If you’re anything like me, you recognize the importance of community. There is nothing like getting off from a hard day at work, and having someone(s) who can empathize with the struggle that you just faced.
Now, the title of this article should probably be “how to make friends in a new city.” After all, that’s really what you’re doing as a digital nomad. You are often staying somewhere for a longer period of time, have to find someplace to live, and even think about health insurance.
Truth be told, I struggle with making friends. I am from a town of 700 people, attended a university with less than 1,500, and then moved to one of the largest cities in the world, Istanbul, for a week. Culture shock is real. (And as I write this, reverse culture shock is even worse.)
After reflecting on this experience in my new home, this is the guide I wish I had before I traveled abroad, before I moved to a big city, and started this life.
Table of Contents
Different Housing Options for Digital Nomads
When you first start traveling, one of the first ways in which you can have immediate community is by considering your housing options. Some, such as homestays, hostels, and co-living spaces (where everyone has their own private bedroom). Kit, a friend of mine, recounted her experience of moving into a co-living house. She was not a digital nomad, but the gist is the same.
“It was really nice to come home to a place that came pre–lived in. The pantry was stocked with that one spice you use two times a year for one dish. There was a row of appliances lined up on the kitchen counter: toaster, stand mixer, air fryer, coffee maker.
Someone else had already bought a 24-pack of toilet paper and a 12-pack of paper towels, communal goods that I would eventually pay for myself for the house, but one less thing I had to worry about. And for a bit (far longer than I’d like to admit), I didn’t know anyone outside of my roommates.”
So, here is a recap of some quick pros and cons of each housing option for digital nomads. However, for more information, please see 9 Different Housing Options for Digital Nomads.
Pros: Private room, Cost Saving
Cons: Cannot control the people you live with, Cleanliness, Sharing literally everything
Other Things to Think About: Internet Bandwidth
Pros: Support a local, more ethical side of short-term rentals, Own Bed
Cons: Privacy, Location to tourism sites, Spotty Wifi
Other things to think about: Does this home-stay include access to a kitchen? How did I meet this person?
Pros: Cheap, Built-In Community
Cons: Quality of Sleep, Wifi (In my personal experience0
Other Things to Think About: Wifi
Pros: Chain Standards, Plenty of Reviews, Quality Control, More Ethical
Cons: Isolation, Typically Expensive, Lack kitchens
Other Things to Think About: Isolation, Breakfast
Pros: Cheap, Space, Access to Kitchen, Payment
Cons: Short-term housing depending on contract length, Difficult field to enter
Other Things to Think About: Location, Responsibilities
Short-Term Rental Apartments (Including AirBnB’s)
Pros: Housing Equipped with Kitchens, Privacy to get work done
Cons: Gentrification, Cost, Potential Support Issues, Cleaning Fees
Other Things to Think About: Privacy & Security
Pros: The Ultimate Freedom
Cons: Sleeping in Parking Lots, Space, Wifi, How can I keep things charged, Smell
Other things to think about: How can I keep my space organized?
Participate in Work Exchanges
This section could be lumped into the lodging category, but I felt like it deserved its own section.
What are Work Exchanges?
Work exchanges are where you work. In exchange for your labor (hopefully no more than 15-20 hours per week), you receive free housing.
In my opinion, there are occasionally reasons that work exchanges are not worth the cost. It might be that you can make more money working a menial job online, or maybe you are so far away from everything it keeps you from taking advantage of your environment. (Imagine working on a farm but you don’t have access to a car. In essence, you’re trapped until the program is over!)
What type of work exchanges are the best for meeting people?
If you are a digital nomad, there are a few options that I recommend. First up, look at volunteering at a hostel or group home. You don’t necessarily have to use WorldPackers or Workaway, and instead ask around if you have been staying someplace you like.
Second, another great way to meet people while volunteering is teaching. More than likely, places are looking for in-person English teachers, and they will have multiple positions open at a time.
How to find work exchanges?
- Workaway (The OG Work Exchange Program)
- World Packers (The one I have used. Positive experience.)
- WWOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms): This is geared towards volunteering on farms.
Free Walking Tours
I know for budget travelers, free walking tours are a staple. However, you probably did not realize that this is also a great way to meet people! Walking tours, depending on your location, could happen every single day with multiple tour operators.
