By Nicola Rae
Traveling alone has a certain romance to it, doesn’t it? Just you against the world, independent, hair blowing in the wind while you look out over the fjords, or all cozy and solo in a coffee shop reading classic literature. You get to set your own schedule, choose what sights you see, what foods you eat, and where and when you sleep. You have no one else to accommodate - just you, on your own, living your dreams. Solo travel can be all these things.
It can also be lonely.
Many people never experience solo travel because they are afraid of that loneliness. They are afraid that they will plop themselves down in a foreign country with no social network nearby and never make friends. I get it. I had those same fears.
As a house sitter teaching English online, I move to a new city every few weeks. The longest I’ve stayed anywhere is six weeks. This adds another level of challenge to the friend-finding game. You have to start over again and again.
But several months of solo travel across Europe has taught me that I shouldn’t have been so worried. I wish I had known how easy it would be to make friends. Whenever I get to a new city, I follow these six steps to find new friends.
1. Reach out to everyone - and I mean literally everyone - in your existing friend network
Tell your relatives, neighbors, and friends back home where you are going and what you are doing. Post on Facebook. Chances are, at least one person will know someone who knows someone who lives where you are going. Following these existing connections is a great place to start!
I made one of my best friends in Germany because my grandmother has a neighbor who has a niece who is studying in my town. We got in contact through email, met up for drinks when I arrived, and now we hang out regularly. It might be a random or distant connection, but it’s still a connection.
2. Use the ITA Alumni Facebook Groups to meet people in your region
You can post your location outright and see who is nearby or you can lurk like me, waiting to see someone mention your city then reach out to them. View ITA Alumni Facebook Groups here.
3. Sign up for a free walking tour
I love Viator and Sandemans for tours in tons of cities around Europe. Tours are conducted in English and you can chat with the other people in your group while you walk from place to place. On every free walking tour I’ve been on, the tour guide has suggested a hang out afterwards at a coffee shop or bar. Most people attend and it’s a great chance to meet fellow travelers.
4. Do a pub crawl (if that’s your thing) the first week you arrive
You will meet tons of people in your group and you might be able to grab some new friends very early in your trip. If you don’t hit it off with anyone in your group, you can talk to the pub crawl leader. Find out where they go with their friends and where the good places are for solo travelers. They almost always live in town and can suggest places based on your preferences.
If you aren’t into pub crawls, sign up for a class or day trip. When my sister and I took an organized day trip to Bruges, we spend most of the tour with an Australian couple. After the tour, we went out for dinner and drinks. We saw them a few more times while they were in town and we still keep up with each other now.
5. Get on Bumble BFF
The Bumble dating app has a version designed for people seeking friendships, not relationships. It uses your GPS location to find other people looking for friends nearby. If you both indicate that you are interested, you get to chat just like in a dating app. It’s actually pretty fun! Bumble BFF is how I met two of my closest friends in Germany. Make a profile, start swiping, and watch the new friends pour in!
6. Go out alone
I know this goes against everything we were taught as kids, but sometimes it is okay to go out by yourself and chat with strangers. Obviously, observe personal safety measures when meeting new people. Avoid dark secluded alleyways, don’t get hammered, remember not to give them your social security number, etc. But in general, if you’re out having a good time, other people will say hello to you.
I went out to dinner alone and I was sat at a long communal table with a family. They didn’t speak any English and I don’t speak German, but we used the translator apps on our phones to talk over the whole meal. At Karneval, I met a group of study abroad students at a beer tent and ended up joining their group for hours. In Scotland, I met a fellow female traveler in a museum. We instantly buddied up and spent three days exploring the city together.
When you are abroad, you are the foreign person who is cool and different. No one is going to think you’re a dork for going to a bar or restaurant on your own on a Tuesday. They will think you are independent and traveling the world and they will probably envy you. People will want to get to know you.
I know making friends can be difficult if you are going it alone, but it is actually easier than you think. Remember, you are living a life most people dream about - independent, seeing the world, teaching in a foreign country, courageous. So don’t be afraid to put yourself out there to make friends.
Go forth and make friends with confidence!
Nicola is an Atlanta native who loves teaching, budget travel, and guacamole. She holds BA’s in Anthropology and Sociology from the University of Georgia and a Masters in Education from Francis Marion University. She is currently teaching English online while house sitting. Whens he's not busy teaching or drinking coffee in cozy cafes, Nicola enjoys writing about her travels on her blog seenicwander.com.
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- Teach English Online Employer Comparison Chart [Downloadable]
- Teach English Online: Your Guide on How to Make Money & Travel the World [Downloadable]
- 9 Pro Tips for Making Friends While Teaching English Abroad
- Visit the ITA Alumni Ambassador Corner
- Visit the ITA Teach English Online Corner
- Is it Safe for a Single Woman to Teach English Abroad?
- The New Trend in Travel - Traveling Solo
- ITA Alumni Online English Teaching Facebook Group