March 28, 2019

How to Make Friends in a New City

The first places I go when I’m traveling or moving to a new place.

Moving is never easy. Saying goodbye to home, friends, and ties is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.

The idea of moving to a new place where you have little to no connection can seem daunting. Despite how social we are, connecting with like-minded individuals in a new place can seem about as easy as making friends on the moon.

I recently moved from my hometown to a city where I had no friends. We were near-ish to a small city, smaller than where we’d come from, and I was already nervous I’d have trouble finding a new community. As a freelancer, not only is my social life dependent on connections, so is my income.

A year later, I am grateful to have met incredible people, joined existing communities, formed my own group of like-minded (and wonderfully opposite) friends, and learned a few valuable lessons about how to make friends in a new city in the process.

Employ these tips in any new place: when you move to a new town, while traveling, in your new workplace, at your college, and even in your own city if you’re feeling like making new friends. Learning how to make friends in a new city isn’t easy, but it is so worth it.

Before you arrive, search and plan

Leading up to any big move or long trip, I get to know the local community the best way I know how: Instagram. Make a list of places you already know you like to visit in your hometown, and then think about new things you’d like to do in the new city. For example, when I’m headed to a new place, these are my core landmarks:

  • Craft coffee and tea shops
  • Locally owned boutiques, gift shops, and businesses
  • Farmers markets and artisan sales
  • Outdoor spaces like trails, quarries, beaches, and parks

The idea is to plan to visit places where people like you are likely to be and where you might find your network. Yes, there are clubs and meetings you can attend for specific interests, but this will get you going from the first day you arrive. Everyone needs to get coffee sometime, right?

Actually write down the names of the coffee shops, farmer’s markets, and breweries you want to visit. Check out their websites, visit their social media, and get acquainted with your future favorites.

If you love hanging out at your local coffee shop on Saturday mornings, joking with the regulars before jetting off the farmer’s market, then plan for that same Saturday routine in your new city. By setting yourself up ahead of time with day plans, with routes and landmarks for your time spent in the city, you’re putting yourself in the path of potential connections.

Once you have this list, head over to Instagram and scout for like-minded locals

Using the geotag search inside of Instagram is a game changer – plug in the name of one of your potential new spots (say a coffee shop) and every person who has tagged an image there will populate in that location’s feed. Browse and see what you like – how does the atmosphere seem? Do the locals capture the place the way you would? See anyone that looks interesting?

It may seem strange to start following random strangers on Instagram, but think about it. Online dating has been happening for a long time now. We’re to the point where we are swiping left and right on actual people, judging them at a single glance. Here on Instagram, you’re looking at the life story of strangers, wondering if they might be someone you would enjoy an hour’s conversation with.

I know that I love receiving a comment on one of my photos from a person I’ve never met, especially something thoughtful and genuine. Start any potential friendship or connection off on the right foot by acknowledging something in this person. Maybe their choice of coffee shop, “Wow, I’ve been wanting to try this place! I love your photo of it.” Or the book they purchased at the local bookstore, “Ooh, how do you like this book so far?”

Don’t get me wrong, it can be scary – weird – strange – nerve-wracking to reach out to strangers. But, in the game of making friends, getting comfortable with the discomfort of newness is the key to making connections easily.

A few times, a person comes to me through a search and I think, “Wow, we could be really good friends,” and I take the plunge and message them. Yes, DM. Sometimes they never see it, sometimes they reply that day.

Some of my best recommendations in new cities have come from folks I genuinely cold-messaged on Instagram, and that’s actually how I met my best friend.

Arrive with a plan and be prepared to socialize

With your regular routines transferred to new places in this new city, it’s time to take your social adventure a step further.

Has anyone else ever been terrified when the only seat in the building is at the communal table? This used to fill me with dread, the idea of sitting next to a stranger in a public place, close enough that their conversation was practically in my lap. But what I have learned is that one of the best ways to make connections in a new place is to sit at a communal table – at brunch, at the cafe, in the library – and politely connect with the person sitting next to you.

