Dateline: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
When I was in the radio business, there was another radio program called the Satellite Sisters. The five sisters, who lived in different states and different countries across the globe, began their show in 2000 as a way to connect with each other. The radio show is now a twice-weekly podcast that has won many awards; but it all started with the sisters’ initiative to get together and talk, despite the physical distance.
While I wouldn’t suggest that every digital nomad, perpetual traveler or expat start a radio show to stay in touch with family and friends, the sisters’ experience brings up an important question for anyone in the business of being far from home: What can a digital nomad do to avoid feeling lonely?
Using flag theory to become a digital nomad, perpetual traveler, or an expat stationed in one particular country can increase personal freedom and open the world to anyone. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with its challenges, though. Whether you’re going it alone or traveling with a companion, looking for ways to stay in touch with friends and family back home, as well as socialize and make friends on the road, can be demanding.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
I recently read an article where six digital nomads shared their best tips on how to avoid getting lonely. Since my team and I have quite a bit of experience dealing with this particular aspect of nomad life, we decided to add to and build on their ideas. The following is a list of the ten best ways to avoid getting lonely as a digital nomad.
10 Ways to never be lonely as a digital nomad:
- Use your network: the world is smaller than you might imagine. Use your connections to find people you know, or friends of friends, in the area where you’re traveling. With a simple post about where you will be traveling or living, social media sites like Facebook can become your best tool for networking.
- Start or continue good habits and routines: you can reduce your chances of feeling lonely as a digital nomad just by staying focused. Following a set routine can help you feel more in control, which reduces that sense of loneliness. Maintaining good habits you had before traveling can help keep some continuity in your life; and making sure habits like exercise are in your daily routine will not only increase your endorphins, but could even create opportunities to socialize.
- Utilize travel communities: find local events and connect with other travelers through sites like Meetup, Couchsurfing, DNX, Hashtag Nomads, online forums, and Facebook groups. One way or another, choose to go places where other nomads will be so you can connect and learn from those who are already traveling and working online.
- Join a co-working space: many emerging market countries have realized that digital nomads enjoy being able to connect and, consequently, have begun to cater to that need. Cafes and other co-working spaces allow nomads, entrepreneurs and freelancers to come together in one place to work, eat, relax, and network. Whether you work alone or as part of a team or group, finding a co-working space is a great way to combat loneliness and get your work done.
- Be open: finding friends as a digital nomad requires, at some level, that you open up and socialize. Say yes to invitations to go out or hang out. Follow up on invitations. Strike up a conversation. Smile at people. Even something as simple as listening to or helping a stranger can build the basis of a future friendship.
- Build a team: being a digital nomad doesn’t mean you have to work alone. Especially if you are running a business, be open to the idea that team members can become good friends.
- Use technology: there are plenty of tools now that allow you to connect with people across borders. With a wifi signal, apps like WhatsApp provide free texting and phone calls to anywhere in the world. If you’re dying to see someone’s face, all you need is Skype, Google Hangouts, or FaceTime. Start a joint iCloud account to share photos. You can even do something as simple as a weekly e-mail among family or friends to update each other on life events. And then, of course, there’s always Facebook.
- Consider an English speaking country: one of the best ways to make things easier on your social life is to find a place where you can talk to everyone. Digital nomads who don’t speak Thai, but choose to live in Thailand, for example, limit the number of people they can socialize with purely due to language barriers. You’d be surprised by the number of countries where English is widely spoken, emerging markets included.
- Book a flight: if you really do miss your friends and family, one of the greatest freedoms of being a digital nomad is that you can book a flight back home whenever you want.
- Establish a base: this is my favorite solution to the dilemma of being lonely as a digital nomad. People often read my site or hear the words ‘perpetual traveller’ or ‘digital nomad’ and automatically assume that in order to apply flag theory and be an expat, they have to be traveling constantly. The truth, however, is that you don’t have to be on the go all the time. Which is why I have been telling readers for years that they should establish a base.
Why establishing a base helps you avoid getting lonely as a digital nomad
Having a base combats loneliness as it allows you to build long-term relationships with contacts in your base area. The ideal situation would be to set up two or three strategically located bases, say in Asia, Europe, and the Americas. For example, you could establish a base in Mexico City, Mexico (or a place like Tulum for those more attracted to the beach), Barcelona, Spain and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. You can then divvy up your time in each place accordingly, but have enough time in each location to create longterm friendships.
While you’re in any given base, if you want to travel around a bit you still can. If you’re at your base in Mexico City, you can easily fly down to Nicaragua to vacation, take care of a business or even look into a real estate purchase. If you’re at your base in Spain, you can enjoy the benefits of your EU passport and visit the rest of Europe’s Schengen area visa-free. And while you’re in Kuala Lumpur, you can take advantage of the regions incredibly low airfare to travel just about anywhere in Asia.
Since you are dividing your travel time and working from a base where you do have friends, you can avoid the common factors that lead to getting lonely as a digital nomad.
What to look for when choosing a base
To optimize your satisfaction in your chosen base, there are several things to take into consideration. First, look for a country in which you feel comfortable with the culture. For example, I have long maintained a base in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, but I am now looking at expanding to another base in Georgia where the culture is similar to my own and the people move more at my pace.
Second, don’t feel like you have to prove anything to anyone by your choice of base location. Don’t just move to Bangkok to look cool because that’s where all the other digital nomads go.
Maybe you’ll be underwhelmed, as I was.
Hopefully, you made the decision to go offshore to increase your freedom, not to impress anyone or run away from a problem back home. The important thing is to find what fits you. If you’re from the US and want to be a digital nomad in Mexico, what’s wrong with that?
Does it fit you? If yes, then go for it.
Which brings me to my final suggestion, which is to ask yourself exactly why you want to go offshore. Is it to enjoy a more laid back culture? Or do you want lower taxes? Maybe you’re looking for the perfect place to run your online business. Or perhaps you want to start a business on the ground, catering to locals. Is your choice guided by a desire to invest in foreign real estate, or to enjoy the best offshore banking available?
Chances are, it’s probably a combination of factors. But if you don’t know the answer to the question of why you want to go offshore, it will be difficult to figure out where you want to go.
And being lonely as a digital nomad may be the last of your worries.
However, if you do know what you want and understand how going offshore will specifically help you and your business, then you are on the right path.
Plus, don’t feel like being a digital nomad means you have to be lonely. Choose the mindset that says that there are more than enough ways in this information age to connect and live a life of abundance traveling the world and going where you’re treated best.
Whatever you do, commit to it. Make goals for keeping in touch, networking, socializing, etc. Write those goals down and hold yourself accountable.
In the end, you’ll find that part of being a nomad is figuring out who’s going to be with you through thick and thin. And once you figure that out, all that’s left to do is enjoy the life of freedom and abundance you have created for yourself.
What other ways do you connect with people and avoid getting lonely as a digital nomad? How have these suggestions worked for you? Please comment below!
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