Moving to a new city is exhilarating—sights to see, restaurants to discover, people to meet. Except you can’t just Yelp “best places to find friends” or stumble upon them like a great dim sum spot. As anyone who has moved knows, making friends in a town where you know no one is actually hard AF.
“In a new city, it’s easy to have the sense that everyone else is a part of something, that they already have their friends and social life,” says clinical psychologist Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., professor at Georgetown University and author of The Friendship Fix. “Feeling like an outsider can paralyze you and keep you from socializing.”
Not to mention it’s hard logistically: You don’t have your regular coffee shop or weekly workouts where you can strike up conversation with familiar faces. To top it off, between hooking up your cable, forwarding your mail, and finding the grocery store, you have a ton of things to worry about other than your social life.
“Friendships aren’t just a luxury, though—they’re extremely important to our health,” Bonior says. If you’re feeling lonely or isolated—which is easy to do after moving to a new place—you need to prioritize making friends, she adds.
While you may not meet your bestie within the first week, here are a few good ways to start filling up your friend quota.
1. Go to the same weekly workout class.
People who prioritize fitness automatically have a mutual interest as well as similar personality traits. Find a yoga or indoor cycling studio you like, but, more importantly, pick a class time you can stick to. “Consistency is so important because it makes conversation much more natural,” Bonior says. It gives you the leeway to say, “Wow, this week’s class was tough, huh?” or “Where else do you like to practice?” Familiarity also breeds positive feelings. “You actually feel more comfortable and like a person more if you’ve seen them multiple times,” she explains.One trick: Arrive early. You’re not going to be able to talk to someone if you’re swooping in right as class gets started, Bonior says. And adding a cushion to the beginning of the class is better because people often leave quickly after a workout.
2. Hit up happy hour.
Work is one of the most popular places to meet people—you see each other every day, you’re forced to interact (hopefully in a good way!), and you probably have something in common, says Shasta Nelson, founder of GirlFriendCircles, a friendship matching site, and author of Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness.Most companies host extracurricular activities—from a kickball team to happy hours—which are perfect situations to get to know your cool coworkers outside the office. No events planned? Be proactive: Shoot an invite to your team to grab drinks or watch the game. To top it off, this can actually help your career. Studies show people who have friends at the office are more productive, more focused, and even healthier, taking fewer sick days.
3. Meet up with like-minded people.
Group socializing giant Meetup is one of the most useful and approachable resources for finding new friends, our experts agree. Meetup’s largest topic within its Socializing category is “New in Town,” so joining a group within that category virtually eliminates that worry that the people you’re interacting with already have an established friend group. They are all trying to do exactly what you are—cultivate a social life in their new city.One of the best ways to meet people is to put yourself in a situation that encourages interaction, says Marian M. Morry, Ph.D., professor of psychology and founder of the Close Relationships Laboratory at the University of Manitoba. Use Meetup to join a sports team, book club, or hiking group—Morry says active pastimes may be better ways to meet people than solo activities.
4. Be a good neighbor.
Outside of personal interests, work, and school, the next easiest place to find friends is your neighborhood, Morry says. Smile and say hi to your neighbors in the laundry room, at the mailbox, or as you both carry groceries from the parking garage. After breaking the ice, move on to small talk, asking the other person plenty of questions. People like it when you show an interest in them, Morry adds.
5. Shout it out on social.
One scary thing about a totally new city? It’s hard to meet new people through old friends if you don’t know anyone living there, Morry says. Luckily, social media transcends location, so tap your established friendship circle to help you create a new one. “One of the best things to do is post on Facebook [or Twitter, if that’s your thing], ‘I just moved to X and would love to meet any awesome people you know here!’” Nelson says. Finally—a use for those 300+ friends you haven’t spoken to in years!
6. Download an app.
We all know a couple that has, against all odds, found happiness through a dating app, so why not find friends the same way? Another advantage: “On an app, everyone is open to new friends, so you don’t have to worry about the idea that maybe they already have all the friends they need,” Nelson says. Her site, GirlFriendCircles, matches women to meet in small groups at local cafes. Also check out Hey! VINA, an app that connects ladies with similar interests, or Friendsy, which is exclusive to college students.
