I consider myself to be an experienced travel. No matter how stressed I get in the days and weeks before I actually leave for a new place, I know that once I get there I can handle whatever this place throws at me! I’ve gone through challenges before, and I’m tough enough to overcome the new ones I might encounter. I’ve been evicted, lost my phone, missed flights, experienced new religions, communicated with people who only speak a different language, and figured out how to take public transportation. But one of the hardest things to do in any country is to make new friends!
It’s important to stay in touch with friends and family back home through Skype, email, and postcards, but it’s not enough. When you’re in a new place you want to experience it. You should be checking out festivals, trying local beers, finding the best street food, and learning how to salsa – all of which are a lot more fun with some friends! In Canada, most people make friends through work, school, and friends of friends, but that’s a lot more difficult in a new place where you may not have those networks. So, what do you do if you’re travelling or moving on your own and you don’t know anybody yet? Here are my top 5 tips for making friends in a new city:
#1 – Stay in a hostel when you first arrive
Depending on why you’re moving, you may already have a place set up by your school or company. However, if you don’t, it’s often cheaper and easier to look for accommodation once you arrive. While you’re looking, you can stay in hostel for a few days or weeks until you get settled. Hostels often have a lot of events for the people staying there. Various hostels I’ve stayed at over the years have different activities, like pub crawls, movie nights, day excursions, volunteer opportunities, and cooking classes. Most of these events are attended by young people from other countries who are also looking for new buddies, and are super open to making new friends. Even if you don’t have time to attend all these events – just knowing that the hostel has a special drink night at a certain local bar every Tuesday night, means that you can go to that bar on your own in a few weeks and try to meet up with people as well. Hostels are a great place to get oriented to the social activities available in a new place.
#2 – Attend events at cultural places
In many countries, there are institutions run for other cultures. For instance, Alliance Francaise (from France) and the Goethe Institute (from Germany) offer many cultural events throughout the year. I have attended events like concerts, Octoberfest, movie screenings, lunches, and art shows. Other countries often have embassies or clubs which hold events, like craft shows, theme nights, and special dinners. These places are great for meeting new friends and experiencing new things. People from all over the world (including expats and locals) attend these types of events, and they’re often very open to talking to new people. The best part is that even if you don’t make friends, you’ll definitely have a good time attending the events! Here are links to a few that I’ve attended in various countries, but you should look them up in your new city once you arrive:
• Alliance Francaise in Sucre, Bolivia
• Goethe Institute in Accra, Ghana
• Nordic Club in Dhaka, Bangladesh
#3 – Join expat groups
There’s a lot of negativity about expats. Many people don’t think it’s “really” travelling or being in a new place unless all of your friends are locals. However, I don’t think that’s the case. I think it’s good to have a combination of friends. Personally I have both old and young friends, friends who only speak Spanish, and others who speak French, Japanese, English, or German as a first language. I have friends who are just passing through for a month, and other than have lived here for 20 years. Sometimes when you first arrive it’s nice to have a few friends who are expats. As an article I was recently reading says, “Until I learn the local language to an advanced level, there’s only so much conversation I can have with locals. English is the language I think in, cry in, get high in, and sometimes I just need people that are effortless to be with. Local friends will come with time, I promise.” One website that has events in big cities is called Internations, and you can also message people on there before you go to ask questions about your new home (and arrange to meet up once you arrive). Other sites are specific to the city – so I recommend going on Facebook and looking up the words “expat” + “your new city/country”. Even if you don’t end up being best friends with the people you meet, you’ll probably get some tips of where to buy certain hard to find items, the best places to go for weekend trips, and exciting festivals and events occuring in the city.
#4 – Check out communities like CouchSurfing and Tinder
Many people thinking that Couchsurfing and Tinder are only good for one purpose (free accommodation and hook-ups, respectively), but I know many people who travel that use these networks for much more than that. I haven’t used them myself, but here’s a run-down on how they work
- Tinder – Tinder was originally a mobile app used for dating and other types of relationships… The way it works is that it knows your location, and it will show you other people nearby who match your search criteria (male/female, age, etc.). A lot of people use it for dates or hook-ups, but there’s also a new group of people who are using it to meet other travellers or locals in their area, share a meal, and check out a new part of the city. Just make sure that you both have the same expectations before agreeing to meet!
- CouchSurfing – This started as a website/app where you can stay for free on people’s couches in cities across the world. The great thing about this site is that the people hosting are often people who are local, or have lived in the city for a long time. Therefore, they know the city really well. Even if you don’t need a place to stay, you can contact hosts through couchsurfing and set up a time to go for a drink. They can tell you about local bars, restaurants, and maybe even take you on a tour of the city. If you’re staying for a longer time, maybe you can become friends with them, and meet more friends through their social circle.
I’m sure there’s many other great worldwide networks out there, and since it’s such a big market, there are more new websites and apps coming out every day. Find out what the locals are using in your new country, and check that out!
#5 – Join a language school
If you’re planning to move to a country where they speak a different language, you’re probably going to need to take classes. You can try to learn online or with a private tutor, but joining a language school can also offer a lot of fun new experiences. For example, I’m currently taking Spanish classes 3 times a week in Bolivia. The lessons are a lot cheaper than they would be in Canada, and they offer all sorts of fun activities like pick-up sports, attending concerts, cooking classes, volunteering opportunities, and intercambios (which is an exchange where you meet regularly with a local person – they practice English and you practice Spanish). These events let you meet other locals and foreigners, and often cater to younger people as well.
Bonus: #6 – Find a Meetup group
While this option is only possible in some countries/cities where it is already popular, it is my favourite way of making friends with similar interests. In fact, I use it all the time in my hometown of Ottawa, Canada – where there are hundreds of different groups. Basically the way it works is that you go to the Meetup site or download the mobile app. Then you search by the name of your city. If you’re in a very large city there will probably be hundreds of groups, and you can filter by interests. For example, I like attending groups about movies, cocktails, women networking, travel, etc. but you can also find groups about photography, board games, computer coding, bird watching, or anything else under the sun! My absolute favourite group (which has chapters in many different big cities) is called “Girl Gone International”. The best part about this group is that many of the members now live in the same city as you, but are originally from different countries. Therefore, they can tell you all the insider tips from someone who had to discover them on their own in the past. There’s often also local girls who like to travel, and you can find someone to talk to about different countries – it’s really inspiring. The best part about meetup is that you’ll find people with similar interests, you can join as many groups as you want, and all the other people are looking to make new friends too. You can also use the events held by certain groups, like “Ottawa Social” to learn about different festivals and events coming up in the city, even if you don’t want to attend with the MeetUp group.
Best wishes on your upcoming journey, and I hope you make a ton of new friends! 🙂