If you’ve ever spent any considerable time alone on the road, you know that, as wonderful and fabulous travel is (most of the time), you occasionally get…a little lonely.
It’s not that you want to move home and burrow into your childhood bed, or lock back into the life you consciously chose to leave. And it’s not that you regret beginning this journey on your own, because the experiences you’re having are life-changing and you’re learning so much about yourself and you feel more whole than you ever have before.
All of those things are completely true and fantastic…but that doesn’t make it any easier to be lonely. When you’re backpacking, you meet plenty of other nomads but that’s part of the problem – you’re all nomads. Even when you choose a place to settle for awhile, it can be difficult to hook into the social scene and start making friendships that last for more than a drink or two.
But there is hope. Particularly in cities, there are often established social groups and organizations that are open to expats and locals and are a great way to get the lay of the land. In addition to being a convenient way to meet people, those who have been around for awhile can tell you what non-touristy bars are popular among long-term expats, what museums and galleries are worth seeing and where to find out about other meet-ups, such as intramural games.
Check the official Couchsurfing website for meet-ups and events happening in whatever city you happen to be visiting. Couchsurfing communities often hold weekly gatherings that are open to locals, travelers and expats, but the online forums are also often full of people seeking sightseeing partners or who are trying to organize special outings.
Meetup.com is another great resource if they operate in your city. You can search for clubs and organizations that are centered around your interests so you’re more likely to meet people with whom you have something besides travel in common.
It can be quite intimidating to approach a new group or put yourself out there socially, but it almost always pays off in a big way. Give yourself a pep talk before heading to an event and consciously keep an open mind when you meet people initially. That’s not to say don’t judge because sometimes people are jerks, but give them and you an opportunity to get past the getting-to-know-you stage and find out if there’s something to bond over. You won’t become best friends with everyone you meet, but you will find interesting conversations and recommendations for what to do where you are. And occasionally, you will meet people with whom you can form deeper friendships.
And these will remain valuable to you well beyond your traveling years. Your shared experiences will give you a place from which to build a friendship that won’t be daunted even if you end up living on opposite sides of the world.