How to Make Friends on the Road: Around the World in 80 Years

Getting new friends“Brasileiro?”
“Opa!”
“Sabia… Pensei agora, esse cara deve ser brazuca também.”
“É mesmo… Tá aqui de férias?”
“Não, intercâmbio… E você?”

There’s nothing easier than making friends with people from our own country when we’re traveling. You have an instant bond with them. In fact, just hearing our language abroad usually gets our attention right away.

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However, chances are at least *one* of the reasons for your trip was to practice your English, right? Or maybe your French, Japanese or even Swahili. And that’s just not going to happen by hanging out with other Brazilians!

In fact, there’s a very common myth going around in our language community: “A year abroad will make you fluent.” Not so… not if you don’t actually immerse yourself in country and culture, not if you don’t actually spend the majority of your time with the locals!

One of the tragedies I see time and again is people going abroad for a few weeks or even for a whole year, only to come back without having attained that much-desired fluency. And the reason is simple – you will miss your home sometimes, and the easiest way to “matar a saudade” is hanging out with other Brazilians.

“Okay, easier said than done, Frank”, you might say… “It’s not so easy to make friends with people from other countries. They often aren’t as open as Brazilians, and they usually have friends already, so it can be hard to break into their circles!”

And that is certainly true. As a rule of thumb, it’s always easier to make friends with people from warmer countries… South Americans tend to be some of the most open people you’ll meet on your travels, whereas people from colder climates can be a bit more reserved.

So, here are a couple of tips on meeting non-Brazilians… so that you can really experience the culture of the country you’re visiting, and of course, practice your English (and your Swahili).

1. Travel alone, if you can

I know a lot of people are reluctant to try this one on for size, but the fact is – you won’t stay alone for more than a couple of minutes unless you choose to. The fact that you have nobody to talk to will practically *force* you to reach out to other people you meet (don’t distract yourself with your iPhone now!)… and you will meet ten times more people than if you stick with your travel buddy. Besides, you already know each other’s stories anyway, right? Time to hear (and experience!) some new stories.

2. Stay at hostels instead of hotels

You will be surprised how many other people you’ll meet in a hostel dorm (or even in the common area, if you prefer to have your private room) that are in the same boat as you are… They’re traveling alone, and they’re eager to make new friends. There’s nothing easier than greeting the guy in the bunk bed next to yours with a casual question… even a plain “Where are you from” will serve as an excellent ice breaker, because a hostel is an environment where just about everybody is looking to connect.

3. Approach people that are alone

People who are on their own are often more open to making new friends… that goes both ways. Not only will you find yourself naturally behaving in a more extroverted way if you’re on the road without your buddies… you’ll also find that other people that don’t have a companion are often eager to exchange experiences, swap travel tips, or just make a new friend.

4. Don’t be shy to meet people online

This may have been a little bit scary a couple of years ago, but these days literally everybody is on the internet, and there’s nothing easier than finding like minded people on the web. The best site to meet other travelers is probably couch surfing… you don’t need to host anyone or stay at their place if you don’t want to, the site also offers casual meetups for coffee and even group outings… check it out! Meetup.com is a great place to have a look as well.

5. Finally, be proactive about meeting people everywhere

Ask people for directions when you’re in a new place, but pick people that don’t seem very busy… chances are you’ll get into a conversation. Join clubs and sports teams if you’re staying in a place for a while, take up a new hobby and reach out to people in any way you can think of, and NEVER turn down an invitation to go do something interesting (Watch the movie “Yes Man” with Jim Carey for more on that mindset!)

And here’s another hint… you really just need to meet one person in the country you’re visiting. They will then be able to introduce you to five more people, who can introduce you to five more people each, and before you know it, there’s no stopping it!

The bottom line is this… making new friends on the road is a lot easier than it seems, and one of the most worthwhile things you can do on your trip. In the end of the day, it’s the friendships and the people you meet that will make for the best memories. Remember – A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet!

Maybe I’ll share a story about some unexpected ways I’ve met people in the next post… but I’m really curious to hear about some of your experiences as well. Please post a comment and tell us – what was the most unusual way you’ve ever met a stranger and made a new friend? I can’t wait to read the stories!

Hit the reply button now and post a comment. So long and my best to you all,

~ Frank Florida ~

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Frank Florida

Frank Florida é professor de idiomas desde 1994 e fala oito línguas. Viajando o mundo por 11 anos, ele visitou umas 300 cidades em mais de 50 países. Ele se graduou da High School nos EUA, se formou em didática na Austrália e é criador do site Fórmula Fluente.

