 100% accurate. Forcing yourself to say yes to things is a great life philosophy (within reason). Even if it’s kind of scary and potentially awkward, who cares?? It’s still going to be more exciting than staying home.
I am shy. I also agreed to go on a party bus in Cairns with a bunch of Irish dudes I’d met the night before. I agreed to drinks with two Brits I met in Singapore, even though I was tired and had planned a hot date with Netflix that evening. I went bar crawling with four random Americans in Bali, I went mud crabbing with an Aussie fisherman I’d met on a tour the previous day, I went night snorkeling in Sydney with two people I’d met at an apartment viewing, I showed up alone to a party in Bondi where I knew the host and no one else (unheard of for Old Me).
Do I regret doing any of that? Fuck no. These are some of my favorite memories from the past year, I made friends from all of them, and I was anxious and hesitant about every single one. Don’t let nerves stop you from doing something that could end up being a spectacular experience.
Get a Job!
Even if you work remotely, it’s worth it to get a part-time job just for the social aspect. In every single place that I lived, my coworkers became some of my closest friends and led me to a reliable social calendar. If it’s a customer-facing role you might make friends with a few of your customers, too! I worked at a hotel in Darwin and not only were my coworkers fun, interesting travelers, I also hung out with guests all the time.
Job choice is key here. You want to make sure you’re somewhere with people of a vaguely similar age group, with vaguely similar interests. If you’re a young traveler, find a restaurant or bar and you’ll be set.
Use the Internet
Back in the day, meeting people from the internet was weird and lame. But thanks to Tinder, Uber, and everything in between, it’s 100% socially acceptable now. The internet offers you access to way more people than you could ever hope to meet organically, and statistically, some of those people are going to be cool af. You’re wasting a huge and valuable resource if you don’t seek out friends online, in my opinion.
There’s all kinds of places to meet people online. A good place to start is Meetup.com, but Facebook has a ton of city-specific pages also. A quick search of FB in my hometown pulled up groups for new mothers, poker players, visual art enthusiasts, Fitness People, brunch lovers, etc, etc. If you want to find a group of people with similar interests in your new city, this is a safe bet.
Ask Friends to Connect You with Their Local Friends
Have friends from home link you up with their friends, whether local or other transplants. If your friend is friends with them, they’re probably cool, right? Organize a friend date (not as awkward as it sounds), and if you like each other plan another hangout, easy as that.
I made one of my good friends this way, and through her made two more close friends! Often friends of friends will be from the same area or at least the same country. And that’s a huge shared experience and identity that most other people in that city won’t have. More than half of my close friends in Australia are American for exactly this reason! It was easy to relate to each other from the start.
Reach Out to Literally Anyone You Know Who Lives There
If you even casually know anyone who lives in the area, hit them up! People you barely knew back home could become close friends abroad. If that person has also uprooted they’re probably looking for friends too. And If they’re a local, they’ll still likely appreciate how difficult it is to start over somewhere new, and might even volunteer to show you around.
I knew a girl from my university had moved to Sydney, but I didn’t reach out. She ended up spotting me in a bar one day and sent me a message! We were barely acquaintances back home, but it turned out she was really cool and we became fast friends.
I also became good friends with one of her friends, and through that friend met a guy I’ve been seeing for eight months now! Oh, and I also ended up moving in with her cousin with less than a week’s notice after I left my ex, and became very close with her too. I never would have met any of those people if that girl hadn’t reached out to me.
Network, Network, Network
Meeting friends of friends is the easiest way to make friends when traveling. You skip over the agonizing getting-to-know-you conversation and bond in a group setting, which is way less stressful. These are basically ready-made friends, as long as you’re willing to put in a little effort.
Especially when traveling, people are very open to new friendships. Organize a small group outing like a brunch or happy hour with your mutual friend, get to know each other a little better, then invite them to an event you know they’ll like, or to grab an after-work drink. I like to turn friends-of-friends into my friends by casually roasting our mutual friend, texting inside jokes, initiating hangouts, or (depending on the person) straight up saying “I love you can we be friends??”.
Join Girls LOVE Travel
If you’re a female traveler, Girls LOVE Travel is about to be your best friend. It’s one of the largest Facebook groups, with over 500 thousand members, and it’s one of the most welcoming communities I’ve found anywhere on the internet.
If you’re traveling or moving somewhere and don’t know anyone, post in the group! More likely than not you’ll get offers from locals to show you around, messages from other girls who are also new to the area, and other advice. There are also a lot of city-specific sub-groups – I joined the Sydney chapter and ended up making a really close friend. The group is an awesome, awesome resource.
