For about three years I was a “digital nomad”, travelling around and working online. I moved cities every 4-6 months on average, and so during this period I ended up doing certain things most people only have to do a few times in their lives many, many times.
Among these were logistical tasks like finding an apartment, a coworking space, a gym, and the best way to travel between them all. There’s also getting a “feel” for a city and its different neighbourhoods (basically spend a lot of time walking around). I got fast and effective at these things simply because I did them many times. Another area was meeting new people and making friends.
So when I got tired of travelling and decided to settle down somewhere, I moved to Toronto and was able to make many friends within a few weeks to months of arriving in what is, by all accounts, not a particularly friendly or welcoming place.
People I talk to about this seem to think it’s impressive, yet I think it’s largely because 1) I have a lot of practice meeting people and 2) I have a lot of practice finding people I’m likely to get along with. I figured out what works well, at least for me, and maybe it can work for you too. Here’s how to make friends in a new city.
Prioritize Your Social Life
This may seem self-evident but most people seem to overlook it. They’re moving to a new place and expect meeting great friends to just “happen”, without putting much effort in. But that isn’t how it works. If you want to make friends in a new city, and especially if you want to do it quickly, you have to take it somewhat seriously.
My recommendations is that for the first few weeks or months of living in the new city, treat this like a part time job. Hit the ground running and start going to things right away (more on this later). If you can, make this your number one priority until you at least get some momentum going.
When I moved to Toronto I started going to meetups and events literally the day after my flight landed. Jordan Peterson was giving a lecture and people were meeting up afterwards to discuss. I went to the lecture and the meetup and met someone there who’s ended up becoming one of my best friends here. I found an art show party on Facebook that weekend, invited him and his other friend, and met a girl there who I started dating.
The point is, momentum is important and can be really useful. There’s a particular energy and excitement that comes with moving to a new place and it’s a great thing to channel into going out and meeting new people. Plus, people are generally friendly and welcoming if they find out you’re new.
Further, if you really care about this, don’t make excuses for not doing it. There’s always a lot to do when moving to a new place, but if this is important to you, then treat it as such. Go to events when you’re tired or jet lagged. Go to events even if you’ve not sure they’ll be good. Put in time searching for things to do, and just show up. Personally I score about 30/100 on Big Five trait extraversion (and have scored as low as 0!) so if I’m able to do this, so are you.
Once you meet people and make some friends, you won’t need to put as much effort in, because more of your social needs are being met and because knowing some people naturally leads to meeting more.
Know Your Interests
Before moving to a new place, make a list of all the things you’re interested in: anything you’d be willing to talk about or do with another person or group of people. These can be things you’re interested in currently, but can also be anything you’re curious or want to learn about.
I could be wrong, but I tend to think that the more niche your interests are, the more likely you are to become friends with the people who share them. I’m lucky in the sense that many of things I’m most interested in (or was when I moved) are somewhat niche. My list included:
- Psychedelics (and adjacent areas like visionary art and ecstatic dance)
- Effective Altruism
- Jordan Peterson
I found meetups and events for some of these interests, and not others. I met great friends at some, and not others. Regardless, finding groups of people who share your interests is an effective way to make friends in a new city, because everyone there is already selected for to some degree.
Find Meetups, Groups & Events
The best places I’ve found for this are Facebook and Meetup.com. Eventbrite can also be useful. Search for groups or events based around the interests you’ve listed, using relevant keywords just like you would a Google search.
Regular (weekly or bi-weekly) meetups are great because you see the same people often and have time to get to know them. It can also be useful to introduce new friends to other new friends, or invite them to meetups and events you’re going to. They will likely appreciate it, and more good connections for everyone is a net good.
If you can get 1-3 weekly meetups, 1-2 things to do on the weekend, and hang out with individuals one on one if you feel like it in between, you’ve suddenly got a pretty good social life.
Ask other friends for intros
One final suggestion is to ask existing friends if they know anyone in the city you’re moving to. Some will automatically think of this when they hear you’re moving, but some won’t. So just ask them if there’s anyone they think you might get along with and ask them to introduce you over Facebook or email, then arrange to meet up with that person when you arrive.
There are obviously some circumstantial factors at play here. The size of the city matters, but (I’d guess) anything over 1 million inhabitants and you’re in the clear. 500,000 could be enough, depending on the place – I don’t know.
Cities send messages – if you can, move somewhere that matches what you’re looking for. It’ll be much easier to meet friends that way. But assuming the city is large enough, there are definitely friends there for you. You just need to go out and find them.