5 Way To Make New Friends While Traveling
Often, when I tell people I enjoy traveling solo, I get incredulous looks.
“Don’t you get lonely?” they ask, “How do you make friends?”
I’ve found that it’s almost easier to make friends while traveling compared to making friends back home. When you’re in the comfort of your hometown with your established circle of friends, it can be hard to feel motivated to say hello to that interesting-looking stranger on the bus.
When traveling, however, you enter a different mindset. People who travel (versus people on vacation) are generally not looking to get away from the chaos of daily life.
People who travel usually want to delve right into the midst of that chaos—in a different country and culture. They travel with questions such as:
- “Why do people from this culture behave the way they do?”
- “What are their motivators?”
- “What traditions and historical events made them the way they are?”
- “How can I learn from their way of life?”
Befriending people abroad, whether they’re locals or other travelers, is an eye-opening experience that provides immeasurable value to one’s view of the world and ability to accept people different from oneself.
Here are a few personally tried-and-true ways to make friends while traveling.
1. Stay at hostels and talk to other travelers
Despite what the movie Hostel might make you believe, hostels are not scary.
Most of them are safe and clean. Some are even quite luxurious. They are also great for traveling on a budget and meeting new people.
The kind of people who stay are hostels are generally very friendly and open-minded. They choose to stay at hostels over hotels because they want to be in the kind of environment that encourages new friendships.
The best way to start a conversation with people at hostels (or in any situation while traveling) is:
- “Hi, my name is ___________. How are you? Where are you from?”
- The response is usually: “Hi! I’m ___________. Nice to meet you! I’m from ___________.”
- You: “That’s awesome! I’m from ___________. Why are you in this place? Vacation? Visiting friends? Just because?”
- Them: “I’m here because…”
You then discuss why you’re both in the same country, and the countries you’re from. From that, a world of conversation materializes.
Good hostels create environments that nurture new friendships.
I like to use Hostelworld to choose places to stay. The website provides detailed information about hostel location, prices, facilities, and many reliable reviews and ratings (sometimes in the thousands). I always try to pick a hostel with at least a 9.0/10.0 rating that is located close to the center of the city and is within my budget. Hostelworld also allows you to book right on their website. You then just bring a booking confirmation or provide your name to reception upon check-in.
2. Go to meetups
Thanks to the Internet, we have a huge range of opportunities to meet up with like-minded people.
There are numerous travel forums, Facebook groups, and Meetups in all corners of the world.
People—whether they are travelers, expats, or locals—attend meetups to meet new people. As a result, they are usually very friendly and open to conversation.
The tried-and-true new-friend pickup line, “Where are you from?” works wonders.
The reply to this question is always fascinating. The conversation then continues as such:
- “Why did you decide to leave home?”
- “Why this place in particular?”
- “How long are you in town for?”
- “What are you doing in town?”
- “What are your plans for the rest of your stay?”
- “How do you like it here?”
- “What is the coolest thing you’ve done here?”
- “Where are you off to next?”
- “Why is that your next destination?”
And just like that, all of a sudden, you’ve made a new friend.
3. Join a tour
I’m personally not a fan of fully-guided tours that have a set schedule from the moment you check in to your flight to the moment you land back home. These tours choose your hotels, transportation, and sights for you, and are perfectly fine if you enjoy the relaxation that comes from not having to do the planning yourself.
However, I feel that these tours don’t provide enough room for spontaneity and don’t give enough of an integrated cultural experience.
That being said, learning about the history and theoretical culture of a place provides immeasurable value to understanding its people.
Therefore, I like to go on short day tours. You get an overview of the place’s history and culture from a knowledgeable tour guide, then are free to explore as you will.
Oftentimes, many people on the same tour have the same idea, and you link up to explore together after the tour is over.
4. Use dating apps
No, I’m serious! Dating apps are a great way to meet new people.
Some apps have even come out with options for meeting people on a platonic basis.
All you have to do is write a message like “I’m a traveler in town for a few days! Anyone want to teach me the local language?”
As people who have used dating apps before know, most of whom you meet end up being platonic acquaintances. However, when you meet these people abroad, they all provide an interesting conversation. They tell you about their city, country, and culture, you tell them about yours, and you part ways having learned something new about the world.
As traveler, it’s generally easier to make friends with other travelers who speak your native language. Being in a foreign country often puts you on edge, therefore, you tend to gravitate towards people from the same background. Also, locals often avoid areas with high tourist traffic, making it more difficult to find them. Dating apps are a good way around this.
For those who are iffy about meeting strangers they find online, consider the kind of photos they have on their profile.
People usually choose photos for dating apps based on the kind of persona they wish to represent. This persona is usually true to who they are. For example, if this person only has shirtless gym selfies, chances are they’re a tool.
My best advice is: pick someone who has a kind smile.
Chances are, they are genuine and as kind as they look.
5. Smile and keep an open mind
No two people on this planet are alike. The further from home you go, the less likely you are to find people who are similar to you and speak your language.
However, as cheesy as it may sound, one thing that I’ve learned is that a smile goes a long way. Smiling is almost a universal language and portrays friendliness and openness. It speaks a thousand words even when you cannot speak single one in the local language.
Something else to keep in mind when traveling is that every human—while different in personality, culture, religion, skin color, and sexual orientation—is, at the end of the day, exactly just that. Human. Every human on this planet breathes, laughs, cries, and bleeds exactly like every other human on this planet.
We are all the way we are based on our genetics, surrounding culture, the way we were raised, and the experiences we had growing up. Who are we to judge anyone else? No human can ever know the full extent of the struggles, hopes, and dreams of another human. So long as they are not harming others with their way of life, who we are to judge?
Keeping an open mind and being accepting of all people you come across in all corners of the planet is key to developing new and enriching friendships.
The world is, at the same time, both smaller and larger, and more familiar and foreign than you can ever imagine.
So go. Get out of here!