How to Make Friends While Traveling

Note from Sean: 

The first time I met Vanessa Van Edwards, I was terrified. All I knew was that she was a body language expert and trained to be a human lie detector. The whole time I was second guessing myself, and wondering if I was putting out the wrong vibes.

Fortunately I must have passed the test, because over the last few years Vanessa has become one of my closest entrepreneurial friends.

But the fact remains, she is one of the smartest people I know, and today her book Captivate is released. And you know what? It really, truly, is one of the most useful books I’ve read in years – and I’m not just saying that because we’re friends.

Simply put, if you’ve ever wanted to improve any aspect of your social skills – Captivate is a can’t miss book.

You can pick it up on Amazon here.

In today’s post, I asked Vanessa to write something that would be relevant to the travelers in our audience – and she absolutely nailed it. Ever struggled meeting people on the road?

We all have. In this post she shares some of her best tips for making friends while traveling. Take it away Vanessa!

How to Make Friends While Traveling

In 2010, my husband and I decided we needed to find a new home. I am from Los Angeles, CA and I never felt like it was home.

My husband was raised in London and he had no desire to move back. So we wanted to find a new home base.

We asked friends, did research and took votes on Facebook. We ended up with this list of possible places to live:

1. Buenos Aires, Argentina

2. Portland, Oregon

3. Shanghai, China

4. New York, New York

5. Singapore

6. Santiago, Chile

7. San Diego, CA

8. Austin, TX

9. Tokyo, Japan

10. Los Angeles, CA

11. Seoul, South Korea

12. San Francisco, CA

Here’s the thing: We didn’t want to just travel to each city as tourists, we wanted to taste test each place as residents. This meant doing all the things we would do if we lived in each city—not just as tourists. In each place we:

  • Lived in an apartment (AirBnb) in a neighborhood we would actually be able to afford if we moved to the city.
  • Work virtually—my husband and I already had virtual jobs, but we wanted to check out the local coffee shop scene, wifi speed and meet other entrepreneurs.
  • Sightsee and grocery shop. Sure, we wanted to see the highlights of each city, but I also hoped to do the boring stuff like grocery shopping, dry cleaning, and errands.
  • Make friends. It turns out, for two ambiverts, this was the hardest one.

We had one big goal on this trip: Find a new home.

While we did find a new home (we fell in love with Portland, Oregon) but the lesson we learned was: How to make friends quickly.

My business, the is human behavior research lab. Basically, we teach science-based people skills—communication, relationship strategies and human behavior hacks.

I never guessed these skills would be most useful, and most tested, traveling the world. I wanted to share a few tips for you Location Rebels as you build your businesses and explore. I hope they help!

#1: Start Narrow

The biggest mistake my husband and I made in the beginning was trying to make friends with anyone, anywhere. Grocery store: “I like apples too, want to be friends?” Movie theater: “Movies are great! Amigo?” Bus stop: “Where is the Bund?

What did work was narrowing in a specific niche early. My husband and I typically tried:

  • Entrepreneurs – Tons of local groups to meet. I wish I had known about Location Rebel forums then!
  • Wine Lovers – Wine tours, wine nights and wine tastings are SUPER easy for striking up conversations.
  • Ex-Pats – This was our least favorite because we liked meeting locals, but if we didn’t speak the language very well, this one was sometimes the best way to go and easy to find on MeetUp.

I would recommend honing in on your hobby, religion, career or demographic and starting there.

#2: Conversation Sparkers

Striking up conversation was pretty easy at events for the above interests, but keeping conversation going was a bit harder. We realized that the basic ‘social script’ questions sucked for building friendships:

  • How are you?
  • What do you do?
  • Where are you from?

This conversation was awful and rarely did we connect with people. Finally, I used one of the techniques I teach to sales people and networkers as a communication hack. I call these conversation sparkers.

My favorites while traveling:

  • I am new in town, do you know any secret spots I should check out?
  • Do you like living here?
  • Have you found it is easy to make friends and connections?

These worked every time—either we learned about a new secret spot and/or we gained a new friend! Forgive the blatant plug here, but you are welcome to check out all 33 of my conversation sparkers in my latest book Captivate:

captivate vanessa van edwards

#3: Activity Trumped Convo

Another surprise my husband and I learned was that we made much faster friends when we did activities together. For example, having dinner or drinks with new friends was ok, but it never bonded us long term.

However, sightseeing, game nights and doing mini-weekend trips together created amazing connections. Game nights were particularly awesome. My husband and I even developed a system for hosting outrageous, awesome, and memorable game nights as we traveled.

So, try to ask people out on activity dates—not just drinks and dinner. Then you can combine sightseeing with relationship building.

Overall, making and spending time with new friends were probably some of the best memories we had while traveling. We also made amazing friends in Portland, Oregon right away (even though we knew no one at first) and we think this was a major factor on why it won.

Traveling can be lonely. Don’t get me wrong—I LOVE to travel, try new cuisines, explore exotic locales and get lost in a new city. However, sometimes cuisines are more flavorful, exotic locales are more fun and getting lost is even more adventurous when you can do it with friends.

If you are a recovering awkward person like me and need a little extra help networking and striking up conversations, please check out my book Captivate for my 14 favorite human behavior hacks from my lab.

Captivate: Use Science to Succeed with People

Vanessa Van Edwards is an author and behavioral investigator who speaks and consults on human behavior hacks, body language, and people skills at Her latest book, Captivate, was chosen as one of Apple’s Most Anticipated Books of 2017.

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