There’s no doubt about it: long-term travel is an amazing thing. You have the chance to see exotic places, taste flavors your mouth has never known, bask in experiences you’d never dream you would have. It’s great. But it can also be lonely.
And no, I don’t just mean for solo travelers. It’s possible to feel lonely while traveling with your romantic partner, your best friend, a family member, even with a whole group of people. As an extrovert, I need more than one or two people in my daily life, and finding friends while travelling has become more and more of a priority.
When we first started travelling, we spent six months in Malta, and during that time I made just one friend, who promptly broke her ankle and headed home to Australia to recover. The time I spent with her is some of the most brightly coloured in my memory of Malta, and I wish I’d made an effort to make more friends during our time there.
Since then, we’ve learned a few techniques for meeting people, and I’ve met some of my best friends while on the road.
1. Get a job or study abroad
It’s common for people to make friends with their workmates at home; the same is true while travelling. However, meeting friends through work doesn’t necessarily mean hanging out with colleagues (though it often has in my case: I met my friends Rhi and Amanda while we all worked at the same language school in Perth, and Alisa and I got to know each other at school in Alcala). You can also meet people peripherally: My friend in Malta was a guest at the hotel where I worked, and I’ve also made friends with many of my language school students.
2. Stay in hostels
This tip is on all the lists of how to meet people while travelling, and for good reason. Hostels‘ common rooms provide an excellent space for hanging out, a neutral zone where striking up a conversation with a stranger doesn’t seem odd. You’ll have the best luck if you choose hostels with a vibe that suits your personality: choose a party hostel if you’re looking for people to go out on the town with, a laid-back atmosphere if you’re more interested in chilling and conversation.
We met our best Argentinian friends at a hostel in Cafayate. We were sitting at the lone table in the hostel patio when Juli and Naty asked if they could share it with us. We had wine, they had cheese; we shared our provisions and a slightly stilted conversation (our Spanish was pretty bad back then) and found a connection. We’ve been to stay with them twice since then, have met their families, and even went on a crazy road trip with them to Mar del Plata.
Better than hostelling, in my opinion, is Couchsurfing. Find the right hosts and you’re set for friends for as long as you stay in one place. We’ve had some amazing experiences with Couchsurfing, and while we’re not still in touch with all of our hosts, in many cases we enjoyed the kind of friendship that lasts for as long as the encounter. In other cases, we’ve ended up with friendships that have continued to this day, like in the case of Ana and Diego. We stayed with them for the first four days of our three months in Jerez, and spent time with them most weeks during our stay. They introduced us to their friends, showed us around the city, and baked us muffins — what wasn’t there to love?
4. Learn a language
Possibly my favourite way to make friends while travelling is to learn a language. Not only do you end up with a new skill, you can also get to know people on a completely different level than if you’re only speaking English. I count some of the people I met through language learning among my closest friends, and it’s been great to meet others in person after chatting on Skype for so many years.
5. Take up or pursue a hobby
Craig and I love to hike, and we’ve met some amazing people while walking long-distance routes like the Camino de Santiago and the West Highland way. Some of these friendships lasted only as long as the walk, while others have developed into lasting relationships.
Pursue a hobby or interest and you’re sure to find like-minded people who could become your friends. Perhaps a yoga retreat or a cooking class could be worth looking into? Join a climbing group or book club if you’ll be in one place for long enough, or head to a festival or conference on a topic you’re interested in.
6. Use networks
People know people — use that fact to find people you want to spend time with. We’ve often become friends with our neighbours while housesitting, or with our Couchsurfing hosts’ friends. We’ve also (slightly unexpectedly) become friends with members of our family who kindly invited us to stay while we were in their area; we ended up getting along so well that we now count them as good friends as well as family.
7. Be open to opportunities
Sometimes chances to make friends come out of the blue. One of my favourite ones is being contacted by podcast listeners and other people on our social networks and meeting up for a drink — that’s always fun! Plus, since they tend to be local to the area were travelling in, so we get an insider’s view of their city. Most recently, we spent a couple of evenings with Snezhana in Odessa, Ukraine.
8. Start a blog
Personally, for us, Indie Travel Podcast has been the vehicle for meeting hundreds of amazing people. We’ve spent time with Sherry, Dave and Deb, Jodi, Liz, Chris, Pete and Dalene, Dave, Matt, Angie (among many, many others) in at least two or three countries and will certainly see them again in the future.
9. Join a tour
We don’t go on that many tours, but when we do, we always meet amazing people — like Frankie on our Stray tour in Thailand, or Corinne on our recent Lost City tour in Colombia. Make sure to do some research to check that the other people on your tour will be the right kind of crowd for you — an 18-30 bus trip is a different experience to a tour aimed at retirees, for example. That said, we joined a tour of Spanish pensioners for about half an hour once, and had an amazing time.
10. Talk to people
I’ve mentioned meeting people in hostels and on tours, but you don’t have to be in these environments to meet people. Opportunities are everywhere! Chat with your seatmate on a bus, strike up a conversation with other people waiting for the same train. An Aussie couple overheard us speaking English in a market in San Miguel de Allende earlier this year and we had a great chat that ended with an invitation to their place.
Whether you end up with a friend for a few minutes, a few days, or an entire lifetime, making friends while travelling is an amazing part of the travel experience. Let us know about the friends you’ve made on the road in the comments below.
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