Any single person in the social media era knows where to go to find romance online while travelling, but it can be much harder to meet people for friendship. This article will attempt to make that easier for you.
I left any semblance of a structured, predictable, routine life behind back in 2015, which included friendships and family. While social media makes it easy to stay in touch with and nurture my various relationships around the world, forging new ones on the road hasn’t always been easy. It is even more complicated if you are somewhere with a language barrier between you and the local people.
I’ve used plenty of apps over the years and had some great experiences, meeting like-minded people who have been great adventure, learning, drinking, and fitness buddies.
These apps are part of what organizational psychologist Constance Hadley calls “portable communities,” which digital nomads can find and join wherever they are in the world. With that in mind, below are some of the apps and online spaces that you can use to find friends and social activities while you work and travel abroad:
- Facebook Ex-Pat groups
- Digital Nomad Groups
- Facebook Niche Groups
- Hey! Vina
- Bumble BFF
- Hiking Groups
Meetup is a great place to (oddly enough) meet people with shared interests. One of the most difficult things you find while travelling is that, sure, the people living the same lifestyle as you also like to travel, and there are always stories to swap, but liking travelling is not really a subculture or niche interest.
Enter Meetup. Meetup is free, it lets you link your Facebook, Google, Apple or email account, and once you’ve signed up and logged in, you just choose your city, select your interests and you will be presented with a list of available meetups. It might be a language exchange, a beach volleyball game, a salsa night, or just a bunch of people meeting at a bar for a drink.
If you want to take the initiative and create your own group, you can do that too.
Facebook Ex-Pat Groups
Anytime you live anywhere for an extended period of time, it’s a good idea to join one or more of the local Facebook ex-pat groups. They are often very informative, particularly when it comes to legal and visa matters. Even you if you don’t make any connections, they are also great places to observe the antics and arguments of the many bizarre ex-pats you come across while living abroad.
I like them because they are usually quite active and there are plenty of people who comment and contribute on a regular basis, so you can get to know someone (as much as you can via social media) before deciding to meet up and hang out.
Digital Nomad Groups
Digital nomad groups are fun places to meet people and make friends, and often helpful places to network and find job opportunities as well. There are plenty of Facebook groups dedicated to digital nomads, as well as some great Slack groups for digital nomads that connect people based on both interests and industry.
They usually have news and information about local or regional meetups, depending on where you are, and at the very least you know the people you are meeting live the same lifestyle as you. If they’re in the same line of work, you have professional interests in common too.
Facebook Niche Groups
While Facebook is currently in decline, I still find it a very useful online space for people with niche interests and hobbies.
I’m a member of various photography and wildlife ID groups–some locally focused, others international–and I have found friends through them. I really like these groups for meeting new people because I already know that the people I’m going to meet share my passion and hobby. There are niche groups for pretty much anything you might be interested in.
Joining most niche groups on Facebook is by request, which means you typically have to answer some simple questions before you are admitted and allowed to post. Well worth checking out for digital nomads, especially those interested in niche hobbies.
Hey Vina! Is a friendship app for girls and, while I’m not a girl, I think it’s important for female nomads to have female-only spaces for meeting friends while travelling.
The matching mechanics are basically the same as other dating and friendship apps (i.e., swiping and joining). The app is also quite interactive and more content-focused, in that it offers users quizzes and reading material related to living well and independence as a woman.
While travelling the world alone comes with risks regardless of your gender, travelling alone as a female nomad has unique risks for obvious reasons.
Atleto is what it sounds like: an app to help you meet gym and exercise buddies. When I left my life in Canada back in 2015, I also had to leave my swolemate behind. I wish I’d known about this app earlier because it has been a lot of working out alone for the past 7 years.
Whether you want to find someone to shoot hoops or kick a soccer ball around with, or you are looking for a gym buddy, this app is a great way to meet people who are into fitness.
Dating apps get a bad rap, particularly for dehumanizing romance and making dating into a market. I try to take the good with the bad, and I’ve always preferred Bumble to Tinder or the other options out there, but if you are not looking for romance at all and simply want to meet people and make friends, consider Bumble BFF.
Bumble BFF was created by the same team that built Bumble and its aim is to “build a supportive community around them—no matter where they are.” It works the same way as the dating app, and is actually just a specific setting on the original app. Tap the profile icon on the bottom left, then your grey silhouette, hit the setting icon and the choose “BFF” in the following menu.
I’m including the original Bumble on this list as well because I have found friendship on Bumble over the years as well.
I’m not going to pretend like I have used Bumble to look exclusively for friendship, but I have met people that started out as casual romance and, when the time inevitably came to leave a place, we have stayed in touch as friends. These are people I have helped and been helped by over the years and who I continue to stay connected with on social media. I think it’s important to point out that if you are a solo female traveler, there are some important safety tips to keep in mind when it comes to online dating (and everything else).
You can think of Nearify kind of like Spotify but for events and meetups. Nearify is a great tool to use both before and while you are in a new place. It lets you curate lists of events happening around the world and gives you personalized offerings.
Nearify is a great way to meet people and make friends who share your interests based on the events you are both interested in. Events include films, concerts, classes and more.
To me, being able to create and enjoy music is one of the most fulfilling things in life. I love meeting new people who share my musical interests, talking about music, and giving and receiving new music recommendations. I think most people probably do.
While technically a dating app, I thought it deserved inclusion on the list because it brings people together based on shared musical interests, which is always one of my favourite ways to connect with someone–romantically or otherwise. The app asks for access to your Spotify listening history and then the algorithm looks for people with similar tastes to match you with.
Friender is a really thoughtful friendship app that advertises itself as solely a place for friendship building. You simply create an account and are then given a very comprehensive list of over 100 different activities with which to build a profile.
Once you have created your list, the app sends you recommendations based on these preferences. Your matches tend to share at least one “favourite activity” as you so, depending on what you’re primary interests are, that could be friendship material on its own.
Anywhere I go in the world, I am trying to find places to hike and people to hike with. I understand the reservations a lot of people have when it comes to venturing into the wilderness with people they barely know. This is why hiking groups are great.
There are Facebook hiking groups by region and country, as well as ones designed just for women. The best thing about hiking groups is that the outings they plan are usually big group activities, which are much safer for solo travellers.
I quite like We3’s concept and match mechanics. The app has you swipe through a series of “statement cards” that ask you to agree, disagree or remain neutral on a variety of questions.
We3 is of the opinion that any more than 3 is a crowd, so based on your answers, you are grouped into a trio of people with whom you likely have high compatibility. The algorithm takes more than 150 factors into consideration when matching you with other users. This includes gender, and the groups are either all male or female.
Making Friends as a Digital Nomad Requires Extra Effort But it is Doable
The social life of the digital nomad, by definition, is transient. The price you pay for travelling and experiencing the world is a lack of stability, which very often includes stable relationships. But that doesn’t mean you can’t forge meaningful, long-lasting friendships while you go.
Fortunately, the social media era has made it easier than ever for rolling stones to meet people and make friends. Hopefully the above apps and online meeting spaces help you find people to connect and make memories with while you travel.