Not everyone is a potential friend (obviously), and you may visit more than one place and end up sitting next to tight-knit friend groups, people on dates, or flocks of children you’d simply rather avoid. But be consistent, put yourself out there, and make yourself available for spontaneous connection. It can and will happen if you are active about it.

Wherever you go, pipe up and ask questions

Talk to the sellers at the market, to your barista, to the bartender or the pizza guy or the person looking at the same produce as you at the grocery. Our parents taught us, “Don’t talk to strangers,” but talking to strangers is the easiest and fastest way to make a new friend.

I typically open with, “Hey, I’m super new to town and I’m wondering about the best local…” insert landmark or activity. Some people will absolutely avoid you and you’ll wonder why you said anything in the first place. Don’t get discouraged!

Typically, individuals in social positions like cashiers, baristas, shop attendants, and bartenders are already connected and quite used to being asked questions about the local area. Many are more than happy to share their favorites with you, and to even help you get connected with the right people.

The more you get to know a local place and your local social experts, the deeper connections you can endeavor to forge. Finding clubs, teams, or professional networking groups can be hard, and can lead you down paths that aren’t always aligned with what you wanted. Instead, seek advice from the experts – or the perceived experts.

Here are a couple of examples that have worked for me:

To the person editing photos on their laptop at the cafe:

“I couldn’t help but notice your beautiful work. I’m new to the area and haven’t met too many other photographers. Do you know of any groups or clubs where I might meet some like-minded artists?” This is how I found the Tuesdays Together community, a US-based organization that has chapters all over the country.

To the person who is clearly enjoying a beer after a tough run:

“Gosh, I love the beer here. I used to love grabbing a beer after a group run in my hometown. Do you know if anyone organizes those runs around here?” An easy introduction that helped me find a group of runners that does a Wednesday night run in different places each week. This two-for-one meant I got the running community I hoped for and discovered my favorite breweries all over the city.

For the freelancers, entrepreneurs, and job-seekers, go to where the professionals gather

Depending on the size and nature of your city, you’ll surely have one or more of these business-focused establishments:

  1. Chamber of Commerce with a small business support office.
  2. Local business incubator or entrepreneurship center, sometimes affiliated with a college, sometimes affiliated with the Chamber of Commerce.
  3. Locally owned co-working space, where individuals can become members who simply meet there for a quiet place to work.
  4. Independent innovation space and/or incubator, sometimes specifically geared toward an industry: tech, hospitality, creative services, etc.
  5. For the artists, look for community art spaces + studios, art-supporting nonprofits, and “open house” events at art spaces.

You can find these places with some careful internet searching and by asking some of your trusted social experts, depending on the what you’re looking for.

Even if you don’t consider yourself an innovator or an entrepreneur, visit these places, as they are some of the most rich environments for social connection. Individuals go to entrepreneurship centers and community art spaces for the same reason you will – to meet new people who could become new friends and professional connections.

Get your finger on the pulse of local events

Early on in my new city, I met someone who was very connected in the social sphere. They liked events I found interesting and were constantly promoting cool activities on their Facebook and Instagram. By following what they shared, I discovered new communities, business openings, new restaurants, clubs, and opportunities I could’ve have found even if I had been searching for them.

Check the community board at your local businesses and gathering spaces. If you’re into live music, follow the event emails and the social shares of the venues you find interesting. When you hear about a new local business opening or a restaurant doing a soft opening with a special menu, make it a point to show up and be open to forging new relationships.

As inspiring as these opportunities may be, the most important part of making friends in a new city is you.

A friend put it to me like this, “Friend dating is harder than actual dating, because you can’t simply distract them from the silly thing you just said by kissing them.”

When we go out to make friends, we are putting ourselves out there in a different way than if we were dating – we are looking for someone to connect with. Someone with which we can do things we enjoy, like hiking or painting or gossiping about life. You may be looking for a business connection or potential freelance clients, but we all know that networking is a dying activity.

Humans crave genuine connection, and to truly connect, we have to open ourselves up to the possibility of whatever comes our way. So as you go out in to your new city, after a move or on a big trip, as you walk into your first class on a college campus far from home… be open. Share yourself, your story, and a little bit of your food if you have extra. You’ll be surprised how generous the person on the other side might be.

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