Whether you travel to explore new places, learn about cultures outside your own, or indulge in the local cuisine, we can all agree that memories are best made with a friend or two by your side. Maybe you’re traveling alone and want to turn those selfies into usies. Or maybe you’re with a group and want to make friends with locals. There’s nothing wrong with sharing experiences and it’s often the who that makes a trip that much better.
But how do you make friends in a new country? Will they think you’re weird? Isn’t that unsafe? Here are 5 ways to make friends while traveling abroad and turn your trip into an unforgettable experience.
What’s that thing they say about smiles? It’s the universal welcome. Be approachable, warm, and friendly. No one is going to reach out to you if you look like you run in the same circle as Ebenezer Scrooge. And locals may not understand your broken Spanish, but they’ll immediately understand what it means when you flash those pearly whites. So smile big and smile often. This is a simple tip that can carry you a long way when it comes to turning strangers into friends.
Ask for directions
There’s nothing wrong with getting lost in a foreign country and exploring things on your own. That’s half the fun of traveling. But if you’re looking for a certain place and can’t seem to find it, there’s no shame in asking for directions. Locals know their city better than any guidebook and are generally willing to point you in the right direction.
Every once in a while, you might find someone who just so happens to be headed in the same direction and invites you along. This is a great opportunity to befriend a local. While looking for London Bridge and failing miserably, simply asking two girls for directions turned into a short yet welcomed adventure on the tube, a few quick selfies, and exchanging information for a future visit.
Make the most of social media
Social media is good for a lot of things, but I am especially amazed with how it bridges the gap between people all over the world. If you haven’t already, create accounts on the most popular social sites and start making connections. Utilize relevant #hashtags on Twitter and Instagram so that others are able to find you. Are you planning a trip to England? Hashtag #London and ask if anyone else is going to be there. Already at your destination? Post a cool photo with a hashtag and you may find that your comments start blowing up with other travelers or locals in the area.
In addition to hashtags, join travel Facebook groups and other online communities where you’ll find thousands of diverse people with at least one common interest: travel. I’ve seen some really great connections made in groups like Girls vs. Globe and TN District that go beyond meeting up for drinks that one time. I’m talking planning future trips together and celebrating Thanksgiving abroad.
Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting up with Rio, the blogger behind 1057 In London. We spent the entire day together exploring, sharing laughs, and exchanging cultural tidbits. I now have a friend in London and I owe it all to a simple exchange on Twitter. Case in point – social media is your friend.
Strike up a random conversation
Proponents of “stranger danger” might not like this but it works. If you’re feeling ballsy, introduce yourself to someone who looks approachable. If you’re not feeling so ballsy, have a drink or two and then repeat step one. It doesn’t have to be weird or awkward – wait until you’re at a bar, night club, on a tour, or some other activity and then work your magic. Unless you’re clearly a weirdo, people are generally more than happy to talk and before you know it, an hour has passed and the person in front of you is no longer a stranger. Besides, all friends were strangers at one point.
On a recent flight, I chatted with a British girl who, by the end of the conversation, hand wrote a detailed list of things to do during my stay. I was floored by the detail and so appreciative of her recommendations. People get excited to share insight and suggestions about their countries. So, strike up a conversation and see where it takes you.
Just say yes
In life it’s not okay to be a “yes man,” but when traveling, say yes to new adventures as much as you can. Make it your personal challenge to get out of your comfort zone. Be open to anything within reason. These are the wild and crazy stories you’ll tell long after the trip is over. Who knows, maybe you’ll end up at a Nigerian party outside of London eating jollof rice and dancing well into the night with a girl you just met. (That’s a true story, by the way.)
Tiffany is travel + lifestyle blogger aiming to inspire globally minded millennial women to escape the mundane (if only for a moment), embrace their inner wanderlust, and to boldly live life on their own terms. You can find more of her tip and experiences on her blog.