If you were to peruse the average digital nomad forum online; you’d quickly come to the conclusion that the only way to have less sex than a digital nomad would be to join a monastery and swear a vow of celibacy.
So many digital nomads complain that it’s impossible to find a partner on the road and that finding someone to share their life or travel with is never going to happen.
This is, of course, nonsense. Digital nomad dating is perfectly possible, but it does mean making some changes to your normal dating behavior. That is unless all you enjoy is meaningless hookups on Tinder, which is still available pretty much everywhere.
Though you may want to watch out for the “professionals” using Tinder in developing countries; dating those folks can end up expensive when it comes time for them to leave.
It’s A Woman’s World
It’s worth starting with the fact that single women who are digital nomads are few and far between. If you must date a fellow digital nomad; you have much better odds of meeting Mr. Right than Ms. Right.
There’s An App For That (Sort Of)
Megan and I met online. She told me she would like us to meet. I told her she was too young for me. Then she pointed out that her father is nearly 40 years old than her mother and our age gap was nothing like that.
So, I have nothing against online dating. Having said that; this is the first partner I’ve met online in South East Asia and I am not sure I’d do it again.
I’ve tried dating apps in the past and they’re mainly full of:
- Angry expat women. They’re not very happy about the fact that every Western guy has a perfect 10 half his age. I can understand this, but it doesn’t make them compelling to date because despite the shallow dating pool that they’ve elected to swim in– they’re still incredibly picky and often they’re rude too.
- Guys who are never, ever coming to the country they’re trying to fish the dating pool in. Lots of Western guys who dream of dating an Asian hottie are online – sadly they’re not ever coming to Asia and they’ll leave a long slime trail of broken hearts in their virtual wake.
- So many prostitutes. Not just locals trying for a better life either, there’s an endless number of backpackers who are willing to “swap favors” in exchange for a place to sleep and a meal to be paid. It’s pretty fucking grim.
- Insane people. I am not sure if these people are just waiting for my stupid face but I get an awful lot of straight-up loonies looking for… well, I’m not even certain they know what they’re looking for.
- People who don’t speak English. Which is not a big deal except… you know… when trying to talk online.
- There seems to be a class of person too proud to beg in the street but not too proud to ask for $100 from strangers on a dating app. If it works, fair play to them. I suspect I am too old, too fat, and too male for this to be a fallback career option for me.
- Nearly no digital nomads. Sorry, digital nomads are still something of a rarity and dating apps don’t make them any more common.
- A tiny handful of people who appear to be nice. A tiny handful. I’d say for every 100 “interest” moments, you’ll get 60+ responses (if you’re better looking than me, and you almost certainly are, you may do better still), of which 58 are going to be from people who simply are not in any way suitable to date. Then the final two are going to leave you wondering, what sort of insanity are they saving up for when they meet you in real life?
I can understand why many nomads give up after the “online dating experience”. I did, for laughs, join a nomad dating Facebook group. It seemed to work like this. Insanely hot picture of a woman placed up in group saying; “Hi, I am in Morocco now.”
Followed by 30 male nomads, with absolutely no hope of dating someone as hot as the person in the picture, volunteering to fly in. She would then soundly reject them all.
And… nothing would happen after that.
Note: There are dozens of dating apps that aren’t Tinder. Local apps tend to have a slightly higher ratio of genuine people looking for love rather than a quick bonk (not that there’s anything wrong with sex with no strings but either that’s what you want, or you don’t).
Note 2: If you do, accidentally, find yourself “on a date” with a prostitute – it’s OK to say, “sorry, I’m going” but do it quickly or you may find that he/she expects paying for their time anyway.
There’s A Website For It
NomadSoulmates.com is the website. They’ve been featured on many different big and exciting platforms such as Forbes. It’s a place where digital nomads go to say; “Hi, I’m in Crete! Is anybody in Crete?” and nobody answers because no-one is in Crete.
The trouble with this concept is:
- There are many more single male nomads than single female nomads – no surprises here and it’s not a sexist thing. Single women are just much less likely to sell off all their shit and then go gallivanting around the world.
- Unless you are traveling to a “nomad hotspot” (such as Chiang Mai or Prague) there are almost no nomads in the places you’re going to be. You might get very lucky, but you probably won’t.
This turns the world into something awful. If you’re a guy and you find somebody you like – you’re going to have to plan to travel, possibly a very long way, for a first date.
Now, I don’t know about you – that seems like an expensive way to be in the dating pool. And in today’s overly fussy Western dating market; the odds are pretty high that you get there, and you don’t measure up to her standards or she doesn’t measure up to yours.
A nomad dating website is a good idea but until there are millions more digital nomads than there are now – it’s not going to work well outside of nomad hubs. Don’t let exceptionalism persuade you otherwise; it’s not the 1 in a million success story that makes things this way, it’s the 999,999 in a million that failed and who aren’t writing about it online.
You can always cut to the chase. Instead of flying around the world hoping that your internet squeeze will turn out to “the one” or “one of many”. You could simply go to a nomad hotspot and throw yourself into the “digital nomad lifestyleTM” activities there.
If you are a young nomad (under 30) this is probably a pretty good plan. There are still going to be about 10 times as many single men competing for every unattached woman in the nomad scene but there will, at least, be more than one such woman hanging around.
