I know, I’m doing a double take too. A travel post?! From me? What kind of crazy day is this? When I originally started this blog, I wanted to use the space to share lots of travel stories and tips, but found myself feeling a little sad whenever I started trying to write them. I was in a place where all I wanted to do was get on a plane somewhere and explore. And I couldn’t. But I think I’ve realised that now, and feel in a better mindset to positively talk about travel experiences, rather than wistfully. It also might have something to do with the fact that I’m going on some pretty epic travels in June… I’m getting pretty excited, not gonna lie.
Anyway, that is for another post. Today I want to talk about making friends. More specifically, making friends whilst travelling. I’m going to be honest here: this can be a tricky game to play. Trying to balance having fun adventures with the safety alerts going off in the back of your mind can be tiring. But I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be ridiculously complicated.
And the more you travel, the greater your instinct and social skills become… Right? This is more of a hopeful wish for future me I think – I haven’t had a crazy amount of experience with this yet and social anxiety is constantly trying to erode any progress I make in the finding friends department. Nevertheless, I have had six months of experience as a young solo female traveller across a handful of countries (is this starting to sound like a CV?) so I’ve picked up a few good tips along the way.
Tried and Tested Ways to Make Friends
Hostels – kicking off with an obvious one here, but one that is definitely effective. Hostels are full of other solo travellers, and even if you’re an introvert, socially anxious or both you’re probably going to get chatting to people whether you like it or not. To increase your chances of finding amicable people, hang out in the common areas: some hostels have great facilities or events such as pool tables, quiz nights and even pub crawls that you can get involved with. It doesn’t have to be that organised though. I was using the free wifi in the lounge area of an Australian hostel once and got chatting to this girl from Switzerland. We ended up spending the whole next day together, visiting some of the sights of Melbourne and even grabbing a bite to eat.
Join an Organised Programme – if you feel you need a bit more structure and push to make friends, and you’re spending quite a bit of time somewhere, it could be an idea to join a programme of some sort. There are so many companies out there bringing together groups of solo travellers: from volunteering options to language schools. I did a week-long language course in Spain once (not as a solo traveller) and can see how great friendships could come out of this if it lasted a little longer; I haven’t yet tried volunteering. I have heard that a lot of volunteering companies aren’t as good as they seem, can be pricey and might not be as helpful to the local community as they sell to you. However, I have hope that there are some organisations doing great things out there, I just haven’t done the full research to tell you what they are yet…
Exchanging Work for Accommodation – unlike the above programmes, the majority of which will have a huge price tag, websites that connect willing workers with willing hosts are all about free opportunities. Hosts all around the world who need jobs doing (farm work, childcare, maintenance, animal care, etc.) allow travellers to stay with them for free, which often includes food as well as accommodation, in return for work. There are many pros, and several cons, to this method of travelling, but nevertheless it can be a great way to make friends if you’re a bit clever with it. Choose options that have a number of travellers working together on a project, such as picking fruit on a farm (which I did in Hawaii, and made a couple of great friends at the same time). If you’re looking for new mates, don’t au pair in some city suburb (which I did in Vancouver and felt totally isolated). To find these opportunities, I used the website Workaway (which has a wide range of jobs), although there are others available – one of the most common being WWOOF (purely farming options).
Use Social media/Apps – approaching someone for the first time in real life can be intimidating and awkward for many of us. Although you can’t really avoid this when travelling, there are alternative options for making friends. Use the millennial’s most trusted friend, the internet. Around the time I was living in Sydney, I ran a vegan food account on Instagram and followed a bunch of other vegan accounts of people who were also in Sydney. I started talking to a girl who lived half an hour away from where I was staying and a day or two later we met up for lunch. We ended up becoming close friends, which soon turned into a group of us, and we even ended up going camping together. And what about the blogging community? Maybe you’re on one of your favourite blogger’s home turf and could arrange to see them?
Join a Tour – first off, these can be pricey. But, they really are worth it if you want to see lots in a short time and not be completely alone. When I was in Australia, I knew I wanted to see Uluru and the centre of the country, but that’s kind of a daunting prospect to face alone. So I booked onto a three day camping adventure – we travelled by mini bus, stayed in The Outback and did hikes I never could’ve done alone. And I made a couple of Dutch friends along the way. In New Zealand, I used the company Kiwi Experience which is basically a hop-on-hop-off coach service that drives all over the country picking up travellers. It can be scary booking onto these as a solo traveller, knowing groups of people are likely to be turning up. But chances are, someone else in your position will be there too.
Do things – it may sound silly, but it’s absolutely true. Don’t be scared to do things alone, you’e bound to bump into people along the way and if not, at least you had your own adventure! I met a girl I still talk to today halfway into a hike up a crater in Hawaii – we bonded over our total lack of preparation for such a strenuous climb in the heat and our fear of sunburn. We met up again before one of us had to leave paradise and it was such a nice surprise – sometimes you meet the best people when you’re not desperately trying to meet people.
Ways I Have Yet To Try
Obviously there are many ways to make friends as a traveller that I haven’t touched on in this post; I haven’t experienced everything out there. Two ways I have heard about are couchsurfing, and meeting people and groups through online forums. I think some people would argue that these walk the thin line between bravery and stupidity for young solo female travellers in some countries. In my opinion though, I think that if you use your common sense and you take sensible precautions, it should be fine.
Why Make the Effort to Socialise Abroad?
The best things about making friends when travelling is the things you learn from being exposed to and surrounded by people from such a diverse range of places with an equally diverse range of life stories. You make friends from all over the globe, you hear about things you have never even thought about before, you bond and laugh over shared joys and mishaps, and you’re filled up with inspiration and motivation for new adventures.
A lot of the people you form intense, close relationships with on the road are people who might very quickly fade from your life when you return home. And that’s okay. You shared an experience, you grew with each other in some way and then you went down separate paths. But a few of the friends you make abroad, in the most unlikely situations, are probably going to be people who stick around in your life for a long time. And that’s pretty incredible.
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