How do you make friends when you’re traveling alone and in a new city for an extended period of time? As a slow traveler who’s newly back on the road alone, I’ve had to get creative in my old ways of meeting people.
As I am an avid Instagram user, @MissFilatelista, I search for popular hashtags of the location that I’m going to be visiting and comment on posts that I love. It may be a picture of a cool cafe, an interesting gallery, or someone who I think I’d connect with over shared mutual passions. If they respond to my comment I will send them a message to see if they have time to meet up in the city while I am there. I made the majority of my friends in Florence, Italy this way and was able to surround myself with creative expats and locals. We’d get together to explore Florence, share meals, cocktails, and even travel together. Our shared passion for travel sparked a mutual interest which led to awesome authentic friendships that have lasted even though I no longer live in Italy.
I have been traveling full-time for over three years and am often only in a new city for anywhere from a week to eight months. If it’s on the shorter side of a stay then that doesn’t leave a lot of time to make new friends in the moment. I’m in a variety of travel communities on Facebook and use these resources to post in advance of arrival to see if anyone is willing to provide any advice on things to do or has the time to meet up to join me to explore or for a coffee. By using these networks I am tapping into a group of people who I already have a shared interest with and therefore have a better chance of establishing a connection that could blossom into a friendship. My favorite travel groups on Facebook for female travelers are Women for Ethical Travel, Female Travel Bloggers, and Go Wonder. Of course, staying in hostels and participating in the social activities they organize is another great way to make friends while traveling.
The contacts that I’ve made while traveling that have turned into long-lasting friendships are with people who are generally interested in getting to know me, and vice versa. Some of these friends are purely digital our paths haven’t crossed so we haven’t been able to meet in person, yet! It’s like the days of AIM chat rooms as teenagers, but this time all your online friends are also passionate entrepreneurs that share similar goals. Once you finally get to meet up in real life it’s like meeting a long-lost lifelong friend.
The easiest friends to make will be expats that you share a culture and language with but it’s likely that they may be travelers who are only in your location for a short time. It can be disappointing to get caught up in the idea that everyone you meet will become a lifelong friend only to lose touch with them once you’re no longer in the same city. If you’ve really connected with someone and want to establish a true friendship check in with them and keep up the conversation like you do with your friends at home, and try to make plans to meet up soon in another city!
It’s a mistake to think that everyone you meet will be your new best friend. Try to identify people who will share an interest with you by frequenting places that you enjoy such as galleries, bookshops, farmers markets, theater shows, etc. Once you’ve connected with someone in an environment that you both enjoy try hanging out next time somewhere different in a setting where you’ll actually have to sit down, talk, and get to know each other. This will test whether your friendship is simply over a shared passion or genuine interest in each other. Just like dating, sharing a cup of coffee is a low commitment and low-cost way to get to know someone.
As with all situations in life, always pay attention to your intuition. Use the same tactics with new friends that you would use with someone you just recently started seeing romantically. Avoid vulnerable situations by keeping your intoxication level low and managing your own transportation. Taxis are common all over the world so make sure to download a ridesharing app in advance like GrabXX so that you can always safely leave if you ever find yourself in an uncomfortable situation. Remember that no is a full sentence and don’t agree to do anything that is outside of your comfort zone. Developing a new relationship will always make you feel vulnerable but it can be an incredibly enjoyable experience if you stay true to yourself.
Be kind to everyone you encounter. Ask lots of questions about local hangouts and happenings. Try to be out and about as much as possible and avoid eating meals alone at home while you are establishing yourself in a new city. You never know, you may ask someone for directions and they may end up giving you an insider tour of their city. One of my greatest friends when I was living in Madrid, Spain was actually my physical therapist. We bonded over our daily chats while she attended my torn Achilles tendon. I got the best recommendations of cafes to frequent from the barista at the gluten-free bakery below my piso in Malasaña, Madrid. I met Nam, who is with me in the cover photo in a trip we took to Vietnam, in the kitchen of Ostello Bello in Milan in 2015!
Everyone you meet could be a friend if you let them be! How do you go about making friends as you travel?