make friends abroad

How to Make Friends Abroad: A 10-Step Guide

I can’t remember the last time I felt so physically terrified. My heart was ready to beat straight out of my chest, my phone poised to slip free of my sweaty palms. It took everything I had to not back out, not to walk right past my destination. This was my first experience for how to make friends while traveling.

This is how I knew that experience would be worth something. Isn’t that the way it goes? Truly, my tried and true mantra was resonating in my mind, battling the rush of my heart. Anything I’ve ever done that ultimately was worthwhile, initially scared me to death.

While I’m grateful to have had a solid group of Americans to hang out with while I lived in Madrid, I knew from the start I wanted to meet locals. I was in Spain for a cultural experience, after all, and the people were a huge part of that! After a couple months of waiting around for new friendships to magically appear, I took matters into my own hands.

The next time you find yourself in an unfamiliar place, focused on making friends abroad, step out of your comfort zone. Leave your wingman or woman at home, and follow these steps detailing how to make friends abroad.

How to Make Friends Abroad in 10 Steps

1. Realize You’re in a Rut

You see the same people, at the same events, at the same time every week. You do this because they’re your friends, and you enjoy spending time with them. But you want more. You want new people and new experiences. You want variety.

2. Initiate the Risk

Join It’s a site that allows people to come together based on shared interests, and has events in most cities. There are groups for running, reading, cooking, dancing, knitting – just about anything. Rake through the various groups. Join the ones that interest you most. I signed up for some of the dance ones, and nearly all of the socializing and language exchange ones while in Madrid.

These days when I travel, I regularly use Bumble BFF to find new friends as well. 

3. Tread Water

Read the emails you get from the groups you’ve joined. Check out the recent events pages. Read the comments about how much fun members had meeting each other. Browse through the pictures of real people, just like you! Question whether they really attended, or whether the photos are some sort of ruse. Notice how the people in the pictures look like they’ve known each other for years. Freak out about not fitting in. Repeat this step several times a week.


You’ll do this a few times. At first, you’ll always RSVP with a +1, or +2 or +5. Plan to bring your current friends into these strange new worlds with you, because that significantly diminishes the risk. Then, don’t actually show up to any of these events because it never works out that anyone can go with you.

5. Commit

You’re fed up. You’re craving something new. You want a rush. RSVP to an upcoming event. Plan to go alone because now, that’s part of the rush. The greater the risk, the greater the reward. Message the event organizer about your RSVP and your concerns, but play it cool.

6. Plan for the Worst

Call up your best friend. Talk through everything that could possibly go wrong: Nobody will show up except for you. People will be leaving just as you arrive. Everyone there will already be best friends and not give you the time of day.

Listen to your friend when she replies with the logical answer you’re too preoccupied to come up with, “Then just leave.” Tell your best friend you might get killed… Listen to the silence and then answer your own morbid thoughts, “Well, at least it’s a somewhat daring way to go.” Continue to cycle through these scenarios up until the moment you enter the meetup venue.

7. Hope for the Best

These people are in the same boat as you. They want to meet new people. If nothing else, this will make for a great story. Look at the picture of the cute guy who also RSVPed. Now, there’s added incentive. (Disclaimer: I was very single when I first wrote this in 2013. Proceed).

8. Just Do It

Leave your safety net and go to the event. Maybe have one friend ensure you get off at the right stop on the Metro instead of trying to miss it. Walk to the event locale. Gasp for air despite your fiercely pounding heart. Arrive and walk right in so it’s too late to chicken out.

9. Make New Friends

You’ve made it! Find your group and push through a couple more minutes of awkwardness. Bond with someone over the fear you felt in arriving alone. Learn that this night is a first for many in attendance. Mingle – it’s your favorite thing to do. It’s why you’re here. Smile in welcome at the newcomers who arrive after you. Laugh freely. Ask questions. Mentally pat yourself on the back for actually making it here, by yourself with all these new people. Pose for one of those infamous pictures that will later be posted on the Meetup website. Realize that you’ve got guts.

10. Maintain Friendships

Now, you’ll start getting calls and texts from your new friends. Go out again, even if it’s not through Meetup. Go to other Meetup events. Even though you’ve done it once, you’ll probably repeat similar steps. Making friends abroad, or in any new place, is tough but at least this time you’ll know it’ll likely be worth it.

What experiences do you have with making friends abroad? Did you have a good experience or a tough one? 

Making Friends Abroad as a Solo Traveler

Need some encouragement for making friends abroad? Check out this 10 step guide based on my real life experience. Give these tips a shot! #expatlife

How to Make Friends Abroad
Guide to Making Friends Abroad for #expats and long term travelers