My husband and I travel the USA 100% of the time. We don’t own a home. We live out of extended stay hotels. We move to a new place every 3-9 weeks usually, giving us enough time to dive into a new city and learn it like a local before moving on. We’re temporary residents, full-time travelers, and digital nomads all at once. (If you’re wondering why in the world we’re doing this, you can read that here.)
While traveling and seeing so many places is exciting, it also makes it hard to build relationships with people. By the time we’ve gotten to know people somewhat well, we’re packing up and moving again. And if we wait too long to start meeting people, we don’t have enough time to really get to know them.
However, this isn’t an excuse to retreat into ourselves and decide that our relationship with each other is enough. That isn’t healthy. We each need to have our own friendships. We need people we can get together with in person.
We’ve found that when we connect with people in this way, we have much fonder memories of that place when we leave. And we enjoy our time there more. I believe humans have an innate desire to be known. Connecting with other people makes us feel more rooted to the world. It grounds us.
While Facetiming family and friends back home is wonderful (and important), it isn’t the same as meeting up with someone and talking face to face or being able to text someone about catching a movie together that week. So we’ve learned to be incredibly intentional about meeting people each time we move. We’ve developed a bit of a system for making these connections, but it’s still a work in progress.
Here’s what we’ve found to work so far:
Kaleb and I each have our own interests, some we share and some we don’t. So we look for both individual and shared ways to become a part of our community while we’re there.
One interest we do share is coffee. So this weekend, we’re going to a coffee cupping class at a local coffee shop. (A neat perk of traveling is getting to try so many local coffee places and taste test so many local roasteries. We’ll try to let you know our favorite coffee at the end of this journey!) Anyways, back to the point – Coffee shops often have bulletin boards inside where businesses, schools, and groups in the area can post about community happenings. These can be a great source for finding meetups or groups to join.
Kaleb loves Ultimate Frisbee. So each time we move, he searches the area online to see if they have any competitive teams or regular pickup games. During our stay in the Columbia, Maryland area, he discovered that the county was offering a free clinic for kids in the community to learn how to play ultimate. He also saw they needed coaches, so he signed up. He had a blast coaching kids once a week.
For myself, I prefer writing groups, dance classes, and book clubs. One tool I enjoy using to find these is Meetup. You can search for get-togethers near you online or with their app. They have meetups for coding, open mic nights, wine tasting, knitting, and everything in between. I remember dragging Kaleb to a line dancing meetup in Columbus, Ohio. It made for a fun way to meet people with similar interests in a small group setting.
Become a Regular
Becoming a regular somewhere allows you to find a familiar place where you feel a sense of belonging. It helps fasten your traveling feet to your new destination a bit more. If you’re able to go to these places on the same days at the same time, you’ll start seeing familiar faces and perhaps even putting names to those faces. Sometimes, it’s enough to just see the same people each week, even if you don’t become fast friends with any of them.
Since Kaleb and I both love coffee, we like to experiment with several shops at first, then pick our top two or three to frequent. At one of the shops my husband and his co-workers work out of often, the owner knows their group and recognizes them each time they come in.
But if coffee isn’t your thing, there’s also book stores, gyms, libraries, tea shops, and other places where you can become a regular. I personally enjoy going to the YMCA twice a week for a Pilates class. It gives me scheduled time to get out and be with other people (so I have no excuse not to), I get to see familiar faces, and I get some good exercise. It’s a win- win-win!
The YMCA is a great gym for travelers to join, since they have branches all over the US. They allow you to access any of their gyms and take any of their classes, as long as you’re a member at one of their locations.
Find a Church
Finding a church you’re comfortable in removes some of the barriers that come with meeting people, because you already know you share one major common denominator: your faith.
Either before we arrive at our new home-for-now or during our first week there, we Google churches in the area. Depending on how long we’ll be around, we may just pick one ahead of time and stick with it or we might visit a couple before choosing.
Either way, since we know our time there is limited, we try not to waste a weekend. The sooner we get in the doors, the sooner we can learn their names and they can learn ours. And the sooner we can get involved if we want to. Churches often have community outreach programs that allow you to serve the community and meet like-minded people while doing it.
At one church in Toledo, Ohio, I was able to help with a laundry/shower ministry for the homeless or poor in the area. And I got to have several interesting conversations with the other people working there. I always love talking to the true locals of the area to better understand their culture and get tips for places to visit.
At another church in Ellicott City, Maryland, I got to serve in the children’s ministry. Each Sunday we went, people there knew our names and welcomed us with open arms and warm smiles. The women’s ministry leader even took me out for Chinese and made sure to chat with us each Sunday we were there.
No one understands exactly what you’re doing in your travels, except for you. They don’t know how long you’ll be around or whether you want to get to know them. They may not want to overwhelm you or creep you out by immediately pursuing a friendship. They may even think you don’t want to build a relationship, because you’ll be leaving soon. It’s up to you to take that first step.
All you have to do is be honest. Be clear about what you’re doing and how long you’ll be around (as clear as possible, anyways). Explain that you want to get to know them while you’re there and would love to hear more about them and get recommendations for things to do in the area.
Even then, they may be unsure how serious you were about spending time with them, so take initiative in planning something. Ask if you can get their number, so you can set up a time to get together. Then set something up! Meet at a cafe or a nice park, some place that gives you something to do as you talk.
They will probably be curious about all your travels and will have plenty of questions to keep the conversation going. Talking about your travels is perfectly fine but make sure to ask questions about them too, so the conversation isn’t all about you. The more questions you ask each other, the more you can establish common ground.
If you want to meet people or get people to recognize you at your “regular spots,” you have to take the initiative. Make conversation, ask questions, introduce yourself. Being transparent about your current phase of life and why you want to talk with them will help them better understand you and hopefully better relate to you.
No More Fleeting Friendships
Not too many years ago, moving every month or so like we do would have been friendship suicide. Knowing we’d leave these people and probably not communicate much afterwards (if at all) would’ve made it harder to invest time into building relationships.
But not any more – thank goodness! Now, we can connect with those people over Facebook, Instagram, blogs, and a dozen other places. Our friendship can continue over the years and across the miles. We’ll be able to see what’s going on in each other’s lives without having to actively seek each other out. And we can still be a part of celebrating each other’s happy moments and grieving the hard ones, learning alongside each other, and reminding one another of shared memories and inside jokes.
As a result of keeping up with each other virtually, you’ll have friends spread across the world. Each time you return to their area, you’ll have someone to meet up with, this time with a history of friendship.
So there you have it—all the ways we’ve found to meet new people and make friends even while traveling full time. Do you have any other suggestions for us to try? We’d love to hear them!