17 comentários

  • 05/09/13  
    Moacir diz: 1

    Hi Frank,
    I love your posts, I always try to read all of them. But my comment today is about two days ago when I was walking at my company’s garden where I work when an old man asked me in English: “Do you know the name of that tree?”, that was the first time I spoke with a foreigner and I answered him “I don’t know…” That was a funny situation I lived lately, he said me that he is a teacher and he came from a lecture in the city.

    • 06/09/13  
      Frank Florida diz:

      Hey Moacir, thanks mate! Ha, that question came out of the blue, eh? Reminds me of the time I met a French guy in a supermarket and he started to tell me what parts of the cow all the different cuts of meat were made of… Lol!

  • 05/09/13  
    Dionatan diz: 2

    Thanks Frank,

    Amazing post as ever! I’d like to see you someday here, at Rio grande do Sul, could be, porto alegre capital just to take a cup of coffe in anywhere :)

    Great Hug!

    • 06/09/13  
      Frank Florida diz:

      Hey Dionatan, thanks for the invitation! I’ve actually visited your home town before, even though it’s been a while… who knows, I never know ahead of time when I’ll be where, so it’s entirely possible. Cheers mate! :)

  • 05/09/13  
    sandrom diz: 3

    Frank,

    Your post reminds me some interesting situations on travelling abroad (and even within Brazil´s borders). Talking to a Paquistani who sells “paninis” gave me a lot of information about how immigrants live in Europe. Also a Swede who was enjoying her vacation in Rio de Janeiro claimed that to be a recepcionist in a gym near Stockholm is not profitable.
    These are some examples that illustrates how many chances we have to hold a nice conversation with foreigners (in or out Brazil).
    Going to a restaurant don´t lose the chance to praise the owner for the dishes and talk to him or the waiters; try to talk as much as possible in stores; go to parties; ask for directions; spend some time in the hotel lobby; and so on.

    Thanks for the post and for the memories that it brought back.

    cheers

    • 06/09/13  
      Frank Florida diz:

      Yo Sandro… I couldn’t agree more. There are opportunities to make new friendships everywhere… and to practice a foreign language as well. We just gotta keep our eyes peeled and go through life with an open mind… most people enjoy striking up a new friendship. :)

      Cheers mate!
      ~ Frank ~

  • 05/09/13  
    Ângelo Borsato diz: 4

    Hey Frank! Excelent post!
    I’m Ângelo, a Brazilian lad who lives in Dublin.

    I have the same point of view regarding the attempt to avoid Brazilians abroad. I’ve even had some problems with that arguing with some Brazilians, I was – believe me – even called a racist and xenophobic just for the fact I didn’t want to accept a Brazilian couple to live at my house (we were looking for a non-Brazilian couple in that time, exactly in order to have the opportunity to practice the English at home).

    Anyway!
    Dublin is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world and sometimes is even hard to meet natives over here! Bizarre! So that is very common to get to know people from everywhere in the most different ways!

    I can tell you the way I met my girlfriend for the first time: I had a farewell of a French friend here in Dublin. I was intending to go, however, me and my flatmates started drinking at home and when we saw we were already over 2 hours late. We were in doubt then wheter we should go or not, but in the end we decided to go. Getting there, the French girl was surrounded by lots of friends that we didn’t know and one of them was my future girlfriend.
    We have been together since then (it was nearly 1 year ago) and the funny is that me and my flatmates were wondering wheter to go or not there and in the end that farewell changed my life forever!

    As Jim Carrey’s movie says: Yes, never refuse an invitation to go to places where you can get to know new and interesting people!

    • 06/09/13  
      Frank Florida diz:

      Haha… racist, eh? Wow! This is always the FIRST thing I tell everyone who wants to learn a language by going abroad: Stay away from people from your own country… It will simply be almost impossible to avoid speaking in your native language rather than the one you’re trying to practice. Love that movie by the way, “Yes Man”… Great life philosophy!

      ~ Frank ~

  • 06/09/13  
    Elizabete diz: 5

    Hi Frank!
    I completely agree with everything you’ve said!
    Last year I wanted to travel for New Years but my friends couldn’t go with me, so I thought “What the hell, I will take my chances…”
    I went to Natal and Pipa, in the northeast part of Brazil, and I stayed in hostels. It was a wonderful experience!
    I arrived in the hostel and in a couple of hours I already made friends that stayed with me the entire trip :-)
    I would like to recommend two websites to meet new people, especially foreigners, for those who live in big cities, these sites are worth a look:
    http://www.internations.org/
    http://www.expatforum.com/

    Just one more thing: I LOVE YOUR ARTICLES!!!

