Feeling Lonely as A Digital Nomad? Stop Going to Meetups And Do This Instead

August 13, 2021
Illustration of a sad digital nomad, the world's map in the background

One of the reasons I became a nomad, is because I didn’t belong to my local community in Italy. In my hometown, I couldn't find people who shared my same mindset and values. So one day I decided to move to Bali, hoping to find my tribe there. And to my surprise, I did.

After many years living as a fish in a forest, I had finally found the ocean.

The Naive Nomad

Discovering the Digital Nomad community in Bali was exhilarating. I joined dozens of meetups, social events, and community lunches at the coworking spaces I worked from. In the span of a few months I met hundreds of amazing people.

Digital Nomads enjoying a community lunch at Outpost Ubud in Bali

The same happened when I moved to Lisbon, eight months later. For three months in a row I attended almost every Digital Nomad event in town: the Thursday meetups, the comedy nights, group hikes and more.

My nomad life had no shortage of social interactions. Yet oftentimes when I went home after a meetup or a social event, I still felt quite lonely. I was confused: why was it that, despite having found "my people", I still felt lonely?

After some reflection, I realized that my approach to social life was deeply flawed: I was naively trying to meet my need for emotional stability through many, short-term social interactions. And of course, that didn’t work.

That's something only a few, long-term friendships can provide. And those friendships take a lot of time and intention to be developed.

No matter how deeply you connect with someone, just because you shared a great hike or dinner together, it doesn't mean you'll be there for one another in the long-term.

Armed with this new insight, I completely change my approach to social life.  

Defining your tribe

If you want to feel connected and supported by friends in life, whether you are a nomad or not, you have to ask yourself: what makes good friendships?

In my experience, a good friendship is one which is:

Ultimately, in my opinion, good friendships creates healthy attachments. Attachment has a bit of a bad reputation these days, it sounds like you’re clingy and needy. But attachment simply means you can rely on your friends when you need it, and you take the responsibility to support them whenever they need it. And that’s a positive thing.

Two friends posing for a picturein front of a Balinese sculpture

Friendships that provide healthy attachments are the ones that will make you feel connected and supported in your journey. Therefore, you must learn to recognize them.

Personally, I did an exercise to identify which of my friendships met these qualities. I simply asked myself: Which friendship nurtures me the most? Who among my friends can I consider to be part of “my tribe”?

Basically, I applied minimalism to personal relationships: I prioritized the few relationships who I knew gave me the most value, as opposed to spreading my energy over many social interactions hoping that at least some would bring me value.

Once I identified and focused on the 3-4 friendships that made me feel the most loved, I stopped trying to build new ones from scratch all the time and my life shifted. I found the emotional stability I needed.

The Balanced Nomad

Since I did that exercise, I still meet quite a lot of new people on a regular basis. But now my approach it’s different.

Whenever I meet someone whom I could build a new friendship with, I do my best to water its seeds. However, I am well aware of how hard it is, and how much time and intention it takes. So usually I have low expectations and just enjoy social encounters as they come and go. I don’t expect that new people I meet will alleviate my loneliness. I feel strong in the fact that I already have a tribe.  

Three friends posing for a picture in the Douro valley in Portugal

Interestingly (and importantly), I also learned that I don’t need to share the same lifestyle with my close friends. In fact, almost none of them are nomads. We also don’t need to live in the same city to “feel close” to one another. We can nurture the relationship through voice messages, video calls and meeting offline whenever possible. The only thing that really matters is the quality of the friendship.

As the rise of remote work quickly disperses our communities, we need a new approach to preserve our mental and emotional stability. Making a distinction between the people in your tribe and "everyone else" is a key step to combat loneliness and make your nomadic lifestyle sustainable.


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