Along with exciting new sights, smells and tastes, another major part of the joy of travel is who you share these special moments with. Whether it is family, friends or a significant other, new cultures seem to be twice as thrilling with someone by your side.
But sometimes schedules or bank accounts don’t sync up, and you may find that you are forced to travel somewhere new on your own. Now, there are many positives to solo travel (You can sleep in! You can eat wherever you want! You can plan your OWN itinerary!), but sometimes it does get a little lonely. But when this happens you’ll realize that one of the best things about travel is the incredible new friends you meet along the way! But how does one go about doing this? Here are some of my tried and true practices of making new friends abroad:
Use Your Current Connections
Ever heard of the Six Degrees of Separation Theory? It states that every human being is merely six introductions away from being connected to any other human being. And the more you travel you realize just how true this is. I met a girl in Thailand who au paired in Boston and students in Italy who studied abroad with my cousin in Maine. The world is a much smaller place than you think. So why not connect the dots before you travel?
Use the connections in your current social circle to help you plan out a trip abroad. Have a friend who studied in Spain? Ask to being introduced to their friends. Know someone with family in Ireland? See if you can get some restaurant recommendations. Know someone who’s traveled to Australia? Ask what city you should stay in.
Social media makes it easier than ever before to connect with new people, and I can’t tell you how many times strangers have messaged ME saying they were friends of friends and wanted some travel tips. If you’re extremely lucky you may even get a dinner meet up offer, or even a free place to crash for a few nights—which is a great way to ensure that your new friend is a friend for life!
Make New Connections
If you’re traveling to a place where you have no pre-prepared Six Degrees of Separation-esque acquaintances lined up—never fear! There are still multiple options to meet new people abroad.
A great place to start is to consult social media. What meet-ups are going on in this city? Things like music festivals, food events & dance classes could be a great place to meet new people, especially since you already know there’s a shared common interest. I also know many people who absolutely SWEAR by Couchsurfing events, which is a program designed for travelers to make new friends while on the go.
My advice is to stay at a hostel. Hostels are full of people young and old from all over the world just waiting to become new friends! Plus many hostels really do a great job of organizing events to bring people together; keep an eye out for any pub crawls, family dinners or free walking tours your hostel may be hosting. I had a fantastic time as a solo traveler in both my Amsterdam and Budapest hostels due to the events they organized! And some of the people I met are still my friends today.
Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone
One great thing I have always loved about travel is getting the opportunity to ignore my inhibitions. When exploring a new country I almost feel more outspoken, more adventures and even more confident. This has allowed me to find the courage to make new friends in places that I probably wouldn’t have if I was still at home.
Talk to people at bars, ask shopkeepers for recommendations, and speak up to ask questions on that free walking tour. You’re on vacation after all—you might as well make the most of it! One of the best examples of this was when my mom and I went to Dubrovnik and asked our host the best place to get calamari. Not only did he pull out a map and circle different restaurants for us, he called to make us reservations and personally escorted us there. Talk about service! We dined at an incredible restaurant that we would have never found had we never asked. It’s true, when in doubt—consult the locals!
In my experience, these are some great ways to make new friends while traveling abroad, whether you’re exploring on your own or with others. But please make sure that you’re following these steps in a safe manner. Always trust your intuition around new people; if something seems off, be careful. Leave a little to the imagination when speaking about yourself to strangers. And always be weary who you’re taking recommendations from—is it someone who is genuinely helpful or someone who just wants your money? For example one time while in Malaga, my friend and I went to the club our taxi driver recommended because he “knew someone who worked there”. Turned out this club had a huge cover charge and no one inside! Make sure you do your research and trust your gut feeling.
But if I can give you one true piece of advice, dear reader, it would be that you should NEVER put your own travel dreams on hold just because you’re waiting for someone else to accompany you. Because you may be waiting a very long time; so long that the trip may never end up happening at all.
Instead use the above tips to explore fearlessly on your own, knowing that even in the opposite corners of this big beautiful world there are so many kindred souls out there just waiting to cross your path.
Jessi Graves is a featured contributor for UnearthAway. She currently resides in Boston, MA, and has lived and travelled all over the world. Learn more about her background here.
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