Loneliness is a common complaint among digital nomads. It’s also the cause I’ve heard cited most frequently from former digital nomads who decided to pack up and head back home. And the fear of being lonely is one of the main reasons stopping aspiring digital nomads from taking the leap.
But being a digital nomad doesn’t have to be a lonely lifestyle.
Why are so many digital nomads and long term travelers lonely?
Back home, most people don’t have to put much effort into socializing.
If you work in an office, then you probably see dozens of people that you know every workday. Even if you don’t have deep, meaningful conversations with each of them, just exchanging the usual pleasantries still registers somewhere on your brain’s social scorecard and staves off that “I’m all alone in the world” feeling for a while.
Outside of work, we have our friends and families. In many cases, friends that we met years or even decades ago at school, at university, or maybe through sports. And most weekends or evenings after work, it doesn’t take much effort to see those friends. A couple of texts or quick calls, and you have someone to share a meal, watch the game, go shopping, or hit the town with.
It all adds up to what I’ll call low effort socializing.
But then, when you become a digital nomad and set off to explore the world for a while, you are not only leaving your home behind, but also those friends and coworkers, and the convenience of that low effort socializing.
With all of our attention on finding a remote job or building a remote business and choosing where to go next, it’s easy to overlook this part of the lifestyle change.
Here are some strategies for avoiding and overcoming loneliness on the road.
Set yourself up with social surroundings
One of the simplest ways to combat loneliness while traveling is to recreate the conditions that allow for that low effort socializing at home. In other words, surround yourself with people!
Traveling alone for months at a time, I found it easy to fall into the trap of this kind of thinking:
- I prefer to rent entire apartments so I can have privacy and so my stuff is safer
- I get more done when I work at home in peace and quiet
- It’s cheaper and healthier to eat at home instead of going to restaurants
- I don’t need a gym to work out, I have everything I need at home or in the park
All of those things may be true individually, but taken together, the result is a lot of time spent home alone. That might be great for a quick productivity sprint, but it’s also going to lead to loneliness.
So mix things up once in a while…
Instead of booking a private apartment or hotel room, choose a room in a hostel, book a coliving space, or stay with an Airbnb host in a shared home. Instead of working from your room or apartment, go to a coffee shop or a coworking space.
Again, those might not be the best options as far as productivity is concerned, but productivity shouldn’t be the only concern!
Attend local events
Another great way to avoid loneliness while traveling is to attend local events wherever you are. I’m often amazed at how many different meetups and gatherings there are in a given city on most nights. Even if you don’t speak the local language, you can usually find English-speaking get-togethers almost anywhere in the world.
Here are the websites and apps that I use to find events:
Facebook Events and Facebook Groups
There are tons of local events listed on Facebook, and thriving communities full of friendly people in Facebook groups. Even if you’re not a fan of the social network, you should at least have an account so you can find and RSVP to events and join local Facebook groups.
Meetups are scheduled get togethers of groups of people with common interests. There are groups for everyone from user experience designers to board game enthusiasts. They are usually free to attend, and new members are almost always welcome (just be sure to RSVP to the event you are planning to attend). You can often find events that are happening the same day or week. Keep an eye out for language exchange meetups, where you can practice the local language with native speakers and help teach those who want to learn your language.
Couchsurfing is more than just a way to score a free place to sleep, it’s also a thriving community of 14,000,000+ travel enthusiasts from all over the world. There are Couchsurfing members in virtually every city on the planet, and regular Couchsurfing meetings in many of those cities. The most active cities, like Barcelona and Istanbul, have meetings and events almost every single day of the week.
You are welcome to attend the meetings and events even if you are not a Couchsurfing host or a guest. The best Couchsurfing meetings have a mix of local hosts who are eager to share insights about their city and culture with visitors, as well as fellow travelers who are looking for new friends to explore the city and surroundings with. A perfect mix!
In addition to scheduled meetings and events, the Couchsurfing mobile app also has a “hangout” feature that makes it easy to find and meet up with other travelers and locals right now.
InterNations is a community of expats with local chapters in hundreds of cities around the world. They host thousands of events and activities each month. InterNations members tend to be people who have relocated to new countries, rather than digital nomads who are always on the move.
