Olgi has traveled to over 75 countries and territories around the world. He set off to travel the world after having finished university in New York City. Olgi can be found riding motorcycles across Nepal and Vietnam, hitchhiking in Eastern Europe, or on a hidden beach in Bali. Check out his website, TravelWisr, for awesome resources on globetrotting.
The most frequent questions I get asked by people back home when I travel alone are:
“Do you meet a lot of people? Is it easy to meet people? Are people friendly?” and “Is it easy to make friends?”
Before I dive into the answers to each of these questions, let’s first clear up some common misconceptions about making friends while you travel abroad.
While I traveled throughout over 50 countries and territories around the world over the past year, I rarely found it difficult to meet people who I truly wanted to be long-term friends with.
The biggest reasons most people are apprehensive to meet foreigners and locals abroad are:
1. language barriers
2. cultural differences
3. pre-conceived opinions (what people back home have said about a certain place or culture)
Despite these three reasons, I now have friends in every time zone around the world, people I speak with frequently, from relationships that have come together overnight.
I hope I can help you overcome any worries or fears you have around making friends while you travel overseas, whether you choose to explore solo or with your friends.
The Language Barrier
I sat writing in a coffee shop, when a man sitting next to me finished his breakfast and took notice. He nudged me on the shoulder and said something in German. I said, smiling, “I’m sorry, I only speak English.”
He then pulled out his phone and began typing into Google Translate, and placed the phone on the table next to me. I read German translated to English: “What are your writing? Where are you from?” I laughed when I saw it, and then I wrote back about my travels and my journals. He smiled and began laughing as well. We continued to talk this way, for a little while longer, laughing and joking, and getting to know each other!
Another time I sat next to a Greek woman on a train, and when we began speaking she struggled to find words in English, and would give up when she could not find the words. I broke out into laughter when she struggled and gave up. She knew why I was laughing, and she laughed as well! We spoke only as far as our words took us, laughing from the charades we used to make sense of things and frequent Internet searches to understand each other better. I still speak to her, having met over one year ago through that “broken” conversation.
Talk to strangers: it has worked for me more times than I can count. I have walked up to people reading books and asked “How’s the book?” in parks and public places, I’ve sat next to people in public transportation and spoken to people while waiting for buses or trains or planes.
The result? Always positive! I have been invited to events, private parties, and dinners at home with families, invitations to stay over at locals’ houses, advice on future destinations and introductions to people that live in places I chose to travel to afterwards. People have even bought me food or coffee, even though we had just struck up a conversation moments before! Your experiences will be just as fulfilling and fruitful. Never underestimate the kindness of strangers.
CouchSurfing is a great way to meet locals as well. Even if you don’t feel comfortable staying with a host in their home, you can always meet locals or other travelers through CouchSurfing just by sending them a message. The site is full of people who want to meet and share experiences, and I’ve loved the people I’ve met through the platform!
If you stay alone, you will be alone. It’s important to understand that people find travelers and foreigners interesting (that’s you, in this case). Your story is an amazing one for everyone to hear.
Only when you begin telling it will you see people’s eyes lighting up — strangers and friends alike.
Meeting Other Travelers
Often, the best people you can meet are other travelers and younger locals, because they’re likely to want to speak to you and learn about where you come from and where you’ve been traveling.
Also, people truly underestimate how easy it is to meet other friendly travelers in hostels. Personally, I believe this is the best reason to stay in one. Along with hostels being much cheaper than hotels, being in a room full of people from all over the world makes starting conversations as easy as it gets.
If you’re concerned about having private space and time, pay a little more for a private or double room instead of a large bunk room and spend some time socializing in the hostel common room.
Meet Up With Friends of Friends
Going to a new country? Do you know one of your friends from back home who comes from that country? Or, do you know friends who have recently visited that area of the world? Reach out through a quick Facebook message and ask them to introduce you to people that they may know in the region.
I have met countless people this way, and have been greeted with amazing hospitality, shown around to all the great spots in town, and built life-long friendships. I have even found it makes my relationship with the friend back home stronger.
When you actually arrive and meet those new friends, keep the conversation casual, get to know their lives and take a true interest in their culture. Refrain from discussing politics, money, or world news, they are often topics that divide people. Your goal is to learn from people by hearing their stories.
Seek Out Events and Activities
Ask your hostel/hotel staff or Airbnb host if there are any events going on. This is a great way to experience an event with locals and other travelers and a chance to find something you both like.
Always introduce yourself to everyone you can. A quick word will be more than enough for them to ask, “Where are you from?”, and conversation often flows from there as people get interested in your story. Chances are, you will find something you both like and you learn something new about yourself while you make a new friend.
One Last Tip
To start off any conversation and any friendship politely, learn how to say “Hello,” “Please,” “Thank you,” in the local language. And don’t forget the most useful word to know, in any language: “Cheers!”
Have you ever said, “I don’t have the money to travel”? Problem solved! Check out the Traveler’s Mindset guide to over $50,000 in funding for travel/work/life abroad.