7. Meet over manis.
OK, nail salons may not actually be as social as Legally Blonde’s bend-and-snap scene led us to believe, but they’re actually a perfect place for random social interactions. “Everyone, like you, is captive and feeling relaxed. It’s a great place to initiate small talk with the person next to you,” says Irene Levine, Ph.D., author of The Friendship Blog. Sparking up conversation over the nail dryers may not land you a soul sister, but it’s a great way to flex that social muscle and become comfortable talking to strangers, Bonior says. That way when you really click with someone, you won’t overthink your intro too much.
8. Get creative.
Taking classes is a good way to meet people interested in trying new experiences and breaking out of their everyday routine, Bonior says. CourseHorse is a nice option for finding in-person adult classes, as is Groupon.Bonior’s suggestion: Stick to something artistic, if possible, such as photography, crochet, or painting. There’s a vulnerability in creating art, and it signifies a willingness to go outside of your comfort zone, she explains. “Plus, human beings as social creatures can help spark creativity in others, so being that for someone else is a great basis for a friendship.” It’s also a natural segue into future events: Mention to a classmate that there’s an upcoming exhibit of Basquiat’s work—maybe you guys could check it out.
9. Give back.
“Volunteering sounds cliché, but there are so many ways to volunteer that can fit your interests,” Bonior says. “If you like animals, spend time at a shelter; if gardening is your thing, look for a community greenhouse.” Why it’s so great for making friends: When you make up your mind to volunteer, you’re outwardly focused and thinking of others, so people there tend to be more open and interested in you. “And when we do good for others, we get that mood boost ourselves, which will make us much more inclined to be social and make friends,” Bonior says. “Plus, these people have a good heart—that’s never a bad thing in a new friend.”
10. Connect in cyberspace.
Nelson recalls one of her favorite friendship stories: “I saw a girl on Twitter post, ‘I just won 4 free lunches at X restaurant and am looking for 3 more people who want to come meet for lunch in the Financial District!’ I responded, as did two others, and the four of us met up for a super-fun lunch.” They continued their lunch date regularly after that. Copy that approach, noting that you’re not picking up the tab (unless you’re feeling generous!). If you’re not on Twitter, no sweat. There’s actually an app for this: WIITH allows you to create an event (“MoMA Saturday morning,” “The Revenant at 8 p.m.,” “Lunch at Mission Beach Cafe”) as an open invitation, then anyone on the app can RSVP and join you. Even less pressure: Scroll through open events and jump on someone else’s.
11. Find a workday crew.
Many people telecommute or work from home these days, which can be isolating, especially when you’ve just moved to a new city. That’s why finding a group who meets to work together—either in an actual coworking space like WeWork or informally at a coffee shop—is a great way to meet other telecommuters, Bonior says. Put your situation out there on social media or WIITH: “Every Tuesday morning, I’m going to be working at this coffee shop if anyone wants to join me.” You never know who will show up!
12. Belt it out.
One study found that people in singing groups bond more quickly than those in a creative writing or craft class. Why? Singing transcends cultural barriers and helps build social cohesion, researchers say. Church choirs are a great option, but you can also browse Meetup for nondenominational groups. If singing isn’t your thing, research also suggests this social cohesian may apply to dancing. Find Zumba workouts or ballroom dancing classes in your area on ClassPass or Groupon.
13. Take a retreat from daily life.
Sign up for a weekend away at a retreat or extended-time class, Nelson suggests. It may seem counterintuitive to leave your new city to make friends, but spending an entire weekend with people can fast-track friendship. The key here: Keep it local—the point is to be able to hang out with the friends you make in your everyday life. Use resources like RetreatFinder, Meetup, or local papers and magazines to find yoga retreats, meditation workshops, camping trips, and more in your (metaphorical) backyard.
14. Check out an InstaMeet.
Instagram Meetups—where enthusiasts roam their city to explore, take photos, and celebrate creativity—are a really cool way to meet new people, Bonior says. Not only can creative activities help you bond with others, but “getting to know someone via social media is so much easier because you’re still progressing the relationship with every interaction, but it isn’t as big of a deal as, say, having to get someone’s phone number and then scheduling a coffee date,” Bonior says. Find your city’s chapter at Instagram’s Community page.