Humans are incredibly social creatures, and studies show that a lack of social life can seriously affect not only our mental health but even cause physical decline as well. In fact, the New York Times reports that “loneliness is as important a risk factor for early death as obesity and smoking” because it can cause so many physical and mental health problems.
For digital nomads, though, making friends is a major challenge, a problem that stems from our lack of a permanent physical location. Even though we often have strong social ties to friends and family members at home, it’s not enough.
Forbes investigated the impact of our virtual lives and shared a study that found “regular face-to-face communication cuts the risk of depression in adults by half. Phone and email don’t have the same effect.”
So, how can long-term travelers, bouncing around with no home base for years at a time, make these ever-important social contacts?
I talked to digital nomads around the world and dug into my own past experiences to discover the most helpful resources to meet people and make friends when traveling.
1. Hostels and Pub Crawls
I met John, another blogger and digital nomad, when we both found ourselves on a broken-down bus to Skopje. There’s no bonding experience quite like being stranded on the side of the road together, and we’ve been friends ever since. He shared some of his go-to ways to make friends when traveling long term.
“I’ve been traveling and living abroad for over 6 years now, mostly in Europe, and I always find that there are three sure-fire ways for meeting people while traveling: staying in a hostel, free walking tours, and pub crawls.” When John moves to a new city he’ll often stay in a hostel for the first few days before moving to a furnished apartment so he can begin building a social circle as soon as he arrives.
2. Housesitting and Online Communities
Not everyone is into pub crawls and loud hostel dorms, though, especially older travelers. Fara and her husband Bob are in their early 40’s, but that didn’t stop them from quitting their jobs, putting their house up for rent, and moving to Europe to start a new life as digital nomads two years ago.
When I asked Fara about her favorite ways to meet new people, she said she likes to “get involved in various Facebook communities for entrepreneurs, nomads, knitting, and expatriates. We have also met friends through housesitting.”
Housesitting is a great way to save money while traveling by caring for a homeowner’s house and pets in exchange for free accommodation. Being active in online housesitting communities and spending a few days with homeowners before or after their housesits have both helped Bob and Fara make new friends. However, Fara continues, “My favorite place, though, is the friends that I have met through a paid membership community called Digital Nomad Girls.”
3. Coworking and Shared Spaces
As the digital nomad community continues to grow (one source estimates that “50% of the workforce will be remote by 2020”) new apps and businesses are being built around our unique needs – including, of course, the desire to make meaningful connections while traveling.
Samantha was a digital nomad herself when she founded Remoters.co and explains that “finding intentional work communities and feeling emotionally isolated is a real challenge that I faced while being on the road working and traveling.”
So, she built the Remoters Community to “facilitate peer-to-peer connections among digital nomads around the globe.” It does this by creating a place to list your home or office for other digital nomads to use (completely free!) when they’re in town, or, conversely, by allowing digital nomads to skip the larger, expensive co-working companies and instead use spaces from (and make connections with) real people living and working in the city.
4. Volunteering, Language Classes, Tours, and More
So, what’s the best way to meet people as a digital nomad?
Clearly, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question and I was surprised by the variety of responses I received.
John utilizes in-person meet-ups, Fara prefers online communities, and Samantha is tackling the issue by creating her own platform to connect locals and travelers through coworking spaces.
Personally, I’ve also found that volunteering at a local animal shelter, taking language classes, joining day and weekend tours, and actually following up with friends and family “who know someone who knows someone” in the area I’m visiting to get their contact information and get together have all helped me meet people and make friends when traveling as well.
Use These Tips to Make Friends When Traveling!
Making social connections as a digital nomad is hard, but not impossible.
There may not be a set formula to follow but by staying open and trying new things, you’ll begin to meet new people and discover your own favorite ways to make friends on the road!
Looking for more advice on building a new location independent life on the road? Explore the Long Term Travel series to see exactly what I pack (spoiler alert: it all fits inside a carry-on) read the complete digital nomad lifestyle guide and much more!