Download Apps Like Bumble Bff
My iPhone 5S is still chugging along on iOS 9, so unfortunately there are a ton of apps that are unusable to me until I update (never) or get a new phone (also never). But I’ve heard great things about Bumble BFF. I’ve got a couple of friends who have used it, and confirmed that fun, normal people are on it.
I may not have used the app, but I have gone on a couple of Internet Friend Dates. And I can vouch for them not being as awkward as you might imagine. The dynamic is obviously different than a date-date, but the principle is essentially the same. If you vibe, you’ve got an instant friend. If you don’t, you never have to see them again.
Make an Effort to Turn Acquaintances into Friends
Once I’m casual friends with someone, I make an effort! I text them if I feel like hanging out, I ask about that thing they mentioned were stressed about, I take the time to schmooze with them for a few minutes when I get to the office in the morning, I pick them up an extra croissant from the bakery on my way in. People appreciate little things like this. It’s how you strengthen connections and make people feel close to you.
People constantly tell me that I’m the only traveler they’ve met who’s made such an effort to hang out, get to know them, and actually become friends. I’m convinced this is why despite staying in places for only a couple months at a time, I’ve made legitimate life long friends, and why none of my close friendships have faded over the years.
Ask People to Hang Out With You
I definitely used to be guilty of worrying about how I came across in social situations. Asking someone you barely knew to hang out was weird, right? Wrong. Friendship is like dating – someone is going to have to make the first move, and it may as well be you, right?
Obviously don’t just spam everyone you meet with invitations – you should have built something of a rapport with this person first. But there’s nothing wrong with having a good time with someone and asking them to hang out again. It’s called putting yourself out there, and it’s how you get most good things in life!
Join a Sports Team
Sports teams are always super close-knit and full of fun, outgoing people. Pretty much everyone I know is part of some cool sports crew, and as an unathletic piece of shit I’ve always been really jealous. Not only do you train hard and play hard (I assume? lol), there are always post-game drinks, team events, and other hangouts.
The idea is to meet people you’re going to see often, with a common interest. If you’ve got something in common, that’s something to connect over from the start. You don’t even have to be good at sports! Pick whichever one you suck the least at, and go.
Work on Being a Better Communicator
No one is ever going to become your friend if they can’t get to know you, and being able to communicate effectively is a big part of making that happen. Practice conversations if you have to! Don’t overthink, don’t get wrapped up in your head, just listen to the other person and conversation will flow naturally. Especially when traveling, everyone has a story to share, and if you’re genuinely interested in hearing that story, people will respond.
If you think you’re too shy to make friends, you’re wrong. I used to have major issues having even the most basic conversation, because I was so focused on wtf I was going to say next that I forgot to actually, you know, listen. People are always surprised to learn how shy I am because I come off so social and confident now. I was not always like this!! I had to learn!
Be Open to Connection Anywhere and Everywhere
On a train to San Diego a couple months ago I asked a random girl if I could sit at her table, and we ended up spending the full two-hour ride chatting. We could have just sat across from each other playing on our phones the whole time, but instead we were open to a connection and both left the train with a new friend.
These encounters are EVERYWHERE waiting for you if you let them happen. Since I started making more of an effort to entertain random conversation, I’ve found myself making friends everywhere I go (whether home or abroad).
As a closed off, emotionally repressed person (:|) I used to think it was weird when people shared things about themselves with me right away. Now I’ve realized this is how you get close to people! If someone strikes up a conversation, entertain it. If someone shares something with you, listen! The biggest lesson I learned this year is that closing yourself off to new possibilities and new connections is the dumbest thing you could ever do.
Be Creepy, Desperate, and Pathetic
Okay, don’t really do that. What I mean is, put yourself out there, even if you feel a little creepy, desperate and pathetic doing it. Shoot someone a message if you think they seem cool, start a conversation with a girl because she’s wearing a cute outfit. What’s the worst that could happen?
A couple weeks after I moved to Sydney, I saw this girl post something on Facebook about hosting a weekly dinner. I thought she seemed cool and sent her a message, even though I felt like a total loser propositioning someone for a hangout. That girl is now one of my best friends, and one of her best friends is now also one of my best friends. Imagine if I never sent that message.
As we’ve already established, a little social rejection never hurt anyone, so don’t worry about what the other person might think. If anything they’ll probably be flattered that you reached out. And who knows, you might get a lifelong friend (and a man, lol) out of it!
I didn’t know a single person in this post a year ago. Not too shabby, for someone who was once anxious to even introduce herself. I’m confident now that I (or anyone else!) could make friends anywhere in the world. I hope these tips help you to make some friends on your travels too!