How to make friends on a gap year or when travelling

Some people enjoy travelling alone and the freedom that comes with it. However, even solo travellers are likely to want some human interaction while abroad. If you don’t wind up bumping into your long forgotten school friends on Bondi Beach or the Kho San Road, you’ll probably wanna meet new people. Luckily, making friends when you're travelling is pretty simple. Just read our guide for how to make friends on a gap year.

Two young women are talking about making friends on their gap year. This is a wide-angle image.

How to make friends in hostels

Remember that first day at school or university? That standard list of icebreakers: ‘What course are you doing?’, ‘Did you take a year out?’. You may look back with a healthy dose of cringe, but these questions probably helped to form some life long friendships. And if something ain’t broke, don’t fix it. So on your adventures give these another try. And don’t be too cynical, shared experiences always create a bond. A simple ‘Have you been to… yet?’, ‘Where are you headed?’ right down to the slightly more intrusive: ‘Have you been ill yet?’ might help to alleviate any tension.

Honestly though, the content of your conversation doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you’re having one. You’ll find that it’s easy to get chatting if you just go ahead and speak to someone, or join in a conversation that’s already going on. For example, if you know someone has just asked the hostel owner for information about something, see if they’ll pass it on to you. Otherwise, ask to borrow a guide book/pen/lighter, or find out if they know the best place to change money or book an excursion. Even if you’ve already made a plan for your gap year travels. 

Remember, people generally like to share their knowledge, or talk about themselves. And if your hostel has some decent communal space you could try starting some card games or suggest you and a couple of fellow travellers save money on food by cooking together. If you want some more advice, The Mix has a few top tips for travelling alone here.

Giving yourself alone time

Try your best to be approachable, smile, and ask open-ended questions. That way people will be more open to having a chat. Plus, you’ll learn to read the signals. For example, the couple who haven’t taken their eyes off each other may not want company. On the other hand, their mates who look bored to tears and desperate for a distraction will probably welcome you with open arms.

You’re likely to find that rather than being lonely, you’ll end up without a minute to yourself. “People do speak to you more if you are alone. I probably met another group of people every time I moved on,” recalls Dave, who travelled South America alone. “I think I only ate dinner alone four or five times in two whole months. Truth be told, there were times when I wanted to just get some reading done and couldn’t because there were too many people to talk to!”

Alexis, 24, travelled solo in Australia and Southeast Asia and had a similar experience. “If I sat down to read, within 10 minutes, if not less, somebody would join me. Conversations would just start up organically. There were so many different people from different walks of life that there was always someone with something to say. Eventually, I started to use my instincts to judge whether I wanted to stay talking to that person or not. If not, I would make my excuses and leave.”

So if you don’t have a permanent travel companion, don’t worry. It’s probably for the best. You’ll have the freedom to go wherever you please and the impetus to meet new people. And they might be people you never would have considered being mates with in different circumstances. Soon you’ll wonder why you ever even googled ‘How to make friends on a gap year’. For now, just keep a positive attitude and you’ll undoubtedly end up with friends from across the world. Plus, you’ll have shared some of your most memorable experiences.

Check out the rest of The Mix’s gap year resources here.

Next Steps


travel tips

By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 03-Jun-2022