One of the most common things I hear from people who would like to become solo travelers abroad is that they are afraid of not having friends, community, and companionship. And I’ll be honest, meeting people is easy, but making genuine friends is sometimes hard! Many expats & full time travelers find it challenging to find their “group” and establish connection. This can be especially true for full time travelers who are changing locations periodically. There’s no denying the importance of human connection, and the need to feel a part of a greater community. Obviously being in a global pandemic amidst various restrictions and safety precautions, makes this even more challenging. Here are 7 things that have helped me feel connected, make friends, and keep away the “lonelies” as a full time traveler abroad.
1) Find the Facebook groups for your region/country. When I was preparing to move to Istanbul, Turkey I found the “Expats in Turkey” and “Foreign Women of Istanbul” groups. As I prepared to transition from Istanbul to Bodrum I found the “Expats in Bodrum” group. I even found a group specifically for Women of Color in Istanbul. These groups not only provided connections to people, but also to necessary resources, and valuable information. Once you join the groups you can a) Use the search feature to look up topics of interest that may help you find people to connect with, b) Keep and eye out for people making posts around similar interests you have, and c) Make a post proposing a meetup somewhere.
2) Talk to EVERYONE & don’t be afraid to ask for someone’s number so you can stay connected and push simple relationships forward. Stay connected to your tour guides even after the tour is over. Become Instagram friends with your beauty service providers. Have a coffee or a cocktail with your Air BnB hosts. Pay attention to what their interests are and where they intersect with yours. Many locals, expats, and fellow solo travelers are more than happy to welcome your friendship, especially if they speak your native language or have people in their circle that do. If you’re not sure of how to keep conversations going, and move beyond surface level in your interactions with others, I recommend checking out Dale Carnegie’s best-selling book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” In it he shares six ways to make people like you, and it’s mainly about being more interested in others than you are with making people interested in you. This book has been a best seller for like 100 years, so I think he kinda knows what he’s talking about.
3) Once you make a friend, make friends with their friends. Again, ask for people’s phone # & connect with them over common interests.
4) Leverage your existing networks. Let people from your home country (i.e. family, colleagues, classmates, etc.) & travel groups know where you are going and see if they have any connections there. I met some wonderful people in Turkey that are family & friends of people I know in the United States. My parents have friends, that have friends, that have a friend in Istanbul, Turkey. She not only helped me find a great Air BnB when I moved to the European side of Istanbul, but she became a valuable friend, who lived 3 buildings down the street from me. She invited me over for dinners, and cocktails, and rooftop breakfasts. These were all opportunities for me to meet her friends and practice tip #3 above. She even willingly shared her Turkish husband with me when I needed to take care of certain things (nothing freaky deaky y’all, LOL). In Turkey & in Mexico I’ve made friends with so many other wonderful solo travelers and expats just via my travel group posts and people reaching out to me or vice versa.
5) Don’t be intimidated by language barriers. I have found that chemistry and good vibes transcend language when the intentions are pure. So just be open & use a translation app when needed! I’ve even gone on a couple dates with guys who don’t speak English… it was quiet, but the vibe is what matters the most anyway. They spent the majority of the time feeding me, which I did not mind!
6) Stay virtually connected to your existing tribe and those who truly know you and love you. They will keep you grounded, they will keep you centered, these are your people!! Whether they are friends from your native country, friends you’ve had for years via social media, friends you’ve connected with during other seasons of your life – don’t discount your tribe. They may not be with you physically, but they are with you in spirit. I didn’t realize how many REAL friends I had until I left the country. And many of those relationships have become stronger since I left…. #Grateful!
7) Learn how to enjoy the blessing of being alone, and get out and enjoy things solo. Really lean in to what YOU like and know that God is orchestrating the divine connections meant for you! After all, you don’t want to connect with just any and everybody (well I don’t). You want to connect with the people who are aligned with you in some way, and that takes time. You ain’t for everybody, and everybody ain’t for you, and that’s OKAY! So, In the meantime be grateful for what and who you do have in your circle, because gratefulness is the gateway to abundance— which includes meaningful & mutually beneficial relationships!
In full disclosure, you could do all of the 7 things above and still find yourself in moments of loneliness and disconnection. That’s a normal part of life because humans are meant to connect with other humans. I definitely do get lonely from time to time on my travels. However, my journey includes managing those moments and learning how to navigate them with grace while doing no harm to myself or others. This is actually a beautiful part of solo travel that I’ve discovered. I have found that my connections and relationships now are much more profound and fulfilling. I’ve gotten more selective and wise about who gets access to me and where I spend my time and energy. I’ve learned how to set boundaries and to be clear about my intentions and my capacity. This all stemmed from me having the opportunity to establish a deeper connection with myself. Ultimately I’ve come to understand that most of what we feel we lack in friendships and relationships is rooted in a lack we have inside of us. We are outwardly disconnected because we are internally disconnected. We can’t find our tribe, because we aren’t fully in tune with what brings us raw joy and makes our souls rejoice. We don’t like others because we don’t really like ourselves. We allow the presence of toxic people because we ourselves have toxic traits we haven’t addressed. That’s heavy… *Take a breath* So… while this blog provides some practical tips you can use to create a more robust human experience while traveling solo or living abroad, if you continue to experience challenges in connecting with others in a meaningful way, I would encourage you to begin within… do some inner work. Work on becoming the type of person you’d want to befriend. The deeper you go, the brighter your light will shine, drawing your tribe to you!