Traveling with family and friends is an excellent way to develop a deeper relationship with them. Unfortunately, they’re not always up to it. Certain people are in fixed mindsets and aren’t open to having the new experiences traveling inevitably brings.
Others are focused on work projects or have other commitments that make joining you at this time impractical. Of course, there’s also the possibility that you’re simply taking trips your families and friends aren’t interested in.
Regardless, traveling alone doesn’t have to be lonely. However, it can be. I’ve taken trips where I’ve gone multiple days without any conversation beyond ordering food. I’ve also taken trips where I’ve spent an entire day eating at restaurants, taking motorbikes around the city, and living it up at the beach for an entire day with locals.
I’m sure you can guess which type of trip is more refreshing and culturally insightful. The people you meet often have a greater impact on you than the things you see. That’s why we’re going deep today on a number of ways you can meet new friends on your travels.
Utilize Existing Connections
I’ve never been to France. I don’t know French. Yet, one of the long-time readers of this blog is from France. In the past he’s offered to show me around his city, and expose me to the most interesting parts of French culture should I ever visit.
Similarly, I’ve never been to Germany. I don’t know German. Fortunately, if I want to visit Germany I won’t need German to make friends. When I was in high school I befriended several foreign exchange students from Germany. I even planned a US road trip with one of them (though it fell through).
After showing them around my town in the US a couple years ago, I’d bet there’s a pretty good chance they’d be happy to reconnect and show me their life in Germany.
You probably have more friends (or at least acquaintances) living in other cities and abroad than you think. The kid from Argentina you used to play soccer with, your best friend that moved across the country for work, the girl from high school that moved back to China after finishing university.
Take some time to think about people from your past you’ve lost contact with. There’s a good chance things went cold with many of them not because of a lack of compatibility, but simply because of the increased distance between the two of you. A trip to their city ensures you’ll have a fun friend to show you around the city, and can be a great way to rekindle a forgotten relationship.
Meet Bloggers/Online Personalities
Before I came to Asia last year I lacked even a single real life friend. However, another digital nomad my age had a blog that happened to mention he was living here. I decided to contact him. A few months later we met in Saigon, Vietnam and became friends. He also plugged me into the freelancer and entrepreneur scene here which introduced me to even more people.
In almost any city you’d like to travel to there’s likely an interesting blogger that lives there. Get in touch with them. Most online personalities are more accessible than you’d think. If you make the effort to visit their city, most will at least make time to share a cup of coffee with you.
(As of April 2016, and for the foreseeable future I’ll be living in Saigon, Vietnam. If you’re ever nearby, get in touch)
Instagram allows you to search for photos near your current location. This can be a great way to meet people that are near you. Like a few of their pictures, and then leave them a comment or private message saying you’re in their city (I do both. The reason is that some people are too shy to reply to strangers using the public comments while others don’t check their private messages and won’t even know you tried to contact them.)
Using this technique in Da Nang, Vietnam last month I befriended several locals my age. We ate at several restaurants together, took a motorbike day-trip to another city, played soccer, and relaxed around the fire at a late night beach party.
This technique may not work on every trip you’ll take, but it’s a good trick to have. Other social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter likely have similar features that would make it easy to meet people near you.
However, I only have Instagram. I’m not maintaining an active account on other sites so you’ll have to explore their available features yourself.
Although a complete disaster in the US, online dating can actually be incredibly effective abroad. Virtually every girl I’ve dated and the majority of local friends I’ve made the past year have been through an app like Tinder, Badoo, etc.
Online dating is also a godsend when you don’t speak the local language. You can use it to quickly filter for people that speak English, or one of the other languages you’re fluent in. Of course, it’d be manipulative to take advantage of your date as an unpaid tour guide.
However, they won’t feel this way assuming you’re a reasonably socially calibrated person. Just focus on amplifying and sharing positive emotions between the two of you. When you come from this frame your date will enjoy herself and enthusiastically share her culture with you. You may even get some extra culturing at the end of the date!
Real Life Interactions
If you enjoy playing soccer, go to the park and play soccer. If you like to drink, head to the bouncing bar of the night. Doing the things you like to do is a great way to meet those with similar interests. Of course, while doing these things puts you in a position to meet new friends it isn’t enough.
Kicking a soccer ball alone with your headphones in or sitting in the corner of the bar slouched with a frown isn’t going to make you any friends. You have to be proactive and initiate conversations with others to have any consistent success with this method.
We didn’t exhaust every method of meeting others while traveling. There’s other options such as Couchsurfing, staying in hostels, using MeetUp, etc. These are just a few of the strategies I’ve used to make friends while bouncing between different countries and cities this past year. Hopefully you’ll be able to get some use out of these ideas during your travels as well.
Two blog posts in two weeks for the first time since August. Whoooop!