“Anna and Reto got married,” I told my husband Kevin, the other night. We were sitting in bed, me on Facebook on my phone, him in the middle of a Fantasy Football draft.

“Did they post pictures?” He asked.

“Yeah,“ I replied, handing him my phone and heading to the kitchen to sift through our opened mail and find the invitation (with five Swiss stamps on it). Inside, a picture of the friends we made years prior was tucked inside.

We’d met Anna and Reto at a train station in Peru. A gorgeous couple, tanned faces from traveling, both toting massive backpacks, their year long trip coming to a close. We had all been on the same bus to the station. Eager to get off, we’d spilled onto the dirt road in need of a bathroom and soda to calm our nausea. After a rainstorm forced us to huddle in a shanty pizza joint, my husband and I invited them to share a table with us and play cards while we waited for the train that would take us to Machu Picchu.

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“Where are you from?” we’d asked as they relieved themselves of their packs. Switzerland, it turns out, but they fortunately spoke English (our German skills were nonexistent). We taught them to play Hearts, and they caught on quickly, the barrier between stranger and friend quickly dissolving amid all the card playing and polite banter.

This kind of spontaneous friendship has come to define my fondest memories of travel. I can’t imagine some of the cities that I’ve visited without the moments of strangers quickly becoming friends and it’s that kind of openness that I try to remind myself to have when I travel. So whether you are touring solo, with your partner, or your entire family, here are some ways I’ve found to forge lasting connections with your fellow travelers:

Take a Tour

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Most of our traveling friendships come from taking a group tour. Something about the intimacy of a small group fosters conversation. We met Allen and Paul on a tour from Florence, brothers who lived in Paris but were born in the United States. The bus rumbled through the Tuscan countryside and, after overhearing our conversation in English, they introduced themselves. We spent the entire day with the two brothers, fascinated by their unique upbringing, (French mother, American father, who divorced and shuttled them back and forth from one country to the other every other school year.) They willingly shared the water they brought, since me and Kevin were underprepared as usual. We shared numbers at the end of the day and made plans to get dinner and drinks the next night.

A tour gives you a reason to be together, usually all day. The forced proximity and shared new experiences fosters conversation, which is typically the hardest first step. I can’t separate my feelings with Cinque Terre from Allen and Paul. They were there with us, the entire time, excited to be sharing a beautiful place with new friends.

Make Room and Open Up

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We met Will in Iquitos, Peru. He was from Wales, traveling solo on a tour of the world. After just four days in the Amazon rainforest, he was like another member of the family. We brought each other silverware at mealtimes, shared snacks on excursions, and as a bonus – he was always offering to take pictures of the two of us.

Our first day in the rainforest we asked Will if he wanted to play cards. The three of us perched on bamboo stools in the lodge, the sound of crickets and other jungle wildlife surrounding us. We began to talk, cautious at first about how much to share. On our fourth night playing cards though, he explained why he quit his job as a biomedical engineer to travel the world. He told us about his father, who had died of a brain aneurysm at 33, when Will was just four. Will told us that as he neared his own 33rd birthday, he felt a sudden need to see the world, so he started with Peru.

Make room at your table. Share food, play cards, offer to take each other’s picture, be vulnerable. There is growth and value in expanding your circle.

Be Flexible

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Tight, jam-packed schedules are not conducive to making friends. Leave a little room in your schedule for the unexpected – often those can be some of the best experiences you have.

Several years ago we went to San Francisco for a couple days. We stayed near Fisherman’s Wharf, woken in the middle of the night by a fire alarm. As we exited blearily, our coats pulled on over our pajamas, we stood in the hazy darkness with strangers, all of them roused from their beds, some carrying young children, others complaining loudly to the management.

Donna and Michael were my parent’s age, and struck up a conversation with us as we stood outside in the dark. We chatted casually until they told us it was time to go inside, and before we said goodbye, they asked if we wanted to join them for breakfast in the morning.
After breakfast, Michael invited us to join them on their hike to Lands End that day. Kevin and I looked at each other, both smiling as we nodded. We had plans to tour the wharf, get crepes, and later see the Golden Gate Bridge, but we had no problem adjusting our plans for this new adventure.

Lands End was the most magnificent hike, offering a better view of the bridge than our original plan would have afforded. We hiked with Donna and Michael all day, adding each other as Facebook friends before we left. Kevin and I both agreed that our morning with Donna and Michael was the highlight of our trip. Flexibility was the only requirement.

We travel to make memories and have new experiences, but rarely do we consider the notion of traveling to meet new people. Friendships, whether they last one night or a lifetime, are an undeniably valuable addition to any trip.

Stay In Touch

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Social media, texting apps like Whatsapp and good old fashioned email make it easier than ever to keep in touch with the people we meet. We have loved keeping in touch with people we’ve met, even if it just by seeing their updates on social media. But even if we choose not to stay in touch – forming friendships while traveling broadens our worldview, makes us more accepting of diverse cultures and people, and if nothing else, makes that game of Hearts or 21 a little more exciting.

Do you have any tips for making friends while on the road? Let us know in the comments!

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About The Author

Mandy Voisin

Hey I'm Mandy. Writer, traveler, wife, mother, author, woman, over-sharer. I like to talk about the grit of travel, the beautiful, and the people that I meet. Oh yeah - and traveling with kids.