Kateri
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Culture is created by human interaction, but how do you make friends while traveling? So how are you going to immerse yourself in a culture without immersing yourself among locals?

The best way to learn about another culture is through making friends and spending time with them. Placing yourself in situations in which you are the only person from your country and cultural background will provide you with the best opportunities for experiencing the culture.

It might be harder if there is a language barrier or if you’re an introvert. Not everyone feels the same level of comfort. But you can still be friends and have a great time with someone who doesn’t speak the same language—might sound crazy, but it’s possible!

Here are some things that I did while abroad, which even two years since I left has left me with about a dozen close friends in South Africa.

Step 1: A New Mindset

Ditch your friends from home!

Of course, keep safety in mind, and I’m not saying don’t make friends with people from where you are from. But, if you want to meet locals, sometimes sticking like glue to your friends from home can be a barrier.

Break off, go talk to some locals on your own. One person alone is much more approachable than a whole group of [Americans] walking through campus.

How can you make friends while traveling? Here are some tips, even introverts can do it! Click To Tweet

Step 2: Finding Friends: Approach, Approach, Approach

Depending on the culture you are immersed in, people may be willing to befriend strangers to a varying degree. Keep at it, and don’t take rejection seriously.

Saying hi and smiling is a good place to start. Asking questions of genuine interest about the person and complimenting will get you far as well! I have made many good friends just by approaching them by smiling, saying hi, complimenting them, asking them how they are, then introducing myself.

Continuing the conversation by asking questions about the person and sharing about myself has brought me along the way. Keep smiling, stay positive, and light!

At a birthday party with my friend Sisipho, 2018, South Africa
Visiting my friend Nosiphiwo two years after studying abroad in Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Step 3: Exchange Information With Your Friend

I cannot stress this one enough, long term connections cannot be made if you don’t have a way to contact them. If you don’t get their number or exchange social media, chances are you will never see them again.

There are safe ways to connect with new people when traveling. When I was studying abroad in South Africa I would ask for the Whatsapp number of every person I made a connection with, that’s one way I make friends while traveling.

Then I followed up with them asking to hang out in person (in a safe place of course, and letting my friends know where I was).

Step 4: Keeping up With Your New Friends

Be Intentional About Hanging Out

How are you supposed to create a meaningful relationship with someone who you don’t spend time with?

Make a goal of seeing new people you’d like to build friendships with at least once a week, and try to go out of your way and perhaps pay for an Uber or two to see them.

Your effort will be worthwhile, and they will be key in getting the best cultural immersion experience possible. And of course, you’ll gain true friends too!

My friends & I when I was living in Peru, age 10

Ask them To Show You What They Like Doing In Their City

These were my most valuable experiences.

Exploring Punta del Este, Uruguay with friends

Invite New Friends Into Your Circle

If you live with other international students, invite the locals you meet to hang out with you and your friends! If they invite their friends, it can be a great experience for all of you. We had our regulars who would accompany us to weekly karaoke night.

Step 5: Maintain the Relationship Post-Departure

The thing you can gain from travel is finding friends who you dearly love. The hard part is leaving them.

If you want to stay in contact, you will have to be intentional about keeping the friendship going. I would try to message or call my friends at least every other week, even if the call was short.

Sending voice notes on Whatsapp was great. When I was busy my senior year in college and on a time crunch, I would often call my friends when I was on a run, cleaning, doing laundry, or during other opportunities to multi-task.

One secret I have not admitted to anyone before is that when I was so busy and I knew I didn’t have the time to talk that week, I would call and message all of my friends one by one while they were sleeping (8-hour time difference) when I knew their cell phone data or Wi-Fi would be turned off.

That way at least they knew I was thinking about them, and we would enter a game of phone tag until eventually, we were both free at the same time.

Whatsapp videocall with my friend Phelisa

Prioritize Visiting Again Soon

Do this! Make it happen. Save up the money. Don’t make up the excuse of “I have so much to do and to pay for after graduation”.

It’s not to downplay the financial difficulties or economic privilege, because different people have varying degrees of financial difficulties. But I often find young people who live comfortable lives say “I can’t. I don’t have the money for that”, “I can’t. I wish I had the money to go”, “I can’t afford that”

What I have learned from experience, yes be responsible, yes be organized, yes be diligent, but if you decide you are going to go, you will find a way to create the money you need. 

What I have learned from experience, yes be responsible, yes be organized, yes be diligent, but if you decide you are going to go, you will find a way to create the money you need.  Click To Tweet

Give your friends lots of notice in advance for your return—people have busy lives and probably won’t be able to drop their life for you when you show up unexpectedly.

Don’t take it personally if one or some of your friends don’t make it a priority to spend time with you when you return. This might happen, with the years, people and relationships can change.

This may be tough to deal with upon return but remember that they have their lives, so appreciate the time you do get to spend with the friends you visit. You put in your effort, that’s all you have control over, so appreciate yourself for putting in your part.

Reuniting after 2 years with my good friend Siphokazi

For similar articles, read: 7 Things to Research to Have the Best Travel Experience Possible


Do you have any tips on how to make friends while traveling? Comment below!

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