Let’s face it: making friends as an adult is hard. When we’re kids, it’s easy. You’re surrounded by peers in the same stage of life as you, and you see each other daily, which makes making friends come naturally. As adults the only comparable circumstance is the workplace, and I’ve always felt you are incredibly lucky if you find friends at work; you’re likely at different life stages, with vastly different experiences. It feels daunting and embarrassing as an adult to approach people with the expressed intention of “be my friend.”
These challenges are even more pronounced when you are a solo traveler, especially in transient locations.
My home Bali, though stunningly beautiful, is one such transient location. You meet incredible people, instantly connect with them as though you’ve found your twin flame and then suddenly they’re gone. They’ve moved on to another city or country, perhaps never to be seen again. Creating a stable circle of friends in this landscape becomes a challenge, especially after experiencing this cycle repeatedly—a cycle that gets disheartening fast.
When I first ventured abroad alone, I won’t sugarcoat how tough those initial months were as I found my feet. However, with each journey I’ve made in search of the perfect wave, I’ve established a set of straightforward principles that I believe are the key to forming friendships anywhere you go. I’d even go so far to say I’m a dab hand at it.
Lean into Your Hobbies
For me, the logic is simple: you’re most likely to connect with like-minded people whilst doing the things you love. While it’s not a guarantee that everyone sharing your interests will be a kindred spirit, it’s a pretty safe bet. When you encounter folks who share your passions, you have the advantage of a common love to bond over, sharing stories, connecting with past experiences and of course, the exchange of advice.
In my case, immersing myself in the surf community is a vital part of my travels. I consider myself incredibly fortunate that the surf community is a global one, welcoming individuals from all walks of life. Each new location boasts a surf culture unique to the area, its own microcosm within a microcosm, something I eagerly anticipate (aside from discovering new surf breaks, of course). I still fondly remember my first ever surf retreat. I was full of nerves to spend a week in the company of strangers, but by the end, had made lasting, deep friendships—friendships which persist to this day. There’s an unparalleled sense of connection that comes from being united by a shared passion, a feeling like no other.
Say Yes to Things
This one is admittedly a little difficult as it requires you to throw caution to the wind somewhat and take part in things you might not usually see as your cup of tea. Stepping out of your comfort zone challenges you in more ways than one. Have you been thinking of trying out a new class or activity? Toying with the idea of going but never taking the plunge? I’m here to tell you to bite the bullet and book that class.
Often the fear of not excelling holds us back from trying something new. However, every expert was once a beginner, and most importantly—it’s okay to be bad at something whilst you’re learning. The beauty of exploring a new travel destination lies in the freedom to be inexperienced without the fear of judgment. Perhaps that’s one of the greatest lessons I’ve learnt through surfing, it’s not about perfection or flawless technique; it’s about the joy of participation.
So, sign up for that skating class you’ve been thinking about. Accept that invitation to a spin class from the person you just met at the hostel. Within reason of course; I’m not suggesting you follow a stranger down a dark alleyway just because they invited you and you’re on your saying “yes” wave. But take a chance on the unknown, because you never know where it might lead. You may not even connect to the person who invited you, but perhaps you’ll form bonds with their friends or someone else at the class. It’s this open-minded approach that introduced me to hobbies I never knew I’d love and friendships I could never have predicted.
Ice Breaker Events
Almost as an antidote to the issue of finding friends, there are now specific ice breaker events designed to connect people. Recently a friend invited me to Bali’s rendition, Sa Mesa. The concept is simple: an Italian-style dinner where strangers are seated together to share in drinking, games and incredible food. I was apprehensive beforehand, but I can honestly say it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable dining experiences I’ve ever had—the evening culminating with us dancing on the tables together.
Make the Most of Social Media
Whilst we were once reliant on the lottery of organic encounters, we now have social media to help us bridge the gap and find friends faster. Apps such as Bumble have a ‘BFF’ feature which is a fantastic way to meet friends on short trips. Likewise Facebook is a fantastic way to connect with the expat community in your city. People openly and unashamedly introduce themselves, seeking friendships in their new city, and are met with warm welcomes, invitations for coffee dates, and offers of city tours.
About the Author
Emma Bukowski is the founder of Noserider Surf Club. She designs functional and stylish surf suits that allow female surfers of all levels and sizes to feel beautiful and confident in the water. Follow on Instagram and Pinterest.
Images courtesy of the author.