Moving to big cities and having to start your social life from scratch is a challenge that I am not unfamiliar with. Most people find moving to new cities very intimidating, especially big ones like London or Tokyo, where people aren’t the most friendly and open on first encounter. However, it is these cities that have a booming community of people in exactly the same boat, and who are out to do a single thing: meet a variety of people and personalities big cities are known to host.
Whenever I go to a new place, whether this be for travel or on a more permanent basis, my first port of call is couchsurfing. This is not going to be a detailed description of what it is, but a clarification of how people can exploit it to benefit from what it has the potential to offer.
For those who are new to the concept, ‘couchsurfing’ refers to the act of staying over at someone’s house, not necessarily on a couch/sofa (actually, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten less than a mattress at least). To find a host in your desired destination you do a search on the website, and you can look at people’s profiles to learn more about them/the type of accommodation they have to offer. The most revealing is probably the references people leave on others’ profile pages, and will be what either puts you off or puts you at ease. No I’ve never had an issue, despite being a young, single female, and I’ve stayed with female and male hosts. Yes, if you don’t keep your intuition in check it could go wrong. It has (rarely) in the past. But overall it’s gotten nothing but good reviews.
If you’re still a little baffled by the concept, read this article by The New Yorker titled ‘You’re Welcome’, or on the Huffington Post website titled Couchsurfing and Me.
Where the couchurfing community really comes in handy, however, is that you do not need to host / couchsurf or even travel to benefit from it. Most cities and even remote towns will have a group on the website, and varying from place to place will have events, regular or not, to which travellers and (a lot of) locals go, who are interested in meeting new people. Most events I’ve been to have always had at least several new faces. And everyone is up for a chat. It doesn’t require you to ‘risk your life’ and is a great way of making new friends, whether they be other inhabitants or travellers.
A new phenomenon, started by a group of Belgians, is Kicktable. Currently only operating in either London or Brussels, the website organises a variety of interesting activities ranging involving music, crafts and everything else that you can just go along to and not only meet a bunch of new people but also do something you would otherwise not have dreamt of doing. If you have your own idea, you are free to organise it and see who comes along!
Another website, aptly named meetup, is one I’ve never tried but a friend of mine who recently moved to Reading swears by it. And I’m inclined to trust her. With groups throughout the world, the same idea goes as with kicktable – if you want to organise a night out, anyone can. If you want to tag along, go ahead. Wanting to meet people is the only requirement, all around the world.
It’s a good thing to consider what your motive is behind meeting people. There are some who try and use these websites as a way to find potential mates, but if this is what you’re actually after you might be better off using websites that are more geared towards dating. If you are in a new city and want some help learning the language, but not in a formal setting like a classroom, I would highly recommend considering a language exchange. I would say that, when living in japan, doing a language exchange with locals (usually we would meet for 2 hours – 1 hour in each language) was what really helped me improve my Japanese more than anything I got from a book. And maybe you don’t improve technically, but by gaining confidence to speak you will eventually not be afraid to make mistakes. And, to top things off, this was how I met one of my closest friends for the remainder of my time in Japan! Websites I used included My Language Exchange (though this requires a small fee) and Conversation Exchange.
If you’re looking for advice on the great little hideouts and secrets of a new city, Europe-centric Spotted by Locals is a great little website through which my friend and I have found some excellent little cafes in Brussels. Despite it mainly being a blog with reviews, you are always welcome to email the locals and ask to meet up, though I guess this way of meeting people requires a bit more effort than just tagging along with a big group.
Trying to transcend the culture barrier, and meeting real locals, not just the expats, may be a little bit harder. In addition to the above suggestions of meeting people in groups, it’s worth considering a joining a homestay website. You can either do one en route on a journey, you can do it near your new hometown (but by doing it you gain insight into the local way of living if it’s very different) or you can just contact families/people who live near you and join them for dinner. Again, these people usually put themselves out there on these websites because they’re interested in meeting foreigners or just new people and showing them about the local culture. Again, I speak from personal experience and have met one of my close friends through contacting them on homestayweb.
And finally, if you think, well I’m actually quite confident, there’s always the classic local sports groups, arts groups, cooking classes and talking to someone random in a café.