This is the single most important thing that I wish I knew when I first became a remote working digital nomad: prioritize meeting people. No matter how busy you are, make time to meet people in real life. I’m an introvert and I’ve never had any issues with being alone. However, I had just moved away from San Francisco, where I had spent one year sharing a room, followed by one year living in a living room and never being truly alone. I thought I was ready for some ME time. Girl, was I wrong. Being alone all the time and arguing with myself 24/7 got tiring really fast and 3 months later I was depressed.
Therefore, I thought I would discuss this topic right away: how to meet people in a new city and make friends when you’re always on the go. I will list out all the ways I’ve met up with people over the last year and a half and detail how successful I’ve been at making friends through them. Of course, what works for me may not work for you, and vice versa, so I encourage you to try the ones that appeal to you.
How to meet people in a new city
1. Facebook groups
One of the things Facebook has blessed us with are Facebook groups. Back in my school days, we used them for teamwork stuff and to share notes. Nowadays, I’m in a bunch of digital nomad groups, travel groups, Australian Shepherd groups, and some others.
When you’re in a new city you could ask in a general digital nomad or travel group if anyone is there and willing to meet up (personally, I am a bit apprehensive about this but I have replied to and met up with people who have posted this). Or you could ask general tips about the city and someone might reply that they’re going there as well and then you can decide to meet them there.
You could also search for local digital nomad groups, expat groups, groups of people of your nationality (e.g. Digital Nomads in Lisbon or Dutch people in San Francisco), etc. and check the posts and events. Sometimes even if a group doesn’t have active meetups, someone else might share their meetups from another local group. This is how I found the meetup group I join regularly in Budapest.
On Meetup.com you can look for groups of similar interests in your area and join the meetups. For example, if you like going on hikes you can join the local hiking group. If you’re interested in marketing, you can join a marketing network group. This is how I found a local digital nomad group in Lisbon.
3. Coworking spaces
Coworking spaces are such a blessing. Not only do they provide me with an office to work from so I can be more productive, they also organize tuns of events where you can meet people. And often, you can meet likeminded people even just by going to lunch with them. I’ve worked at the Impact Hub in Lisbon and Budapest and they’re truly life savors.
Also, they have dogs (in Budapest at least). To be real honest, I’m better at connecting with the dogs than I am with the people, but I’ve met a few great people too.
4. Dating apps
In the beginning of my digital nomad existence, I used the dating app Coffee Meets Bagel to meet people in new cities. This app is not as well known as Tinder, but it was more comfortable for me. In Scandinavia, I didn’t really meet people through this app -either because it wasn’t well known there yet or whatever other reason, but I met some nice people in San Francisco, Lisbon, the Netherlands, and Budapest.
However, I realized I would rather make friends than date and through a dating app if you’re not going to continue to date… IDK, you CAN make friends but for me it just added a layer of awkwardness that I just didn’t want to deal with anymore. I decided I would rather go to general meetups to meet new people without any expectations.
I’m particularly awkward about dating in general though, so it might work for other people.
5. Random acts of kindness
One day, as I ordered a cup of coffee and some food at a cafe in Bergen, Norway, someone had bought a cinnabun for “the next person in line” (which was me). I accepted and asked who the person was. I thanked her and didn’t really know what to do next because I’m awkward AF. So I went to my seat and had my meal. As I got up to leave she asked me what I was doing in Bergen (probably, I don’t remember exactly) and I joined her at her table and we had a short conversation.
I mentioned I was going up Mount Ulriken and she said she had never been so I asked if she wanted to join me. She already had plans to watch some winter sport event but she invited me to join her and at her friends’ place to watch a movie that evening. I felt hella awkward about going to a stranger’s house being invited by someone else that I had only met that morning and knowing nothing about any of them. I really debated whether I should or should not go.
Normally, I would have bailed. But in the end, I was craving to meet people in real life and I told myself the worst thing that could happen is that you feel awkward and go home (obviously this is not the worst thing that could happen but ok). I gathered all my courage, went and actually had the BEST time. They invited me back the next day so I hung out with them one more time before I left Bergen (I was only in Bergen for 10 days total).
My point with this story is; random acts of kindness not only spread kindness but could provide you with new friends (even if just for a day or two). You could be the person handing out free cinnabuns and who knows, maybe you’ll make a new friend (If not, you’ve probably at least made someone’s day and they will hopefully pay it forward).
6. InterNations expat community
InterNations is a global expat community of internationally minded people in over 390 cities. You don’t need to be an actual expat to join. They organize events for newcomers, with all kinds of useful information about the city, and many other events throughout the month. There are groups you can join that organize specific events based on common interests.
Joining is free but they have a paid membership program. Some events and groups you can only join if you’re a member. Other events anyone can join but then you’ll have to pay a small fee (for which you’ll get a free drink). It sounds like it’s worth paying the membership fee if you are interested in joining events regularly so I encourage you to try it out.
The Budapest community seems pretty active but I’m not sure what it’s like around the world. When I went to my first event I was one of the youngest people there and pretty much everyone I talked to was already retired and could have pretty much been my parents (some had kids about my age too). They were all super nice though and I had a great time so I’ll definitely join another time. And I know there are other events with younger attendees too.
7. Find other local international groups
In major cities, there are often many different international communities you can check out. For example, you can look into:
- your local Erasmus Student Network
And just ask around at other meetups. For example, in Budapest, there is International Meeting Point, which I only know about from friends (and still have never attended any of their events).
8. Sports and hobbies
Many people I’ve met or talked to online have said they like to join a local club or gym. For example, people who like dancing might take salsa classes, others might go pole dancing or do yoga, what have you.