They don’t attract a specific demographic, which creates a well-rounded experience. And unless the tour guide is talking all of the time, there is going to be plenty of dead space to strike up a conversation.
How do walking tours work?
You can find out about walking tours from either your lodging accommodations, or just type in “walking tours in XYZ city.” Typically, you will meet as some prominent landmark around the city, and go! Expect to walk between 3-5 miles over uneven terrain.
Even if you are not a digital nomad and relocated to a city. Walking tours are a great way for you to get to know your new home, faster!
We all have to eat. What’s better than A) Eating awesome food with strangers & B) Learning how to cook something new. Cooking classes are a staple in my travel itineraries if available. (It all started in Ukraine….) However, they are a lot of fun for someone who doesn’t know how to cook. (me) This isn’t an episode of your favorite cooking show with a British judge yelling and you, as they are typically more of a classroom environment.
What makes a great cooking class:
- Smaller Classrooms (less than 16)
Smaller classrooms means more socializing with other classmates.
- Look for quality reviews of the teachers
The teachers will single handedly affect your cooking class experience.
- Cooking class specialized in local cuisine
Did you really go to Italy to learn how to make an English breakfast?
Conversations with Random Strangers
Even a five-minute conversation can make the worst of days better. Sometimes, you are going to need it, too. (In Turkey, I went over a day without talking to anyone, and it was not a fun experience.)
Some people are afraid of starting conversations due to safety. However, it’s safer than most would think. If you start a conversation, it forces the other people to react instead of act. (When I told one person this. They called it changing the power dynamic.)
There are two opportune times to start conversations with random strangers.
#1 Long-Haul Public Transportation
Unfortunately, public transportation does not provide many opportunities for conversations. Instead, opt for conversation on things such as buses, trains, and planes. You never know when an Aramco Media Executive is setting next to you.
#2 Why Do People Visit That Town?
This might be a shock, but you were not the first person to discover that small town in Tuscany. So, harshly examine your current environment.
- What attracted you to that city?
- What are the popular tourist sites?
More than likely, you will be able to find people at these places.
For example, I live in the DMV area. If I wanted to go have a conversation with strangers, I would head to National Mall.
This next section is dedicated to online applications. Sometimes, these will not work. So, you will just need some persistence.
Everyone’s favorite (and now least favorite) social media app. Instagram’s original design was a grid-by-grid section with a comments feature. Stories, IG Reels, Filters, and the BeReal feature didn’t exist.
Now, although it’s indistinguishable from other sites, it is still the GOAT in regards to community. (TikTok is a bit toxic, and Facebook is somewhat dead.) There are three ways to meet people on Instagram, and then actually meet up in real life.
#1 Research influencers or popular accounts in that city.
By researching influencers and pages, you may not be engaging directly with them. Instead, you will be looking at creating a community in the comment section. So, comment on 10 different accounts and see what happens. I highly doubt that most people will mind.
#2 Sliding into People’s DM’s
This one feels a bit more personal, but it’s important to not feel ignored if they don’t respond. People are very busy, and if a stranger approaches them on the internet, not everyone is going to respond. However, you never know until you try.
#3 Use your Own Posts to Solicit Information
If you don’t want to reach out on other people’s posts, you could always post something on your own page. If you don’t have a lot of followers, the way to do this (and guarantee a response) is by making sure you use the right hashtags.
Meet-up.com & Couchsurfing
Meet-Up.com & Couchsurfing are community-driven platform where people can host their own meet-ups.
Let’s use New York City as an example.
What’s really nice about this feature is that you can search by event, group, keyword, location, and even the day.
Whenever digital nomads start planning their calendars, this makes it easy to judge which events they can attend.
This is just another one of those, “You need to know what to search for it to pop-up.” So, here are a few suggestions as you search for it on Reddit and Facebook groups
[Digital Nomad] + [city]
[Expat groups] + [city]
[Expat groups] + [country
[City] + [Meet-Ups]
[Backpacker] + [City]
Online Dating Apps
Online dating apps, for some, are great. If it works out well, you might get a local experience and travel guide.
Other travelers swore off them during their first adventure. (As evidenced by the horror stories below.)
Either way, to me, it is apparent that paying for the premium service is worth the cost. This will allow you to set your location to the next spot BEFORE you are actually on the move. Now, not all dating apps (such as Hinge) have the same number of users, which is why I suggest (if you’re going down this route) Tinder. It’s the most downloaded dating app of all time.
