As a long-distance traveller and digital nomad, maintaining social contacts can be a challenge. For most people, whether travellers or sedentary, it can be difficult to make new friends. Even before I left Germany completely, it was already the case that I changed my place of residence several times within Germany, for studying, for a relationship, for a job or simply because I wanted to live in a certain city. Many people know that the circle of people who stay in their hometown for a long time and have their circle of friends from childhood days close to them for a long time is getting smaller and smaller. But as a digital nomad, you are faced with completely new challenges, because you can’t just get on the train to spend a weekend with friends or just meet up with colleagues for a glass of wine in the evening. So, how do I as a an online therapist and digital nomad maintain social contacts?
Keeping in touch with “old” friends
It’s not always easy to keep in touch with friends who have stayed “at home” when you’re on the road as a long distance traveller. Although I also visit Germany every year, it is often the case that I am not there. Birthdays, weddings and all the little moments in between. Our lives are so different that it is often difficult to explain what my everyday life actually looks like, where I am and why it is not always great to be in great holiday paradises. The other way around, of course, it’s the same. The longer you are on the road, the more the feeling can arise that our lives develop so unbelievably differently. But of course, this is also something that many people know, who have simply moved to another city or whose lives simply develop differently, because some have children and others have careers or suddenly start anew.⠀
In the end, however, it means above all that you may have intensive contact with fewer people, but those who stay are those who really stay. No matter how often you see each other and what has happened in the meantime. Fortunately, nowadays it is very easy to stay in contact over distance. In addition, I personally am really lucky as many of my friends are very eager to travel and so I can meet them again and again at very different corners of the world.
Make new friends
Since I mainly rent apartments and flats on the way and don’t live in shared accommodations, I don’t get to know so many people “just like that”, unlike many tourists and backpackers. I notice this especially when I am on my way to the next place and take the bus, spend the night in a guesthouse or go on a guided tour with other tourists. When traveling as a tourist and backpacker it is incredibly easy to get to know people. But if one spends a large part of the week alone in an apartment and works, then, of course, it is much more difficult. On the other hand, it is not easy to get to know the “right” people. Only recently, I listened to a few backpackers talking at the next table in a small hotel and felt very old again. My traveling has little to do with where to get the cheapest alcohol and how to get from A to B at the cheapest price or whether 2 days in city X are too little or already too much.
Digital Nomads Meetups and Events
What do I do instead? I’m specifically looking for digital nomads and expats who lead similar lifestyles to me. Most of the time we get to know each other through Facebook groups or other forums and platforms. In some cities, there are well-organized local groups of people who work from anywhere and hold regular meetings. For example, last April I was in Athens at a yoga class for digital nomads and various other events where I met many wonderful people. In May, in Split, Croatia, I met a nomad whom I had met through a Facebook group (according to the motto: “I am in Split, who else?”) and we went to a yoga class together. Just a few weeks ago I met up with her again, this time in Tokyo, Japan.
In October I was in Colombia for a conference for digital nomads, to hold a workshop on the mental health of digital nomads together with my colleague Melissa from Intentional Expat , whom I got to know online, of course. At the same time, I was able to meet many nomads, whom I had only known online before, in person and make even more new contacts. Some of them I have been able to meet again in different parts of the world since.
Events are certainly a very good way to get to know new people and I am determined to look for such opportunities again. In my “old” life at university and in the research, I was very often at congresses and conferences and always found it exciting to learn so many new things and at the same time get in touch with people so easily.
Last month, for example, I went to the Families in Global Transitions Conference in Bangkok, Thailand and met plenty of wonderful colleagues and other globally-minded people. I already met up with one of them for Brunch in Japan and am planning some more meetups – it’s really wonderful to know people all over the world and be able to visit them or catch up for a drink or meal whenever I am in the area they live in.
What about the locals? That’s why I travel, isn’t it?
Of course, I also get to know locals while I am traveling, but as beautiful and exciting as it is, the contact often remains more superficial. I love to learn things about the country and the people and to get to know new places together. But in many countries, for example, it is almost impossible to really explain to people what I do for a living or how I live. Psychologists and therapy are a very westernized phenomenon, and very few people in the world can afford to travel all the time. The longer I travel, the more important it becomes for me to make more intensive contacts with people with whom I am more connected and whom I can then perhaps meet again in another place in a few months.
Trainings and seminars
As a psychologist, it is of course important to regularly work on your professional education. I do some of my trainings online (where else?), but I also regularly link my visits to Germany to seminars and workshops, for example, in order to stay up to date and receive new impulses for my work. At the same time such events are a good way to make new contacts.
It often makes it easier to get in touch having a connecting element, like the profession and the interest in a topic. Whether new and more intensive friendships really develop from this is of course a different matter.
Making friends with friends
Another way to make contacts while traveling is to make friends with friends. But it is often the case that someone knows someone who is in the city where I am at the moment and brings us into contact with each other. So, in Antigua, Guatemala, last year I arranged to meet other digital nomads to work in a café and with someone else, I had several drinks in the evening. Some of them I saw again in Colombia in October at the conference, which I was really looking forward to. Because a few evenings together are very nice and can give you the feeling that a friendship could develop out of it, but of course something like this needs time to develop further.
One of my goals for last year was to read more and more regularly. Specifically, I have set myself the goal of reading a book every week. One measure that makes it easier for me to consistently pursue this goal is the online book club, which I joined at the beginning of last year. Every month we read a book and then discuss it during a 90-minute video conversation. All participants of the book club are digital nomads or work from anywhere and we always alternate between a novel and a non-fiction book. In fact, I liked the idea and its implementation so much that I founded another book club with a colleague who also works online as a psychologist, in which we read books related to our work together with other online psychologists. For example, recently we read the book “The Happiness Trap” by Dr Russ Harris. A book I recommended to many of my clients even before I read it myself. Last year I did advanced training with the author and I often use this form of therapy in my work. Both book clubs have a social function as well as a reading purpose, I meet with colleagues and friends every month for 90 minutes and discuss a book and a topic. Over the months, strangers and fleeting online acquaintances have become real friends.
This is how I as a digital nomad maintain social contacts and try to keep the balance between old and new friends, between online and offline contacts. What do you do to meet new people and keep in touch with old friends?