The Pros And Cons Of Making New Friends On Vacation

Even if you’d rather travel with your earbuds in, there may be a few good reasons to make friends and meet locals while you’re on the road

Cheers to new friends—and getting the inside scoop from locals!


To friend or not to friend? Whether you like it or not, the opportunity to meet people on vacation pops up a lot when you’re traveling. Maybe you enjoy striking up conversations at bars or coffee shops. Maybe you prefer peace and quiet. Both approaches are fine, of course, but yield completely different travel experiences. Before you determine whether it’s worth it to meet locals on your next trip, consider the following.

Friends will give you the inside scoop

PRO: If you befriend a local, they will usually offer up a lead or two on great under-the-radar spots, the kind of locals-only hideaways that may not even have a web presence. Your new friend may also know the popular attractions you’d be better off avoiding.

CON: For some people, exploring without a guidebook or someone else’s recommendations is half the fun. Yes, you might occasionally run into a dud or two. But those moments when you stumble onto a gem—a perfect spot for a sunset, a charming corner cafe or a unique local shop—can feel doubly rewarding if you discover them on your own.

Friends will make sure you eat well

PRO: Every region has its comfort food. Baltimore has seafood, Cincinnati puts chili on spaghetti, Wisconsin has cheese and brats and Philly has its famous cheesesteaks. A local buddy can steer you away from touristy or flash-in-the-pan eateries and direct you toward the authentic item.

CON: Then again, local cuisine can be as polarizing as college basketball. As a native of Eastern North Carolina, for instance, I know very well that barbecue is made with pulled pork and seasoned with vinegar (it’s scientifically proven). When I travel west or south, I encounter people prone to disagree—not to mention the increasingly unfamiliar things Texans, Kentuckians and Tennesseans call barbecue. We can get pretty up in arms about our regional cuisine. Do you really need that stress on your vacation?

Friends will take you on the scenic route

PRO: Your GPS app can guide you from X to Y, but it’s just a machine. It can't tell you which roads are more scenic, which routes save time during rush hour or which tend to have the cheapest gas. Locals can share what they’ve learned over time and help you experience their city the way they do.

CON: When I was a child, my family took the most oddball, circuitous routes on vacation—not necessarily because they were scenic or interesting, but because my parents had a perpetual hang-up about interstates. Your new friend may be like my mom, preferring wickedly inefficient routes.

Friends will introduce you to their favorite things

PRO: Even smaller cities tend to have music scenes, theaters and art galleries that only locals know about. A new friend can be a window into this otherwise hidden world. Years ago, this is how I found a spectacular hip-hop show at a Richmond, Virginia, Egyptian restaurant. If you love under-the-radar art and music, new local friends are essential.

CON: You may get along great but have wildly different tastes—you love death metal, and you’ve just met a folkie; you’re all about seeing things explode in big-budget superhero movies, and your new friend only watches subtitled French films. And if you’re an introvert who prefers to travel solo, you may not want to risk the possibility that your new friend doesn’t just suggest a concert—she wants to tag along. Which brings me to…

Friends will never leave your side

PRO: Do you feel most at ease in the center of an entourage? Do you actively seek out where to meet new people? If so, why not meet locals and make new friends in new towns? You may even be compelled to visit again just to hang out with them.

CON: Or do you need your space? If you’re more introverted, you can feel positively crowded even with one or two new people around. If this is you, and vacation time is truly about getting away, then maybe you should keep to yourself. It’s completely OK to be protective of your time and your space.

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