This is a two or maybe three-part series (because I have not decided yet) of tips to build relationships and meet people while on the road. Digital Nomads’ flexibility to travel around the world also creates one of their most significant challenges. The difficulty in building relationships (both romantic and otherwise) while moving around has been a common issue for digital nomads.
This first part will touch on how to meet people or fellow digital nomads while you are traveling.
Using social platforms to find or host events
The most common and recommended way to meet people is to attend events! The most common and international platforms for these are meetup.com, Facebook groups and Couchsurfing for travelers.
Some events where you might find international and local crowds are activities/talks held by coworking spaces, language exchanges, and travel groups.
Consider organizing your own event and see if anyone is interested in taking part! The key to action here is to know that you don’t necessarily have to organize something grand. It can simply be inviting people to try out a new restaurant together, cowork at a café, or even visit a nearby town/place of attraction outside the city together (Bonus: you might even be able to share transport cost!). These are simple stuff whereby you will probably even do it alone and are just extending the invitation for others to join you.
Look for more than nomad or expat groups. Find interest groups.
A common piece of advice to find digital nomads in a specific city is to search for nomads groups. These are already common in popular nomad hubs, but I expect more to pop up as the nomad community spreads.
However, I recommend expanding the search scope. When searching for Facebook groups, don’t just go look for expats, nomads, or backpackers. I find the best experience is to be able to meet both locals and foreigners. Search instead for interest groups locally. These groups often consist of both expats and locals.
In some of my favorite nomad destinations like Buenos Aires and Budapest, I have found foodie groups where I have met friends I’m still in contact with today. Great food needs great company. There are also sports groups in some cities where are great for active nomads. If you have other keen interests like music etc., try searching for interest groups within the town.
You are more likely to repeatedly attend group events that cater to your interest. Since it consists more of locals and expats, there is also a higher chance of meeting the same people again. Purely travel-related groups can get a bit dull after a while. A good portion of attendees also tend to be passing travelers, so you see new faces vs. meeting the same people. This is great if you want to meet many new acquaintances but less ideal if you want to build a friendship.
Join Group Classes/Activities
If you are staying for a while, consider taking some classes in your area of interest. This method is exponentially more effective when applied to activities that are already inherently community-driven.
For example, rather than working out by yourself at the gym, try going for Crossfit classes instead. Crossfit has a community element that makes it welcoming for newcomers, even if you are there for just a day. This makes it much easier for you to make new friends. Try attending classes at regular timing if you can, so you meet the same people. That’s another way you can build a stronger connection.
This can be applied to different interest classes, like cooking or sports. Essentially, the more interaction between participants, the better the chances of getting to know others. Worst case scenario, you will get to know the teacher/instructor while enjoying what you like and building your skills.
Frequent the same work locations
Coworking spaces and cafes are the 2 regular work locations for digital nomads. It is common to go back to the same coworking spaces since weekly or monthly passes are usually more worthwhile than daily/hourly passes. Coworking spaces are a great way to find working buddies or meet other locals or expats. Just make sure to check the ambiance beforehand. Some coworking spaces prioritize interactions, while others prioritize silence for work concentration. If you are looking to meet people, try to go for those that hold events frequently. Some coworking spaces also offer a trial for a few hours; you can take advantage of those. If you can, visit and get a feel of the place first. Don’t just sign up for a long term plan hastily.
When you frequent the same café for your caffeine dosage, magic happens. The staff who sees you regularly will start talking to you or remembering your preferences. This is particularly so if you choose to stick around and work in the café. This is a great way to interact and meet with locals. What beats a nice morning café? One that comes with a friendly morning greeting.
Just make sure the café is welcoming to people sticking around, and be considerate in NOT occupying the tables for work during peak periods when seats are scarce. Nomad responsibly :p
Switch up your accommodation options
I like to mix around my selections of accommodation options when I travel. For places where I am visiting for a short period, I like to stay in hostels. I still see myself as a backpacker more than a digital nomad. I love the energy from young travelers. This is especially great for places where you are hoping to find someone else to enjoy with. Hostels are great places to socialize and find travel buddies.
Booking.com and Hostelworld are my go-to’s for hostel bookings.
Sometimes, I would rent a private room on Airbnb if I like a local touch. It is often great to get to know local people who can share their stories and give you tips about the local area. This option is excellent for midterm from a few weeks to a month. This is also for places where I think it’s too expensive to have an apartment by myself (if so, I usually won’t stay for more than a month anyway). Sometimes the host will bring you out with his/her local friends, which is awesome.
Coliving spaces haven’t really been my accommodation of choice, mainly because I don’t use coworking spaces regularly. I prefer cafes myself but like to go to coworking occasionally and participate in events there. As such, I feel the extra cost of coliving spaces (which include the coworking area fee) might not be as worthwhile. However, having visited my fair share of coliving + coworking spaces, I can see that this is definitely a great place to hang out with other expats or digital nomads. You instantly find your groove to it. Coliving.com is a great space to start your search and see what’s available out there.
For long term stays, apartments will usually be more choice. You don’t get much interaction here within your living space and are limited to speaking to your neighbors if they are friendly enough. Don’t always count on it, though. You might also have luck finding apartments in a cluster house where you still get your privacy, but all the apartments are in a single compound. In that case, you may hang out with your housemates regularly.
Visit places with strong nomad or expat communities
The destination also determines how easy it is to find a like-minded community. A thriving expat and nomad community is a strong pillar towards a city becoming a nomad hub. An active nomad community makes the scene more vibrant, and you see more events happening.
Nomad hubs are definitely great cities to start with for first-time nomads who are nervous about the journey. They are also good bases to stick around when you start to feel mentally drained from being on the road. A community that appreciates your thoughts always help. There is this article where I have read about only long term travelers understand long term travelers.
If you wonder where these nomads hubs are, here are top cities for remote workers and digital nomads in recent years.
Join Nomad Trips
There are increasingly companies organizing Nomad Trips. These adventures can range from 2 week stays in a particular spot to month-long cruises to year-long trips moving from one city to another. The details and itinerary defer, but the underlying idea is simple. It is to get a group of digital nomads who will hang out together for a period of time. The organizer will handle logistical stuff like accommodation, transport, plan activities, etc. These trips often combine travel and networking, allowing nomads to tap on each others’ company and business expertise.
These trips come at a price, but some have found the experience to be really worthwhile. One thing for sure, great friendships have been formed on such adventures. Some of the companies in this space are WifiTribe, Nomad Cruise, and The Nomad Escape, each offering pretty different itinerary styles.
There are no strangers, only friends you haven’t yet met
An unforgettable part of travel is always the people you meet along the way. While there are spontaneous ways to meet people during short trips/vacations, building relationships as a digital nomad where travel is a constant state is a further extension of that.
In the next part, let’s look into how to maintain relationships while on the road.