This comes up a lot in conversations online about being a digital nomad; “I thought I’d love this life but I’m lonely” or “I am scared of being lonely if I become a digital nomad.”
The good news is that you don’t have to be lonely as a digital nomad. Well, no lonelier than anyone ever has to be, that is. Everybody is lonely at some time in their life or another. The bad news is that if you don’t want to be lonely – you’re going to need to do some work.
One of the strangest things we keep coming across is people insisting that they have excellent social skills complaining that they can’t make friends. Let me spell this out for, you can pick one or the other. Either you have excellent social skills OR you can’t make friends.
If you can’t own this problem, you can’t fix it. You’re trying to tell us that the world hates you and it doesn’t. (And no, we’re not going to make the joke that the world doesn’t know you, yet, either). The truth is that by and large, the world is indifferent to all of us. It doesn’t hate us. It just doesn’t care very much.
That is unless you give it a reason to care. So, let’s take a look at how to avoid being lonely as a digital nomad. And yes, this can help even if you’re shy and hate making the first moment of contact.
12 Tips On How To Avoid Being Lonely As A Digital Nomad
We’ve tried to avoid “go to a co-working space” here as it’s obvious and not always a helpful tip, particularly if you’re an introvert and need a quiet uninterrupted space to work in. Fortunately, these tips for digital nomads will help with your loneliness, we promise.
Go To The Same Place A Few Times
They say that familiarity breeds contempt but that’s not true. What is true is that familiarity tends to make people feel like they know you even if they’ve never spoken to you.
There is a famous social experiment where a person in a black plastic wrap (so that you could not identify the person or see any of their features) attended lessons at a university for a semester.
Initially, the students resented this individual. By the end of the semester, they liked them, even though they’d never said a word to them, and would stand up for them if somebody else said something mean about them. That’s the power of familiarity.
So, if you go somewhere and it’s full of people you think you’d like to meet. Go back. Co-working spaces, cafés, bars, etc. just do your thing. Eventually, without even realizing it, you’ll be part of the “in-group”.
Recognize That Feeling Lonely Is A Temporary State
Isolation is something that takes place in prison otherwise you’re not isolated, you’re just feeling alone.
All of our emotional states are temporary. (Ask any Buddhist for confirmation – they tend to have the best handle on emotion).
Don’t allow, “I feel alone” to turn into “Am I an enormous Billy No-Mates who is completely unlikeable?”
Acknowledge you feel lonely, resolve to do something about it but don’t make a mountain out of a molehill either.
Go To Meetups And Social Groups
Meetup.com is a very popular place to find meetups but if you head over to Facebook (I know, we don’t really like Facebook at NomadTalk but we acknowledge that it’s a good way to find events and meetups in your area) you can find plenty of things to do being advertised in expat (and local) groups for your new location.
Sign up and go along. Even if you don’t really interact with anyone at first, you’ll feel better because you’re in company but in our experience, sooner or later, people will introduce themselves and make you feel welcome.
Be careful about this. Thailand, for example, requires volunteers to have a special visa and a work permit and you could be arrested for volunteer work (yes, really). However, as long as you don’t go and undertake some really public activity and don’t touch on anything political – we’ve never heard of a volunteer being arrested.
Volunteering allows you to give something back to the community and to form connections with other people. That’s a double whammy of goodness.
Think About What Drives Your Loneliness
You need to be careful about dwelling on your feelings but it’s OK to examine the root cause of the problem.
Is it because you’re new in town? If so, that’ll wear off in a while. Is it that your work is unfulfilling? If so, find another job. Do you not like the people you hang around with? Then do something different.
Asking what underpins our loneliness makes it much easier to tackle it.
You’re a digital nomad, maybe you’re in the wrong place for you and that’s OK, you can move.
For example, I love Siem Reap in Cambodia. Love the place. It has the perfect community for me. Lots of middle-aged people who work and enjoy a chat. My 20-year old self would have hated it. No rock night club. No live bands.
Sometimes, the place you’re in doesn’t allow you to connect with other people who you have something in common with. You’re not obliged to stick around anywhere if you don’t want to. Don’t be afraid to pack your bags and try somewhere new.
Do Some Exercise
This won’t necessarily lead to connecting with other people, though if you go to a gym, it might but there is plenty of evidence to say that 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day can give you a mood boost.
If you feel happier, it’s quite likely that you will feel less lonely. It’s worth a try, right? And it will keep you fit and healthy.
Get Coffee And Say “Hi” To Someone
Head out to a café and choose it because there are people in there. Walk in and order a coffee and then talk to someone there. Say, “Hi” and then give the person you want to speak to a sincere compliment (not a creepy one) such as “Awesome Apple Mac, I’ve got one just like it” or “Your tie is amazing!”
Then when a conversation starts to flow, just gently ask questions and take a sincere interest in the answers. You don’t need to be a genius to do this. And don’t worry if it doesn’t go brilliantly – you probably won’t see this person again, unless you really hit it off.
Note: Guys unless you’ve got Richard Gere good looks, try not to go up to the hottest woman in the place and pay her compliments. That almost always comes across as creepy even when it’s sincere.
Put Your Damn Phone Away
When you are around other people, try to leave your phone at home and if you can’t manage that. Put it away. In a pocket or bag and switch it off.
You cannot be present when a phone is occupying some or all of your attention. If somebody else insists on having their phone out all the time – you might want to consider finding other people to hang out with too.
Just because we’re digital nomads, we don’t have to be “always-on”. Learn to separate your real life from the virtual and you’ll make more friends.
Go Do Some Street Photography
OK, quick tip: street photography is about photographing people in public not about photographing empty streets.
Now that we’ve covered that, grab your camera and go take some pictures. I do this a lot and find that people love to get involved when they see you taking photos. Don’t be a creepy stalker about this, be clear about having a camera and about taking pictures.
You may even find that people start to approach you to talk cameras (this happens a lot if you shoot Canon, but it still happens even if you shoot Fuji, like me).
Join An Exercise Class
I feel like this is two tips combined to make a third. It’s easy to find exercise classes near you (thanks Facebook and Google) and it really doesn’t matter what you do – the objective is to pick something fun and go and join in.
Not only will you meet new people, but you’ll also get the benefit, mentioned before, of feeling better too. A double whammy of social goodness.
I think meditation makes its way into a lot of articles here at NomadTalk and for good reason: meditation can help you become more comfortable with yourself when you’re by yourself. This will help you feel less lonely (though it won’t make you less alone per se).
It can also help you deal with troubling emotions and make you more confident. It’s also proven to boost your happiness. Given that you can learn to meditate very quickly, and it costs nothing to meditate – this seems like a no-brainer to us.
Everyone feels lonely at some point or another in their lives, this is not a unique to digital nomad problem. However, some digital nomads do create lives that make loneliness more likely – such as changing location every 3 days.
However, if you slow down a bit and start to stay places for longer and appreciate them more, you can implement our 12 tips above for combatting loneliness as a digital nomad.
There’s no need to be lonely. We promise that there are people out there who’d love to get to know you, no matter what you like or what you do. You just have to take the bull by the horns and go out and find them.