Building Meaningful Community with a Travel Lifestyle

Paul takes a selfie picture of our friend group, (R-L) Ashley, Paul, Chris, Caroline, and me.

Paul takes a selfie picture in Big Sur, California, of our friend group, (L-R) Ashley, Paul, Chris, Caroline and me.

By Jackie Leavitt

It can be difficult to build fresh communities and make friends in new locations.

I found my new San Francisco friend group by meeting a man with a Scottish accent in an Irish bar.

After being in the city for about a year, I was out celebrating a new editing job with Jenny, one of my few New England friends in San Francisco. We started the night at a classy cocktail spot on Polk Street, then after a couple of those magical elixirs, we moved to the less classy Irish bar. Our time socializing led to Jenny meeting her future boyfriend (four years later, they are still together), and I met Paul.

With Paul, I found a climbing buddy, an intellectual conversationalist and a gateway into my first friend group since my move to San Francisco a year before. It was the type of crew where we would come together once a week to cook dinner together, we would rally on the weekends to dance until our clothes were soaked in sweat, and we would enter complicated philosophical discussions about things happening in the world and society. In this group, I finally felt grounded and connected to my life in my new city.

But after a few years, I left San Francisco to travel. Then my several-month trip turned into saying goodbye to a traditional, stationary life for one of near-constant voyaging. And while many elements of this lifestyle make me feel fulfilled and cater to my adventurous and curious side, I began to realize I was slipping further and further from my communities in San Francisco and New England that keep me grounded. The people in my community remind me of who I am, even as I grow with my new life experiences. I’ve realized how important it is to have community, despite my quick and frequent uprooting.

My friend Ashley – who traveled for several months with her boyfriend (another Paul) before moving to Argentina for half a year – recently posed this question to me: how can we fulfill our desire for community when following a lifestyle of travel? After a year and a half since leaving San Francisco, here are my recommendations of keeping old friends close and finding new communities.

  1. Visit old friends as frequently as possible

If you can afford it, try to visit old communities more often. When you’re away, you lose touch of what is happening in your friends’ lives, and they aren’t aware of your life, either. Don’t stick to Facebook snooping to stay up-to-date with each other. Nothing is as good as an in-person hug or multiple-hour hike or afternoon adventure.

  1. Wine-night Skype chats

In-person visits might be expensive and difficult to coordinate, so the next best thing is setting up monthly or weekly Skype dates with your pals to catch up over a beer or glass of wine. It’s almost like going to the local pub together, and being able to see your friends makes the conversation much more personable than a phone call. Yes, the screen might freeze occasionally, but at least you can still gaze at your friend’s face and laugh at the funny pose he or she is stuck in.

  1. Send post cards and letters

People don’t send letters anymore. You and your friends will be thrilled to receive something else besides junk mail or bills. While you can fill your writing space with big life details, I often prefer to highlight a specific event or experience because details make us feel a lot closer to good friends than generic information that anyone might know by checking our social media pages.

  1. Reach out to Facebook

If you’re looking to make new friends, social media like Facebook is a great space to crowd-source finding awesome people. Your already established friends can point you toward other people with similar interests or senses of humor. And then you and your new pals can convince your friend-in-common to come visit!

  1. Do what you love

If you love rock climbing, go climb! If you like biking, join a cycling group! The best way to build community is to do the activities you love and meet the people there. You already have one thing in common with everyone around you, which gives you a high chance of a new, budding friendship. All it takes is the guts to introduce yourself and start a conversation.

  1. Volunteer

If you have any spare time, volunteering can be a fulfilling activity and great way to meet new people who care about similar issues. Plus, there is more inspiration for conversation starters at a beach cleanup or walk-a-thon than sitting at a café, which can feel like a first date.

  1. Lean in to friend dates

On the other hand, don’t fear the Friend Date! We’ve all been there, and yes, it does feel awkward sometimes: staring at each other over your salads or beers, wondering what to talk about next… But if you can have a positive attitude about it, after a few “dates,” it will begin to feel more natural. Exchange numbers with someone who seems cool, and see where it goes.

  1. Say “Yes” to the unexpected

Although it might not usually have a high success rate with creating friendships, meeting a guy at a bar led me to meet truly incredible people that I’ll cherish for life. Stay open to unexpected opportunities for friendships.

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