Personally, I’m not really that sporty and I move too much to join a volleyball team again, so this one is not for me at the moment. When I was in San Francisco, though, I found an organization where you could low key play volleyball tournaments every week without signing up as a team and you’d gain points individually. They would randomly match us up in new pairs every week and we’d rotate and play a few games 4-4, which was quite fun. You’d need to sign up for like 6 weeks I believe it was, so even for that you’d need to stay in one place for at least a month for it to be worth it.
So if you have a sport or hobby you’re passionate about, you can definitely look into that in your new city and it might improve your chances of making local friends.
9. Through friends, family, former classmates and acquaintances
Reach out to existing friends and acquaintances who live or used to live in a city. Even if they don’t live there anymore, they will have good insider tips about the city and may be able to connect you to other people — whether that is to find accommodation, network, or make friends.
At the very least, I make an announcement on Facebook that I will be in a certain city on “these dates” and to please reach out if you’re interested to meet up. You never know who is going to be in the same city at the same time. It happens more often than you’d expect. For example, I was in Thailand on what I thought would be a solo trip and I hardly spent a day alone because several different people I knew happened to be there at the same time.
If you book your accommodation through Airbnb and are staying at a place with your Airbnb host, you have a potential friend right there. Many Airbnb hosts love connecting with their guests. As a digital nomad, I always book my accommodation through Airbnb (aside from holidays and weekend trips when I don’t have to work) and I’ve met some amazing people doing the coolest things.
For example, my Airbnb host in Lisbon is working on a project about the history of popular music in Portugal and my Airbnb host in Oslo loves architecture and interior design, which she expressed clearly in her home and her cabin on Airbnb, as well as on her Instagram and she’s recently started her own digital nomad journey. They both made me feel at home in their respective cities and I love keeping up with their work through social media.
You can also go on an Airbnb experience where you can meet people interested in doing similar activities.
If you sign up for Airbnb through my link and book for the first time, you will get €30 in travel credit and I’ll get €15 travel credit (win-win for us both).
How to make friends in a new city
Building a friendship takes time and genuine connection. A recent study showed that it can take 50 hours to become casual friends, 90 hours to become friends, and more than 200 hours to become best friends (read more about this study on psychology today).
However, if you’re like me and move all the time, sometimes “friendships” may not last longer than 1, 2 or 3 meetings. I have met people for whom I knew that if we were able to put in the time, we would have been friends, so as a nomad, I will still refer to these people as my momentary friends. We can still appreciate these friendships and who knows, maybe in the future, you will meet up again! One friend I met on my West-Canada trip, I have now met up with in 4 countries on 3 continents.
Anyways, here are some things I naturally did once I settled in Budapest that helped me turn meetings into better friendships (and some other ideas that might work for you). After reading about this study today, it basically comes down to finding ways to hang out with people more to put in that time, connecting over common interests, and investing yourself to care about their lives.
1. Invite people to join you on your sightseeing trips.
If they haven’t seen those things yet, you can go explore together!
2. Suggest to co-work together
To be more productive and keep each other accountable. Go work in a cafe together. It has helped me get out of my bed earlier, spend some time catching up and then working productively.
3. Suggest working out together
I don’t work out much but other people have suggested I join them to e.g. their yoga class. It’s a great way to keep each other accountable to work out and have fun together. I’ve done this in the past when I was at Uni.
4. Volunteer to host a meetup
Are there no meetups you’re interested in? Start a group yourself. Is the regular host busy or ill? Volunteer to help out. Want to organize an extra meet up on another day? Talk to the host. More likely than not they’ll be grateful not the be the only one to organize everything.
5. Invite people you meet to (other) meetups or events you attend.
That way, you already know someone there!
6. Offer to help
If you hear someone talking about something you might be able to help them with (maybe they’re moving, maybe you have knowledge or skills they’re trying to learn, maybe you can walk their dog), offer to help. Just think of yourself as an overly nice Canadian. Help without expecting anything in return. Your minimum return is the fact that you got to hang out with a real-life human being (or their dog) and you can feel good about yourself for being a nice person -which can tell the Negative Nancy in your head who is always nagging at how much you suck (no? just me? ok then). Also, we need more nice people in this world. Just be nice.
7. Just go for a coffee
One of my extroverted friends once taught me that asking people to go for coffee is not actually a big deal. Now, if I am anywhere and I haven’t seen anyone in ages, I don’t feel like asking them to go for a coffee is too big of an ask. Because it’s not. And if they don’t have time that is fine. Recently, I met a girl at an airport and we were coincidentally both going to Budapest. We got along and we suggested to meet up for coffee the next week, which we’ve just continued doing since.
8. Make an effort to visit people even when they don’t live near you
I have friends all over the world at this point. Within reason, I go out of my way to try and meet up with my good friends whenever I can, whether that means taking a train for 2 hours, spending 7 hours on a bus or booking a last minute plane trip when you find out a friend who lives in the US is coming to Europe for work. It means a lot because a lot of people who are used to staying in one city all their lives will literally not even want to go to the next city to meet up. So to maintain friendships with people you can’t always see anymore, make that extra effort if you can. And do realize they won’t always return the favor and that is ok. Not everyone CAN and people show their appreciation in different ways.
Basically, if you invite people and are nice to them, people are more likely to invite you and be nice to you as well- but don’t stop making plans and just being a nice person even if you don’t get invited to things yet. Making friends as an adult is so much harder than back in the day when we could just be friends with our classmates, roommates, teammates and whatnot and we saw each other every day or at least every week.
Let me know in the comments how you usually approach meeting people when you get to a new city.