20 Ways to Make Friends Abroad: How to Meet New People for Digital Nomads and Solo Travellers
We May Be Independent, but We Still Need Friends
I started my life as a digital nomad with a presupposition: I will make a great digital nomad because I already enjoy a lot of alone time.
I’ve travelled a little bit before this (mostly) full-time venture and I’ve done most of it on my own. Every time I venture away from home, I am immediately comforted by the fact that I don't need to keep up with social interactions. It is glorious . . . For about 3 weeks. Then, I remember that I am a human and thus, a social creature! I need people, if only a little bit.
Next, I remember how awkward I can be and also that I am not great at making new friends even when I have the home court advantage (to use a sports metaphor correctly, I’m sure).
Don’t get me wrong. I have friends (I swear!), but without fail, my lifestyle means that those distinguished allies and I always end up spending most of the year apart and I find myself in need of some travel buddies.
So, without further hesitation, here are one introvert’s ideas for making friends in a new place where you don’t know anyone and probably don’t speak the language. Godspeed!
20 Ideas to Help You Make New Friends on the Road
1. Take a Walking Tour.
Whenever I take a walking tour, I feel like I might as well be dressed in a Hawaiian print shirt and khaki with my socks pulled up to my knees, but the information is almost always genuinely interesting and tour guides, in my experience, are usually welcoming, friendly, and really entertaining types. Talk to your guide, tell her that you’re new in town. Ask where the locals or expats hang out and you may even get an invite.
2. Take Advantage of Coworking Spaces.
Coworking spaces were literally designed to give remote workers a place to connect. Day passes are usually available for the commitmentphobes among us. Just remember, people are there to get work done, so be friendly, but don’t pester.
3. Use Meetup (the app).
This has got to be the most popular app that is geared to meeting (but generally not hooking up with) complete strangers! I’ve used it a few times with great success for book clubs, writing groups, and hiking trips, but they have activities for basically every interest. If the city you’re in doesn’t have what you’re looking for, you can start your own meetup and let like-minded people come to you.
4. Consider Using Dating Apps.
I have successfully used dating apps to find travel buddies. It can be done. Of course, they can also be used to . . . well, find a date. If you decide to use a dating app, especially abroad, please, use caution and common sense. Tell a friend where you're going and when to expect a message from you, meet in a public place, never leave your drink unattended, etc.
You can do all kinds of cool things for volunteer work and you can help give back to the community you are based in. What’s not to love? Just make sure you do some research on ethical volunteering before you go.
I am a recent convert to the world of sports and recreation. I finally found a way to get exercise that I don’t dread and now I feel downright evangelical about it. For me, it was rock climbing, but you might love Irish dance or Japanese Kembu and even if you don’t, the rush of endorphins you’ll get just might be that extra push you needed to say hello to one of the people you now have something in common with.
7. Take a class.
Tap dancing classes, sword fighting classes, personal development classes, yoga classes, language classes, cooking classes. Learn something and get a bonus conversation starter!
8. Try Work Exchanges.
I love work exchanges. I’m sure I’ve said those words many dozens of times, but man, do I love work exchanges. I have worked as a carpenter, olive harvester, babysitter, painter (in the hull of a floating yoga center . . . ), gardener, sheep’s wool insulation installer (that’s a working title), goatherd, and probably some other things I’ve completely forgotten about, all in exchange for a place to stay and usually, meals. What a deal! This is a great way to make a 'soft landing' in a new place with built-in friends who will probably be more than happy to show you around!
9. Join Facebook Groups.
Online groups are a great way to get to know a place or keep in touch with a place. I have a group for most of the places I have lived and I join groups when I’m going to be in a place for more than a month. They can be a great way to meet people and learn about a new place fast. Try expat groups, digital nomad groups, and special interest groups. It is always gratifying to exchange ideas with like-minded people and when you have a few thousand people willing to share tips and hacks, you have a real wealth of support and information.
10. Participate in Language Exchanges.
Language exchanges are an extremely effective way to meet locals. I’m not sure anything more needs to be said. Learn a new language and help someone else practice yours.
11. Try Couchsurfing.
I can’t not mention Couchsurfing on this list, but honestly, I tend to find it extremely labour intensive and I'm never very comfortable in someone else's space. I do like the Couchsurfing meetups though! Just remember those golden rules of meeting strangers from the internet (see #4).
12. Join Book Clubs.
I know I mentioned book clubs earlier, but they really do deserve their own separate shout-out. Find them on the bulletin boards of local bookstore, social media, Meetup, local colleges, and libraries.
13. Jam Out.
If you play a musical instrument or want to learn to play a musical instrument, this has probably occurred to you. Ask around about jam sessions at music stores, on community message boards and on the internet in general. Honestly, I have never done this because I’m a big chicken, but you let me know how it goes and we'll see.
14. Talk to Strangers.
While my aptitude for it seems to be improving on the whole, I am not a big fan talking to strangers, it makes me feel like I have octopuses (and yes, that is one of the three correct plurals of octopus) living in my stomach. It can, however, can be a rewarding pursuit under the right circumstances and it is, in fact, an excellent way to meet people.
Pro Tip: If you look at another human and bare your teeth while turning up the corners of your mouth, they will often speak first, saving you the trouble ;)
15. Take Advantage of Family-Style Seating.
I’ve heard tell of restaurants where they seat everyone at the same, long table to try get conversation flowing. I can see this working really well. Food really gets people talking. Alcohol helps too.
16. Find a Cause.
Join a club or a cause. People are notoriously talkative when they are talking about their passions!
17. Find Old Friends or Friends of Friends.
Ask around, maybe you already know someone there!
18. Try Retreats.
If you can afford to shell out the cash, this is one of the best ways to make bosom buddies fast. It's like camp, for adults!
19. Find a Roommate.
Live with locals, expats, or digital nomads if you are staying for long enough. Even Airbnb has options like this!
20. Get Drunk!
Just kidding! No, I'm not! Am I? Well, yes and no. It's probably not a good idea to go out and get wasted, but bars are notoriously great places to meet people. I recommend finding four types of bars: the hostel bar, the tourist bar, the expat bar, and the local bar, you're bound to meet some interesting characters in at least one of these establishments. Just remember, don't drink too fast because you're nervous and always watch your drink at home and abroad!
No One Is Saying It's Not Hard, but It Is Worth It.
If you are anything like me, most of these tips seem . . . easier said than done, but I implore you to give them a go. Talking to complete strangers does get easier. Be brave. Ignore your mom’s advice.
You probably won’t regret it.
© 2019 Matilda Woods