How to get started in any new place… and combat lonliness

Let’s be real: being an expat or living abroad for extended periods of time is freaking hard. When you’re far away from your loved ones and familiar home lonliness is lurking at very street corner.

During the last 3 years I’ve lived on 4 continents and in 5 different countries. This is my ultimate game plan to get your life started anywhere and find friends.

Being on your own in a new city can be depressing. I remember the first day I arrived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for a 6 months internship. I didn’t have a place to stay, nobody to talk to, my hostel room was so small I couldn’t even fit my backpack into it next to the shabby mattress, it was raining and I felt nothing but lost. Never in my life have I felt so out of place. The first day I just wanted to cry and go straight back home. I didn’t leave the hostel the first day.


So well, the next day I made it out of the door. I grabbed my guidebook and just did one walking tour after the other. I took tons of pictures and just forced myself to be out there. I climbed up the KL Tower and met a Malaysian family on top. They started chatting with me and we ended up having coffee together. I realized: it is NOT THAT DIFFICULT to meet people. Just go out there and start talking to people. I felt better. If you don’t wanna chat up random strangers try the following:

  • Go to a local co-working space and get a tour. It will get you out there.
  • Hang out in the lobby of a backpacker hostel
  • Go to a Couchsurfing meetup
  • Go to eventbrite and attend the next event coming up


Anywhere you go, chances are there is a strong community of travelers, interns, international students or expats around. I am a huge fan of connecting with locals but sometimes internationals are just easier as they are in the same situation as you are and looking for friends, too. So make an effort to find them (not even a big effort). In my experience you’ll always at least find Germans and French people around (no idea why these guys travel so much).

Here’s my usual routine.

  1. Go to and look up the upcoming events at your location. Yes, couchsurfing’s not only a place to find a place to crush for a few nights. It’s also a really cool community to find like-minded people.
    One of the coolest things I’ve ever done was go to the Thaipusam festival in Kuala Lumpur with a group of Couchsurfing people. One night in Bangkok I celebratet my birthday with a really cool bunch of Couchsurfers. I loved it.
  2. Internations is a worldwide community for expats organizing events and regular meetups for internationals. I felt a bit out of place when I was younger but I went there anyways.
  3. — I totally love, love, love Meetup. Literally anybody can start an interest-based meetup group and organize regular events and workshops.
  4. Local Event Pages: Google or ask people if there are local event calendars that feature meetups or stuff going on. In NYC I used Garysguide for startup events, Timeout KL was great for events in Kuala Lumpur… Just look for stuff going on.
  5. Facebook Groups: there are a lot of facebook groups focusing on local communities. Look for them and you’ll find.

Now that you’ve done your homework. Get out there and talk to people. Don’t be afraid to go there on your own either. You’ll find that especially abroad you’ll meet a lot of solo travelers or expats. And in case the event gets weird or you feel like you’re the only stranger — remember: nobody of these people will ever see you again.


I’ve learnt people are kind and cool. The majority is hospitable and happy to break out from their daily routines by letting you into their lives. I’ve lived with Colombian grandparents and been invited to Malaysian weddings. Be open to experiences and serious about sharing your life. I personally enjoy opening my doors to foreigners — it’s like traveling without actually traveling. Sometimes giving can be even more enriching than receiving. I’ve learnt that people are happy to give if you’re truly interested in them and willing to get to know them. How to meet locals? I usually look up my facebook contacts for people who’ve been to places I am looking connections in. I ask them for referrals and I’ve had great success rates. People are good — believe it.

Conclusion: Being new in an exotic place on your own can be hard. It may be overwhelming in the beginning and it might pull you down. Culture shock does exist. But you must not get caught up in it. Get out there and meet people. Nobody cares. It’s a great chance for you to re-invent yourself, do things you might not have done otherwise and meet people that will change your life. I found it’s sometimes even easier to get to know people abroad than it is at “home” as there are tons of people looking for friends, too.

Let it happen.

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