How to stay safe on online dating apps
World Embark does not take any blame, fault, or any notice for any bad experiences for downloading dating apps. By downloading those apps, you are taking on your own risk and will not hold World Embark liable for any damages.
Dating App Horror Story
Sometimes, there are going to be dating app scams. When I was in Ukraine, I saw this first-hand happen to a Flemish friend of mine.
He met someone on Tinder, which was a red-flag to some of the travelers. And before he went, we warned him about possible Tinder Scams. She had suggested the location, and he had happily obliged.
After drinking, she ran off. He was handed a several-hundred euro bill, but he actually refused. So, instead, they beat him up, held a gun to his head, and he still did not comply. Now, this person was not a small man by any means, and they eventually let him go after the ATM rejected his card. He made the police report, etc. etc. However, they never found the person again.
I don’t want to scare you off, but this is actually eerily similar to another popular bar scam
Bar Scam #2
Somebody approached you on the street. (This happened to me in Istanbul. No, I didn’t fall for the scam.) They invite you to a nearby bar, and say something to the extent of, “This first one is on me.” Then, halfway through the evening your favorite friend disappears. You are then left with a large tab.
Whenever you pick a digital nomad job (or if you have a remote-first option), you will need to think about your ideal working environment. Some people enjoy crowds and the accountability that a coffee shop or library brings, other people (me) need absolute silence with no distractions, and most people are somewhere in-between the two.
So, to pick which works best for you, try a co-working space. By connecting with other digital nomads (They’re in the co-working spaces, trust me.), you’ll meet people and learn about work productivity, digital nomad tips, and other things.
Even if you’re not a digital nomad, you should still try a co-working space! They’re a great way to get to know local entrepreneurs and other professionals in the area.
What characteristics make a great co-working space?
1.Different variety of seating options
Sometimes you are going to want to sit at a table, other times you will want to sit on a lounge chair.
2. Coffee & Tea Bar
This is where the hub of the social scene in coworking spaces. Bonus if this is free.
3. Someplace to take quiet calls
You might be able to plan your day around meetings. However, you never know when someone is going to need to schedule an impromptu meeting.
4. Fast Wifi
1 Gigabyte Per Second is the minimum. You are not going to be the only one using the bandwidth, so you need to make sure there is enough for anyone.
Carry a football (soccer ball)/cards
You don’t necessarily need to carry a football or cards everywhere you go. A game of any sort will do. However, you need to pick a game that is easily teachable or played around the world.
Why do I recommend carrying a soccer ball?
My love for soccer is a recent phenomenon. (So much so, my first professional football match was only a year ago).
Scoring a goal is not impressive, but rather the way the sport encapsulates community. During the World Cup, there are millions of people flocked around their television screens cheering for their countries.
It’s amazing to see the way the sport is played. And although the style of plays differ, the game is still played the same way. 🙂
Carry a Polaroid
This is all dependent on your comfort level. (And if you think it’s creepy or weird.) If you’re like me, you will want to be keeping a portrait series for your photography portfolio. So, sometimes you will want to give somebody something in return.
I have had the oddest of experiences when I am carrying a camera, as somebody always wants me to take a picture of them. Do they want me to send it to them? No, they just want me to take their photo and show them.
The Problem with Carrying a Polaroid around the World
Whenever I think about carrying a polaroid camera around the world, I don’t think about the durability of the film or camera. (You cannot expose either to extreme temperatures.) Instead, I am worried about purchasing film. Just make sure that you pick a popular item, as you should be able to purchase the film and have it mailed to you.
Keep Up with Your Contacts
You will never know when you will meet people again, so keep people in the loop with your travel plans. (And ask them to keep you in the loop with theirs, too!)
Other travelers might have already been to your next destination, and have some contacts in the area. (Or some great food recommendations!)If you stay on the road long-enough, you could end up in your friend’s hometown. Travel has a funny way of taking you on unexpected adventures.
Arrange Your Own Meet-Ups!
I hope this post helped you feel empowered for your digital nomad journey! Things are going to turn out for the better, and you are going to do great.
If you ever get to the point and feel confident enough, think about hosting your own meet-ups! Promote it on Facebook, Meet-Up.com, or even do it at a local hostel! You don’t need to be an influencer to host events!
If you do end up having a meet-up, please tag me on IG. I would love to see the pictures!
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