How to meet new people and make friends abroad

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It’s a fact of life that our social circles narrow as we get older.

Once the voracious energy of our twenties wears off, we stop accruing pals at every turn (no matter how flaky or dubious these ‘friendships’ really are).

And this process unfurls sooner than we might imagine. According to one 2016 study, our social lives start falling off a cliff from tender age of 25.

Life gets in the way; careers, partners, babies. All the serious stuff.

And before you think that could never be you, consider the amount of times you’ve fobbed off a mate for a night on the sofa with Netflix. It happens.

Making friends in your 30s and beyond

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This shredding of pals is not a universally bad thing, either.  They say a friend is there for a season, a reason or life.

The season, reason element find its forte when we’re young and full of pep. We’ll make friends with anyone during the first week of uni, but as we get older, we scrutinise the bonds that tie us together.

Relationships where we have nothing in common fall away into the ether and we’re left with the ones that count. The real buddies, those who stand the test of time.

But, like any comfort blanket, this scenario can become suffocating.

By the time we hit our thirties, we see the same narrow circle of people over and again – reassured by the fact that we have a full archive of shared experiences to draw upon.

There’s no surprises, no awkwardness, no effort. And no new faces.

Of course, we might meet someone we hit it off with by chance, but how often do we bother pursuing that relationship? Think the friend of a friend you spend one night chatting to at a dinner party and never see again.

Travel with like-minded strangers

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Somewhere along the way, we’ve lost the art of meeting new people – truly new, exciting people from completely different walks of life who we spend proper time talking to; who have their own perspectives and challenge our own.

And the worst thing is, we don’t even know what we’re missing.

Human nature means most of us won’t actively go out and seek new people – we’re far too lazy and reticent to do that – but when we happen to do so, the experience is an eye-opener. It fires us up in a way that’s quite unique.

This effect is one of the reasons why travelling in a group of like-minded people with Flash Pack works so well.

Our carefully curated groups get to hang out with one another in a setting that is totally removed from their day-to-day lives. A beach on Sri Lanka, say, or a street-side cafe in Bogotá.

An adventure gives the time and context for forming meaningful connections in a way we just wouldn’t do ordinarily.

The magic of meeting new people

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Travelling with strangers doesn’t equal a squad in the Taylor Swift sense of the word. There’s no cliques, no expectation and no pressure. Some people go onto become firm friends, others merely enjoy spending the time they have together.

But the scene is ripe for conversations that you can’t predict, whether that’s your feelings on the latest season of Homeland or late-night conversations about careers, dreams and life goals.

It’s a setting that naturally swings your “meeting new people” muscle into play, after years of rustiness and neglect.

“It can be hard to meet new people when you are ensconced in your daily routine in London. Everyone is so busy and exhausted,” says Jenni, who has travelled a lot with Flash Pack.

“I was amazed at how easy it was to chat to people on my trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. It was really refreshing to meet new faces in a completely different environment – be it the crazy streets of Hanoi or watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat.”

The experience meant Jenni got back into habit of talking to strangers; a much less daunting process than she anticipated; “It felt brilliant to break out of my comfort zone,” she says.

Expand your social circle

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Fellow Flashpacker Nicola, 35, agrees.

“After quitting my job, it was so nice to escape to Morocco and meet completely new people that I wouldn’t normally meet,” she says. “It took me beyond the people I’d grown up with and worked with.”

She particularly welcomed the casual nature of the set-up: “There’s no strings attached with friendships when travelling, we’re all there to have an adventure but there’s no pressure to be best buddies.”

While some friends are best left in our twenties, perhaps it’s time to re-invent that knack we once had for incidental chats with strangers.

A long-eroded habit, it might bring you more joy, confidence and perspective than you ever thought possible.

How to meet new people: top tips

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Meeting new people is one of the great delights of solo travel. But how do you go about starting a conversation to begin with? We’re rounded up a few tips from adventurers who are fluent in the language of travelling alone:

Break the ice

You could use a typically British hook to get the chit-chat rolling, suggests Claire. “Talk about where you are – nice view, great food, etc… the weather!” This is a pretty much fail-safe option: anyone at all can talk about the weather – and who doesn’t like to chew the fat about food? Great noodles, bad milkshakes, where to find the tacos that outshine all others. The possibilities here are endless: all good conversation starters should feel natural, without overthinking it.

Don’t ask what people do

A lot of travellers are getting away from what they do back home – they’re looking for an escape, which is perhaps why Helen says, “Don’t ask people what they do for a living as an opener”. Of course, you might get around to this topic. But it’s a textbook networking question; not one to open with when you’re on a remote beach in Colombia, or hanging out in a bar in Laos. 

Acknowledge the awkwardness

Chatting someone up (without actually, you know, chatting them up), can feel unnatural – a bit like a blind date, but with potential friends. So, why not put the elephant in the room right out there, and have a joke about it? “Embrace the awkward laugh at yourself, that will get friends,” says Kerry-Alia.

There’s no fixed way to meet new people – just go with whatever feels comfortable.

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Get involved with the group chat

If you’re travelling alone, it might be tempting to veer away from groups. But more often than not, groups abroad are a mish-mash of solo travellers anyway. These are people who’ve been in your shoes, so they’ll likely be very receptive and welcoming.

“When I was on a Flash Pack trip to Myanmar, literally everybody in our group went round a bar in Yangon saying hello to everybody that spoke English and inviting them to join us,” says Victoria. “A group wide effort made it seem less difficult. And we found some people who had been travelling for months who were over the moon to talk to new people.”

Just go for it

When all’s said and done, you just need to pluck up the courage and make the move when it comes to approaching new people abroad. What’s the worst that could happen?

“Just do it, and don’t focus on the awkwardness,” advises Erika. “Ask how they are doing and what brings them to that particular place.”

In the unlikely event you don’t get a good response or your opening gambit is a conversation killer, don’t take it personally. It’s all in the practice, and the more you do it, the more confident you’ll get.

Images: Unsplash, Flash Pack, Shutterstock

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