Illustration by Clara Nicoll

Young life: How to make friends as an adult on a family holiday

Gatecrashing a stranger's birthday was a liberating experience
March 1, 2023

I am an only child. Other only children reading this will be familiar with the unique loneliness of family holidays sans siblings. Fortunately, making friends as a child is easy: you propose a game of hide-and-seek and it’s a done deal. I have vague memories of the holiday-friends I made growing up. Often, they were other only children, looking for respite from their parents’ grown-up conversation. 

I am still (just about) of the age where my dad will take me on holiday, and he kindly offered to take me skiing with him and my stepmum in France as January came to a welcome end. It had been a shit month, and I was ready to fill my lungs with Alpine air and my stomach with European beer. But it meant that I would be—once again—an only child looking for respite from grown-up conversation on a family holiday.

My stepmum had learnt to ski as a young adult. I listened enviously as she told me how she and her brother had made the most of the uniquely tacky ski-resort nightlife, and resolved to do the same. I am not an experienced skier, so I had lessons in the mornings from Monday to Wednesday—and the opportunity to meet people my age. 

On my arrival, I immediately sussed out the other young people in my group. Making friends as an adult is not so easy—games of hide-and-seek won’t cut it. You have to ask questions like, “so, what do you do for a living?” and explain that, while you live in London, you’re originally from a vague part of the UK, so as to appear relatable and down-to-earth. 

Rather than marching straight up to someone and asking if they’d like to hang out, you have to engineer situations in which chatting is possible. I would strategically situate myself within the proximity of one of the Scottish lads in the queue for the chairlifts and embark on a charm offensive. Thankfully, I was able to secure the phone number of one of them. 

He was there with 11 friends from university, having graduated a couple of years ago. Perfect. A few hours after the lesson, he texted me with an invite to his and his friend’s joint birthday celebrations. I was thrilled. 

When Thursday arrived, I spent the morning in the mountains, enjoying family time safe in the knowledge that later that day I’d be with people my own age. I briefed my dad on the evening’s itinerary, promising to keep him up-to-date on my movements to soothe his inevitable anxiety. 

When I got to the bar it was teeming with Brits stumbling around in ski-boots. Locating my new friends in the crowd wasn’t easy. I tried to appear confident as I introduced myself to the rest of the party and offered to buy the birthday girl a pint (it was the least I could do). Making my way through the crowd at the bar, I stood next to a group of disgruntled French boys who were bemoaning the number of Brits in the resort. I kept my mouth firmly shut as “Sweet Caroline” came on and every Englishman in the vicinity lost their minds, biting down on the urge to scream “BAM BAM BAMMM” in chorus with the masses. 

Three pints later, I reconvened with my dad and stepmum for dinner. Besides knocking cutlery off the table several times, I enacted a five-star performance as a sober and sensible daughter, before stumbling down the mountain to rejoin my new friends at another bar. 

As I approached the door, I was intercepted by a Frenchman who gasped “mademoiselle” and offered me a cigarette. I took it, we chatted and he asked me who I had come with. When I explained that I was there as a “solo agent” who had befriended a group of strangers he was more shocked than impressed. But I was honoured that this close-knit group of friends had welcomed me into their night. 

Knowing that I would never see these people again meant I could let go of all inhibitions. So, while taking in the cold air and another cigarette, I grilled my contact from the group about the dynamics of his inner circle—who was into whom, and who had history. My curiosity knows no bound(arie)s. I may have overstepped, or perhaps he just fancied me, but midway through our conversation he interrupted with a fail-safe line: “Can I kiss you?” Maybe because he was the birthday boy, or maybe because I just fancied him, I obliged.

It was refreshing to be able to engage in scandalous behaviour without worrying about becoming the subject of gossip. 

So I threw back vodka cranberries and continued to flirt with reckless abandon until the early hours of the morning