Making Friends Abroad

Some blogs and travelers will have you thinking that only agoraphobic lepers have trouble makeing friends on the road, but it’s not always so easy.  I find that for the most part, people who are good at making friends at home are also good at it abroad.  But if you have a hard tme, it can often be even more difficult in a totally new situation, where nothing is familiar.

  • Talk to children.  I know it sounds goofy or weird, depending on how creepy your mindset is, but children are much more willing to engage with strangers.  This is also great if you want to practice a foreign language.  Obviously they won’t go out drinking with you, but befriending the neighborhood kids can be a great way to break up the loneliness.  It also can ingratiate you to the rest of the neighborhood, if you’re staying someone for more than a few days.
  • Look for other travelers.  Hostels, museums, cafes and bars.  They’ll be easy to pick out, even in local spots.  Promise.
  • Find college students.  No matter what age YOU are, college students around the world are open and willing to meet new people.
  • Source your network for an introduction, even if it’s a thin connection.
  • Try not to seem closed off.  Make eye contact (unless that’s a no-no in the local culture), don’t cross your arms, and smile at strangers.  When you do meet new people,
  • Say “YES!”  this is one of the biggest tips, especially at the beginning.  You should obviously maintain common sense (my rule?  no boat parties with strangers–no escape route), but saying yes to things you normally wouldn’t do will open you up to new experiences and people.  Once you become more friendly you can suggest times or activities that are more suitable to your tastes.
  • Sign up for something.  A day tour, cooking class, whatever.  It will give you routine and expose you to new people in a condensed setting, where it’s normal and easy to make new friends.
  • Have a conversation piece.  A good book, a funny story, an interesting piece of clothing.  Something to catch a stranger’s eye or to fall back on when conversation lags.
  • Learn some canned phrases.  When in doubt, just ask them about themselves.  Family, hometown, career, travel.  If it’s a local, you’ve got it made: just ask everything you wish you knew about the country.  But make sure you stay polite.
  • Remember: Taking the plunge will get easier with time.

Relax, good luck and be yourself!

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