If you’re an older nomad – you’re going to meet an awful lot of people who appear to be children and your chances of getting a date will remain about zero. “Nomad Hubs” mainly remain a magnet for the clueless 22-year-old who will be going home to mom and pop when their money runs out.
It’s not that older nomads don’t go to these hubs. It’s that they attend, as I did when I first moved to Chiang Mai, precisely one networking event and realize that they’re not going to make any valuable connections in these places.
They then tend to turn to the nearest expat haunt in their local area and blend in like a sort-of native. You’re not going to be dating those folks except by accident. You need to find them first.
Do It The Old Fashioned Way
I’ve been in stitches watching friends of mine failing to get the girl when she’s been throwing herself at them in Asia. Their “swipe right” lives have left them with inadequate social skills to say; “Can I have your number (or Facebook messenger) or whatever?” when required to do so by real life.
Yet, in South East Asia – the man (or woman) who asks for a number is rarely denied such a request and, most of the time, the person will be happy to hear from you when you call too.
Yes, this means you’re going to have to stop dating digital nomads but really, unless you’re a female nomad – the chances of dating a digital nomad were always going to be remote for you in the first place.
But what better way to celebrate international travel than to date someone from a different culture?
It keeps you on your toes, I promise you, Megan never fails to remind me when I’ve transgressed a societal rule that I didn’t even know existed, for example.
But it’s fun and in many ways, it’s more relaxed than dating back home.
It’s easy to date in person. Smile and if they smile back say, “hello”. If this is returned, you can ask for a number. Depending on where you are in the world and what you look like you’re going to find that this may be the easiest thing you’ve ever done.
I am a plump (fat) 40-something with snow rapidly settling on the mountain and the fashion sense of a drunken 16-year old geek and it’s never stopped me from landing numbers in this way.
Don’t be a creep. If she says “no”. Smile and move on. The next person will probably say “yes”. The objective is to get a date, not to get a sexual harassment charge.
This is the way that people used to get dates before Tinder. It does require a little more mettle to pull off but it’s worth it. If you’re really lucky the person you date through this mechanism won’t sit there all night long swiping right on tomorrow’s lucky “victim” while pretending to talk to you.
The old fashioned way may be a little harder in cultures outside of East Asia and Southeast Asia but there’s nowhere on earth that meeting people in real life has fallen entirely out of fashion. Screw your courage to the sticking post and go ask that special someone out.
One thing that you may glean from NomadTalk is that we’re not all that keen on dedicating our entire lives to the “digital media machine”. We’re grateful that we can work online, very grateful. But it’s work.
Our play takes place offline. It’s why we travel. We can see the world and enjoy it.
You’ll never see either of us clutching a smartphone unless it’s to take a photo because my DSLR isn’t convenient or to listen to music (or YouTube in Megan’s case).
If you want your dating to turn into something permanent – leave the phone at home. If I can book a taxi on the street in a 3rd tier Chinese city without any Mandarin whatsoever; you can get through an evening without Facebook.
The most essential app in your portfolio is “real life”.
Finding someone to spend your life with means finding out about them and allowing them to learn about you and there is no substitute for conversation (typing is not a conversation) and face-to-face time (phone/video prevents you from examining your chemistry with people – you can be really into someone at a distance and get there and find you’d rather be anywhere else).
Every time we hear a nomad tell us about how impossible it is to find somebody; we laugh. It doesn’t matter what you look like, how rich or poor you are, what you’ve achieved, etc. Relationships are built on rapport not resumes.
One Final Thing: What If They Don’t Nomad?
Well, this is the thing. Most people you meet aren’t going to be digital nomads. This isn’t the end of the world. Megan packed her bags in the place she grew up and has been traveling the world with me ever since.
If you want someone to join you – you need to ask them to.
You also need to be realistic about this; if you’re dating someone from back home with a ton of skills, they ought to be paying an equal share of everything. If you’re dating someone from a Khmer village who is barely capable of writing a sentence in English – you’re going to be footing the bill.
Fortunately, while two don’t travel as cheaply as one – it doesn’t need to break the bank either. Set expectations before you go. What will you take care of, what might come as an occasional treat, what remains off the table for now because you’re not able to afford it? Be honest. Be clear.
Relationships don’t break down because of finances. They break down because people lie about finances and then everyone starts to get resentful about the money. Megan’s parents are, by any reasonable standard, very cash poor but they’ve been married for over 30 years. Honesty is what keeps them together not money (which they don’t have).
Megan does work but her work doesn’t pay as well as mine. So, we both pay into a communal cash fund which I manage. When she needs something, she gets it. When she wants something, we talk about it. Same for me. Neither of us gets everything we want. Both of us, pretty much, get everything we need. We don’t argue about money.
Dating is not a huge challenge as a digital nomad. There is an app for that, and a website too. But we still recommend that you go “analog” and meet people in real life. Our observations are that these kinds of relationship tend to last longer.
Relationships require work, in person. Don’t let your devices interfere with the personal. Leave them at home. You’ll be amazed at how much better this feels; once you break your addiction to checking your smartphone every 5 minutes.
Non-nomads can go nomad for the right person, but you need to make sure you both understand the financial position before you go book your flights together or one of you is likely to be flying home much sooner than anticipated.