Whenever you attend an event, ask the organizers and attendees about other local events. By the time I was on my third trip to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, I thought I already knew all of the digital nomad hangout spots, Facebook groups, and meetups. Then I overheard a couple of guys talking about a weekly pick-up football game. I asked, “How do you find out about these games? I haven’t seen anything in any of the Facebook groups…” It turns out there is a dedicated WhatsApp group for sports with lots of other events that I didn’t even know about.
Dating apps and websites
The same dating apps and websites that people use back home (Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, etc.) work in many other countries too. A word of warning though: online dating can leave people feeling rejected, especially if they’re already lonely. I wouldn’t recommend relying on dating apps as your only strategy for meeting new people while you travel.
Consider virtual coworking with a colleague or friend
What if you’re nomading in the middle of nowhere, away from cities with hostels, coworking spaces, and people who speak your language? In that case, you could try “virtual coworking” over Skype or FaceTime with a colleague or a friend in a compatible timezone.
Make new friends, but don’t forget about your friends back home!
One common sentiment I have heard from digital nomads who end up feeling lonely, is that the effort required to meet people and make new friends on the road isn’t worth it. The people that they do meet end up being “temporary friends” who move on after a few days or weeks, and then they never see each other again.
I can understand that feeling, but I disagree with the notion that it’s not worth trying. I’ve met people while traveling who I remember fondly, even though we only crossed paths for a few hours or days. The conversations and fun times that we shared enriched my life. Why miss out on that?
I’ve also made new friendships while traveling that have far outlasted the time I spent in the cities where I made them. On one trip to Bangkok alone (another city with a great Couchsurfing scene), I met a dozen or so new friends, including many that I still keep in touch with years later. Some of the friends I made in Bangkok ended up joining me on future trips or coming to visit me in different cities in Europe, Asia, and America.
Of course, you shouldn’t expect most of the people you meet on the road to become your new life-long best friends… and that’s okay! Just because you are in different countries, doesn’t mean you can’t keep in touch with your long-time friends from back home.
Living in different time zones can make it more challenging to keep in touch though. One thing that I do and that I recommend you do is to schedule regular calls with your closest friends and family members. Since you are the one who is traveling, take the initiative and try to accommodate their schedule. Here’s a sample script you can use:
Hey [friend / mom / dad / sister / whoever],
I don’t want to lose touch while I’m traveling. Why don’t we plan a scheduled call every week? I know it’s a little weird and businessy to schedule calls like this… and of course we can still call each other any time we want to, but having a scheduled call means I know I’ll get to talk to you at least once per week and it helps avoid any confusion with the time difference.
How about Sunday at 6 PM your time? We can use [FaceTime / Skype / WhatsApp / whatever].
Remember that you don’t have to travel by yourself
Since becoming a digital nomad, I have traveled alone, with a group of friends, with my girlfriend, and now with my wife. I’ve also met digital nomad families who travel with their children (a topic for another day).
Traveling by yourself gives you the most flexibility, since you only have to worry about one person’s preferences and requirements — your own. Solo travel can also be a great way to force yourself out of your comfort zone. There’s something both scary and incredibly exciting about being in a country where you don’t know a single person.
Leaving home and exploring the world together with the love of your life can be an incredible experience. Especially since you’ll have someone to share all the magical moments with, and who can relate to all the things that you’ve seen and done. “You’re right, this does remind me of that breakfast place we went to in Bali…”
But the stresses of travel and spending 24 hours a day together every day can strain even the strongest relationships. So, it’s important to plan your trip together in a way that balances both of your interests, and includes romantic time together, as well as the “me time” that we all need to stay sane.
Traveling in a bigger group means that you’ll always have people to talk to and friends to go out with. But the bigger the group, the harder it is to blend into the local scene, and the more important it becomes to plan everything out well in advance. Companies like Remote Year and Unsettled offer to take care of all the planning for you.
Fortunately, there is no rule that says you have to choose only one of these options and stick to it forever. So, if you normally travel alone, try inviting a friend on your next adventure, or joining a group.