How to make friends in a new place when you’re a lonely business traveller…

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After over one year travelling for my work (S. Korea, US, Thailand, Dubai, Hong Kong, US again and now India!!!) by myself I’ve got used to going to a new place with no friends or contacts and having to go out and make friends or face sitting around by myself every-night in my apartment/hotel and missing out on really getting to the know the country and culture I find myself in (which was a big driver for me to go and live around the world this past year!)

Now that I’m in India (Pune to be exact), I’m now starting from scratch again and I realised that it will be even harder here to make real close friends than all the other places I’ve been. India, especially outside the bigger cities, is actually very quiet. Almost all the night life is couples only, which makes it almost impossible for a single guy like me to go out and meet people in bars/clubs like I have before, and the culture here revolves around family so most people go home after work and you very rarely get to hang out outside the office. On top of that, when a guy knows his parents are going to set him up with a wife when he’s ready to get married, there’s very little incentive for them to go out and meet the opposite sex…nearly all the guys that work for me stay at home and play computer games in their spare time even though when they do go out they’re a lot of fun!

So I realised in these harsh conditions for making new friends in and outside work, I had to stretch all my knowledge in how to make friends in a place where you barely know anyone to the limit, and fortunately I have a lot of experience in it! It made me think that there’s probably lots of people travelling for work and other reasons in my situation and so I’ve decided to share this knowledge on this blog.

Before I go into them though there are a couple of points you have to bear in mind when doing them. Its easy to meet people almost anywhere, but much harder to meet the people who will become close friends you can relate to and want to stay in touch with after you leave.

  • Remember meeting people is a network effect, once you meet a couple, as long as you are normal, they will feel comfortable introducing you to their friends, who will do the same, and eventually you’ll meet more people than you care to know! Even if you don’t really have much in common with the people you originally meet, go out there and hang out with them until you meet more people with them or through them. Beggars can’t be choosers, but of course – don’t be desperate, if they’re arseholes you’ll easily find some other people to kick off your network effect!
  • Be pushy!! I don’t mean be pushy to the point you annoy the hell out of everyone and you become the new loser in town that makes everyone uncomfortable, but I mean if they don’t invite you out, invite them out and get their numbers! You’ll find in some more conservative cultures, sometimes people will not think to invite you to meet again after an initial meeting even if you get on well, so you have to take the initiative to invite them out, and if they feel uncomfortable, tell them to bring their friends – even better for you to meet more new people!

So here goes my top 7 (couldn’t think of 10) things to do to meet new people in a place where you barely know anyone for the proactive sociable person:

  1. Time Out Magazine – I always seem to forget this one until I see it in a shop, but this is the definitive source on where to go out, events and clubs for currently 24 major cities around the world! Not much help in Pune, but this has helped me greatly in Dubai where I even took up fencing (briefly) again by finding the local fencing club in it, which brings me to my next point…
  2. Social & Sports Clubs – By far the best way to meet new people and so easy to find, either by an Internet search or Time Out Magazine. Most clubs will let you attend one session, even if you’re there for a short period, but its much better if you’re in a place for a few weeks or months. You get to directly interact with everyone there, and usually they have social events as well. If you don’t do sport, or have any interests, then you’re probably a boring person, but you should at least try one just to meet people.
  3. Salsa Bars/Classes – I’m not a Salsa diva, but I would tell anyone, especially single guys looking to meet girls, to go to one of these! First of all, Salsa is designed for meeting people, you don’t have to be sleazy, you just have to go up and ask them to dance. You don’t even have to be that good. Secondly, anyone who’s been to a Salsa bar can tell you, you get the same crowd every certain night(s) of the week. Just find out the main night and go there on a weekly basis and soon you’ll know a whole bunch of girls (as a lot of guys for some reason think its ‘gay’ to go there so there’s always more girls looking for guys to dance with) and other people! Extremely sociable and fun!
  4. Networking Events – Most big cities, especially in the far east have networking events for young professionals, business people, ex-pats or entrepreneurs. THESE ARE EXCELLENT! The reason I didn’t make this number one is because they happen only certain times so are not a reliable place to meet people unless you’re somewhere for a considerable amount of time. You basically turn up (remember to bring business cards) just stand there and people just come up and chat, you exchange business cards and by the end of the evening if you haven’t met one person you connected with…well I give up on you! The two best ones I knew in Bangkok and I know they run in other cities as well are the British Chamber of Commerce Young Professionals event (which was the best!) and the American Chamber of Commerce (not as good but met some people). Look them up online and go to them!
  5. Online – To be honest I haven’t used this one much but this is a great untapped resource! There are two obvious sources to meet new people in a new place where you don’t know anyone: social networking sites like Facebook.com and online dating sites like Match.com. For social networking sites, join the local network (I just joined the ‘India’ network) and either put up a message on the network wall asking about places to go/events and introduce yourself, or if you’re more daring browse through the network and contact people who look interesting directly. If you’re a guy – do not by any way hit on a girl directly if you contact them – the amount of messages a girl receives, especially a good looking one, from guys saying “hey baby, you look really hot, wanna meet up sometime?” is ridiculous and won’t get you anywhere! Be different, just say “Hi, I’m new to the area and noticed you lived here and I’m looking for fun people to hang out with. Are you fun enough? ;)”…now I’m not trying to teach “game” here on how to pick up girls, but trust me this one will work much better than the first especially because you’re not saying you want to hang out with them, you’re actually challenging them to see if they’re fun enough to hang out with you! When it comes to online dating, its much easier to meet people I’m assuming, as people are already on there to meet new people unlike social networking sites where most are there just to stay in touch with their friends, and I’d even challenge the fact you have to contact members of the opposite sex (or same if you’re gay) and can even reach out to anyone just to go out with. Most guys would love to have a wingman to join them on a night out šŸ˜‰
  6. Work – Now I’m assuming in this whole blog that you’re already there for work and meeting people through that. That’s how most people do it when they go somewhere new, but lets face it, just cause you work with them, doesn’t mean you’re going to hang out with them outside work or have anything in common! One thing about Asian culture is they really look after visitors, so they will take you out after work and in the weekends to ensure you have a good time, but even then it may only be one manager who’s married with kids and you don’t want to be a burden on him the whole time you’re there. Unless you’re lucky to work with a whole team of people who go out and have fun then you’ll very likely be by yourself most of the time. So how can you use work? Well my friend and former colleague Sri from Seattle did something very interesting on this one. She went to Norway to work for a client, and while out there emailed the User Experience group in Norway she was a member of back home (just using the email distribution list) and as a result had one evening with 8 very hot Norwegian chicks who were very friendly and took her out. How we all wish to be in that situation…
  7. Clubs & Bars – Finally the most obvious and last on my list. Last because its F***ing difficult to meet the kind of people you’re really going to want to make good friends with in these places. As a single guy/girl standing by yourself in a club/bar, unless you’re in Asia (especially Bangkok) where they’re very friendly with westerners (and I’m not talking about gogo girls or ladyboys before my friends say anything!) you’ll probably end up with a few unsuccessful attempts at talking to people, or worse just stand by yourself all night like a loser in the corner, or if you’re a girl, get a lot of the attention you don’t really like, especially if you’re hot! So while it can be done, it is a skill to go out to these noisy places by yourself, not look like a sad loser going out by yourself, and meet decent people. Saying that, if you’re a guy in the far east, unless you really are a loser, you can have a lot of fun going out by yourself! šŸ˜‰

So that’s it. Looking back over this is probably written from a single guys perspective. I think 5 & 7 would take a girl with a lot of guts to try on her own because unfortunately you only attract the wrong type of attention in those situations unless you are actually looking to hook up with a guy. But overall I would challenge anyone who’s in a completely new place by themselves not to find any new friends using the ideas above (subject to you not being a social outcast or in the middle of nowhere!)! They’ve all helped me the past year or so and I would love to hear any feedback on other ideas or how they worked with you below.