    Best of luck!

  • 06/09/13  
    Euclides diz: 6

    Hello Frank! I can’t tell how many times my eyes were caught by your mind-blowing articles when I stop by english experts. keep up the good work man!

    In my current experience in Canada I’ve learned from pratical moments that new friendships are possible everywhere. I met a lot of brazilians on the way, and even though we struggled to keep conversatition going in english, we all ended up speaking portuguese. (Comfort zone)!!! However, I must agree with the thing you said about meeting one person and being led to other new strangers that eventually become best friends! I’ve met people on the bus during a thunderstorm, on hiking trails, at wineries, and so on… Great experience that will certainly last for a long time…

    Take care all… And thanks again Frank for sharing many vivid moments of your experiences.

    • 08/09/13  
      Frank Florida diz:

      Hey Euclides, you’re welcome and thanks for the kind words my friend!

      You hit the nail on the head… it doesn’t really matter how good our intentions are, when we hang out with people from our home country we usually end up talking in our native language, whether we want to or not. It’s just a strong pattern that’s very hard not to get sucked into.

      Here’s one of my favorite quotes by Wyatt Woodsmall: “All growth takes place outside our comfort zone”.

      Always the best, talk soon…
      ~ Frank Florida ~

  • 06/09/13  
    Luiz Fiuza diz: 7

    It reminds me, last year i went to San Diego and in my first day there, i needed to get a bus, but i was learning english just for one year. It was crazy, i was really sad, tired and lost, what hell, the neighborhoods were the same, well just to me, then in that day it was my first talking in english with a american, then i found a old man near of my hostfamily but i was lost yet, so he asked me where i from was, and i answered, “I am brasilian” so the man started to lol and he started speak in portuguese, well he thought that him was good in portuguese but, he wasn’t then we started to talk in english and we are friends yet….Good post…

  • 08/09/13  
    Frank Florida diz: 8

    Haha… nice one! Yup, Brazilians are traveling everywhere these days. Two years ago I was walking through Frankfurt with a Brazilian friend of mine and we were chatting away in Portuguese. When we got lost, we stopped someone to ask for directions in English, and she… responded in Portuguese! She had overheard our conversation and she was from Minas. It’s a super globalized world these days, English has become an absolutely necessary skill just like basic mathematics. But if you speak English, you will be able to find new friends almost anywhere in the world these days.

    Thanks for sharing your story! :)
    Cheers,

    ~ Frank Florida ~

  • 09/09/13  
    Alex Simplicio diz: 9

    Last week I went to London with a few friends and we stayed in a hostel that was a little far away from the main attractions of London, but totally worth it. The hostel was very cheap and the people were amazing. We met a woman from Senegal and we talked to her quite a lot. It was amazing hear her experiences, her background and her passion for languages. She could speak English and French fluently and had some basic knowledge of Portuguese and Spanish, besides read Arabic. She said that speak Arabic is very difficult, because the spoken and written language is pretty different. I could spend a whole day just hearing her stories. The staff of hostel was very friendly and some of them were foreign people too. I want to go back to London and stay in this same hostel, but at this time I want to follow your hints and go by myself, so I can practice improve my English skills even more.

  • 09/09/13  
    Wender Freese diz: 10

    Hello Frank, thank’s one more time to share your experiences, I’d like to ask you about persons you have been met around your travels, what country do you think the people are more closed?

  • 10/09/13  
    Teilor diz: 11

    I remember when I was in a supermaket looking for something and at same time, holding my skateboarding when suddenly a guy asked me about skate parks in Auckland. We had a little talk but he didn’t understand what I had explained, because he was new in the city. One afternoon I was reading in living room at hostel when I saw a young blonde guy tiping on his cellphone. Next morning I was going to take the train to another city when a cyclist passed me. Todays later I met him again in Arthur’s pass and he told me he was travelling the country by bycicle, pretty amazing, isn’t it? This give me a idea to next trip, maybe some country or continent by bike.
    At my travel I avoided brazilians as much as possible, I’ve just had lunch with one during week, while others I used to talk 2 or 3 words. I noted that most part of students, mainly japaneses, find some country mates and don’t leave each other. One japanese guy called Shimpei spoke with me a lot after classes, he was pretty focus on immersion like me.
    Great article Frank, always nice to read it