Call us biased, but it’s hard to deny the benefits of small-group travel. Want the inside scoop on a place? Say hello to your local leader. Tired of travel logistics? We’ve got you covered. Need a travel buddy? Well, that’s kind of our thing…
With us, you’ll always explore the world with a group of like-minded travel companions – but some Intrepid travellers are lucky enough to find solid, long-term friendships on our adventures, often quite unexpectedly.
To celebrate Galentine’s Day, we’re putting the spotlight on female friendships forged on the road. Read on for expert tips on how to make friends as you travel from Claire Cohen, author of BFF? The Truth About Female Friendship – and get inspired by real-life friendship stories from Intrepid women.
Tips from female friendship expert Claire Cohen
As bonding experiences go, it was up there. As I pulled on my disposable underwear and sat down in the hot room, thick with steam and the scent of soap, I could just make out the faces of my new friends – the three of us ready for our first Moroccan hammam experience. For locals, a trip to these public baths means a moment to bond with family, friends and neighbours – all while being scrubbed (and I mean scrubbed) with a loofah, washed down with black soap and having buckets of water poured over their heads.
Yet, here I was with two women I’d only met two days earlier, almost naked and very nervous. Of course, we needn’t have worried – a few moments of eye contact as we were scoured and soaped meant we hadn’t only been stripped of layers of dirt and skin, but all our inhibitions. After that, we didn’t stop talking about it for the rest of our trip and, even better, remained in touch for years, even meeting up in London – our travel experience creating a unique bond that no one else in our lives had shared.
Making friends when travelling solo can seem daunting but, trust me, it’s easier than you think – and you don’t have to take your clothes off, promise. Here are my tips for success.
Get out of your comfort zone
When was the last time you did something out of the ordinary? It’s hard to push your boundaries when faced with the daily grind and that’s where travel comes in. When I’m away, I try to think of myself as a sponge (albeit with a better tan), soaking up every new experience. And it’s the perfect state of mind for making new friends: your guard is down and your mind open.
On a trip to Italy, years ago, I made myself take part in a Vespa-riding excursion. As I nervously pulled on my helmet, I smiled at the woman on the scooter next to me. She was also mildly terrified and we spent the day encouraging one another. It was positive and supportive, creating a bond. After that, we stayed in touch over email, sharing our other travel experiences to spur one another on. After I did a skydive in Australia? She was the first person I told.
The key to making new friends is vulnerability. If you stick to small talk, there’s only so deep your connection will ever go. That’s where travel can make things easier: there’s something about being away that enables you to let your guard down and talk about what you want out of life.
You can connect with others over the ‘big’ topics you might struggle to raise with friends at home, or the dreams you might feel silly admitting to. Grab the opportunity to do so now; after all, you’re surrounded by other people who probably feel the same way. Take a deep breath and start answering their questions honestly – you won’t regret it.
‘Trust in the unexpected’
Those four words are what a fellow author told me as I started writing my book about female friendship – and I think they apply to how we make friends, too. So often, we judge whether someone is a potential pal by their similarity to us, but it’s those ‘unlikely’ friendships that can be life’s most rewarding – offering you the chance to see the world through the eyes of someone with different experiences to yours.
Travel is the ideal way to encounter people you might never meet at home. Take my friend Alexa, who met a fellow solo female traveller, 30 years her senior, on a trip to Austria. Turns out they lived 15 minutes apart back home but their paths had never crossed. Five years on, they regularly meet for coffee or walks – living proof that it’s worth seeking out the unfamiliar.
Take the pressure off
While travelling is a fantastic way to make new friends, try not to put too much pressure on it. Instead, look at it as a way to expand your community: not everyone you meet is going to be your BFF, but at the very least, you’ll share some incredible moments with friendly new people. That said, don’t shut the door once you’re home.
A woman I interviewed for my podcast, BFF?, told me about a climbing holiday she took in an effort to make new friends post-Covid. She’d never climbed before and bonded with two other women, also novices. Back home, she received an email: would she like to take a US road trip with them? My friend found herself saying yes to a holiday with two women she barely knew. That lay the foundation of a solid friend group, all thanks to solo travel and saying ‘yes’ to female friendship.
BFF? The Truth About Female Friendship by Claire Cohen is out now.
Real-life Intrepid friendships
‘I like to think of us as long-lost sisters’ – Chloe on her friendship with Arantxa
We met on a group trip to Peru six years ago. We’re both from Canada (I’m from Calgary, Arantxa’s from Toronto) and that sparked our first conversation, but we quickly realised how similar we are, so we just clicked. Since then, we’ve made it a tradition to travel together around Thanksgiving every year. Last year I got married in Chile, and of course, Arantxa was there.
We’ve been to Egypt with Intrepid and we loved it so much we booked Premium Turkey for later in 2023! I think Intrepid’s small group sizes mean you are bound to make friends – but it was still surprising to find someone I bonded with so quickly.
Sometimes I like to think of us as long-lost sisters. We know each other so well now, making travel plans is easy. We even FaceTime each other before we pack for a trip to make sure we both love what each other is bringing so we can share outfits!
‘They taught me to be more self-reliant’ – Fiona on her group of travel pals
I knew when I joined an Intrepid trip to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia in 2015 that I would meet like-minded people – but I was delighted to end up with three long-term friends, Denise, Ronny and Yvette.
Our trip was a month long, which is sufficient time to get to know people quite well. I think our shared enthusiasm and willingness to join in with the activities and exchange life experiences brought us together. Denise and Ronny had met on a previous trip and got on so well they decided to travel together again. Now all four of us meet up every year for a new adventure.
The other ladies are younger than me – very independent and far more tech savvy. They aren’t afraid of getting lost – they could find the best places to go just by pushing the right buttons on their phones. Travelling with them has taught me to be more self-reliant, widened my horizons and brought much laughter and joy into my life.
‘We bonded over our similar life experiences’ – Jan on her friendship with Sharon
Sharon and I have both travelled separately with Intrepid quite a bit – me to Turkey, Peru, Bolivia, Botswana and Namibia, and Sharon to China, Romania, Moldova and Ukraine. We met on a Best of Cuba trip back in April 2016. We hit it off over our shared love of photography and penchant for wandering around, chatting to locals.
I don’t think we realised at the time that we’d remain friends – but I’m very happy we did! After keeping in touch and bonding over our similar life experiences (kids, ex-husbands, etc.) we decided to go to Morocco together in 2017. I did the longer Morocco Encompassed trip, while Sharon could only do the first section of the itinerary (North Morocco Adventure) due to time restraints – but we got to be roommates between Casablanca and Marrakech!
I believe Intrepid trips are a great way to make friends, as people tend to be like-minded, responsible and friendly. As Sharon says, ‘they don’t just want to be herded from place to place’. It’s nice to travel with a friend without having to spend so much time planning beforehand. Or go solo and know that you are safe and can meet new people!
Keen to travel with your very own girl gang? Check out our Women’s Expeditions.