Making Friends in Foreign Lands

No matter if you’ve arrived to a new destination for the long haul or are settling in for just a few weeks, making new friends is often simultaneously a fun and frustrating experience. While some travelers revel in alone time, I tend to crave conversing with someone other than myself after just a few days. After moving overseas twice and spending many months on the road as a solo traveler, these are the strategies I use to connect with new people and keep loneliness at bay.

Join hobby and sports groups

It’s easier to strike up a conversation with a stranger if you’re doing an activity together. While it’s easy to make friends at a pub crawl or bar hop, these friendships are often limited when you meet up for coffee the next day and discover you have nothing in common. Instead, some of my best travel friends have been after I signed up for a snorkeling tour, fitness class, guided hike, walking tour, or an activity where we could chat about the activity we’re doing rather than slurred small talk.

You can often find meet-up groups on or through Couchsurfing–you can use the website and app to find activity buddies, not just a place to stay. There tends to be a Facebook group for just about everything and anything, and starting with “hobby + city” tends to yield results with meetup groups.

group of scuba divers

Some of my best friends in Fiji are also my dive buddies

Be open about your interest in making friends

As a newly arrived expat, it can be awkward to try and break into established friend circles. As the newcomer, you’re likely not the first person to come to mind when someone is planning a brunch soiree or birthday party. Most of the time, it’s not personal. Taking the lead on inviting someone for a coffee or letting a potential friend know you’re interested in joining any social events that come up help keeps you on the radar when guest list comes to fruition. (Once you do put your message out there, don’t follow up relentlessly afterward. Desperation is never a good look.)

curry dinner

After I told my taxi driver (who is now a friend) I was interested in trying local food, he invited me and my partner over for a meal!

It’s often easier to meet other expats

While you might dream of moving to a new destination and immediately embedding yourself into a tight network of locals, in reality, this is might be more challenging than you think. This is especially the case if you don’t speak the language or won’t be working or studying with longtime residents. In Western Australia, it felt hard to break into established circles of Aussies who’d grown up together and shared years of memories with one another. Plus, locals might see an expat as a temporary friend and wonder whether it’s worth spending their time with someone who may leave soon anyways. Meanwhile, fellow expats from around the world could relate to being new to a place. Other expats or travelers are often open to making new friends as they are in a similar position and looking for friends themselves.

friends on a boat

Breaking into a circle of expats is one of the best ways to meet people from all around the world and experience a new destination together. While everyone else hangs with their family members over a holiday, expats hang out with one another. If you’re not physically working in the place you’re living, it’s also an ideal way to get to know locals via friends of friends.

Be open to any activity or event… at first

Maybe you’re not meant to be Spain’s next flamenco star, but it’s still worth attending that flamenco dancing lesson you’ve been invited to. Saying yes to any activity that comes your way is an ideal way to learn more about a city, make friends, and bond with those who love (or despise) the experience just as much as you. When you move to or visit a new place at first, it can take a bit of ping ponging around from activity to activity until you find what suits you and your new phase of life.

Drinks in Greece

Sunset drinks at a hill in Greece, a place where locals and tourists mix

How do you make friends when you’re in a new place?

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One Response

  1. Andreas Moser October 9, 2020

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