Social media and the traditional media often portray digital nomads as independent, adventurous remote workers and entrepreneurs working in exotic locations, ticking off travel buck lists, and indulging in a dream-worthy lifestyle. But there can be a downside to moving frequently between locations and spending months away from the people you care about.
You make friends only to leave them behind, you arrive at a new place without any social connections, and you may spend long periods of time alone.
Long-term travel and the digital nomad lifestyle definitely have the potential to be lonely. Luckily there are numerous ways to beat loneliness and cultivate general well-being (and happiness) during long-term travel.
Whether you are working remotely from another country, taking a break from your career on a gap year or sabbatical, studying abroad for a year, or exploring the digital nomad lifestyle, you’ll find actions in this list you can take to beat loneliness while traveling long-term.
Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist. This article is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical or other professional advice. You should obtain professional advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. Deskless Nomad makes no representations, warranties, or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete, or up to date. Please see the full Deskless Nomad Disclaimer.
Harness the science of psychology to improve your well-being
As a digital nomad, you can design your lifestyle with intention. The flexibility of remote work and location independence free you to make decisions that cultivate happiness, social connections, and a sense of well-being. There are things you can do to harness the science of psychology to improve your happiness and prevent loneliness.
Activities that allow us to connect with others, show kindness, and exercise our bodies have all been scientifically proven to improve well-being.
With this in mind, think about engaging in activities that allow you to connect with others, do good for others, and/or move your body.
It is important to remember that solitude and loneliness are not the same things. People who choose to travel alone or spend much of their time alone aren’t always lonely. The quality of your social interactions is going to be more important than the quantity so try to make intentional decisions about your social interactions to give them the most impact.
Find the right people to live with
Our surroundings play a key role in the types of behaviors we engage in and our subsequent well-being.
A key aspect of improving well-being and sparking happiness while traveling is choosing the right accommodations and living environment.
This may mean choosing to live with others in a shared living space or staying in a community with like-minded people. I’ll show you the many ways you can choose a living environment to prevent loneliness, even if you are an introvert.
Stay with a host family
One way to really immerse yourself in a culture and add the comfort of a home is to stay with a host family. Host families offer the opportunity to work on your language skills, eat local cuisine, learn about the culture, and get insider tips on things to do in the area. Meals can be included in the price of the room, freeing up your time to explore or work remotely. Homestays are also a great way to travel on a budget.
I’ve made life-long friends by staying with host families and I highly recommend them for solo travelers. You can find a host family through language schools or platforms such as:
- Language schools often offer to match you with local families for homestays
Sublet a room or share housing with someone looking for a roommate
Similar to host families, living with a roommate(s) can provide many benefits and easy friendships. Roommates may be more particular about their housemates than host families but if you find the right fit you can rapidly expand your local social network. A roommate who has lived in the area will already have local friends they can introduce you to.
Some platforms to look for sublets or apartment shares include:
Participate in a remote work program for working professionals and digital nomads
With remote work programs, you pay a monthly rental fee for a room in a house with other residents. The fee may cover some meals, curated activities, utilities, and access to wifi. You can stay a few weeks to a month or more in each location, rotating to different ideal locations. Some of these companies paused their services during the pandemic but many are restarting their programs.
For a few examples check out:
Check out the coliving movement
Coliving is a concept similar to a college dorm, but for grown-ups. It is a communal living arrangement in which residents stay in private bedrooms of a furnished house with shared common areas.
Many coliving spaces are targeted towards digital nomads who need a living environment conducive to conducting business. Common spaces in the house are designated as co-working spaces during certain hours of the day.
Coliving spaces are great for making friends and come with a built-in ready-made social life when a digital nomad arrives at a new location. Coliving is also a good way to reduce your carbon footprint when traveling since you will be consuming fewer energy resources when you share housing with others.
The coliving movement has really grown over the past decade and there are now many options around the world. Several coliving houses have joined a network to provide support and easy access for potential residents. One big advantage of coliving spaces is that by pooling resources, you can afford more luxurious accommodations that may come with amenities like high-end kitchens, pools, and large outdoor lounge spaces.
Check out Deskless Nomad’s guide to the best coliving spaces around the world.
Travel with others
Travel with family or friends
The easiest fix to avoiding loneliness while traveling long-term is traveling with someone else. Whether you choose to travel with a romantic partner, friend, or family member, traveling with others can increase your comfort and safety while in an unfamiliar country. But even when traveling with someone you know, you will still want to engage in activities where you interact with people outside of your travel group.
Have your friends or family come on vacation where you are staying
If you travel solo you can still coordinate travel time with friends or family. For example, as a digital nomad, you could choose a location like the Bahamas where you know your friends or family would enjoy vacationing. You can jointly book a vacation rental where you plan to stay together for a couple of weeks.
You can also coordinate time together with fellow digital nomad friends you’ve met on the road or invite your friends from back home to work remotely with you for a month.
Travel with a furry companion
While traveling with a dog can be complicated in certain countries, for others it can be quite easy, especially if your dog fits into a carrier that can be taken on the plane. Some countries, like New Zealand and Australia, have complex entry requirements and restrictions so you will want to research this well ahead of time.
People with dogs tend to talk more to people without dogs. When you travel with a dog you can go to dog parks and dog walking areas where you will encounter plenty of other dog people willing to spark up a conversation. If you create a routine so you do this at the same time each day, you’ll probably notice the same people out at the same time, increasing your chances of making social connections.
For tips on staying in Airbnbs with a pet, read Deskless Nomad’s Complete Guide to Bringing Your Dog and Other Pet to an Airbnb.
Find travel partners and new friends online
For some, using social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram can make loneliness feel worse. It is important to use social media sparingly and intentionally as a tool for beating loneliness.
Find new travel partners through online platforms
You can find travel partners ahead of time through various Facebook groups and online platforms. If you are on the road and want a change your can send a message to the group to see if anyone is in the city where you are to see if they want to meet up for coffee. Fellow digital nomads are often looking to connect with like-minded individuals.
For travel companions check out the travel companions section on Couchsurfing.
Find fellow solo female travelers on these Facebook groups:
Find fellow female travel companions on the Tourlina app.
Find fellow digital nomads on these Facebook groups:
Join the Nomadic Network, an online global community of travel enthusiasts.
Hostels are also great places to meet fellow travelers.
Join special interest Facebook groups
You can join Facebook groups to find new friends in local special interest groups before heading out on a trip. Especially if you participate in outdoor sports like mountain biking, rock climbing, surfing, skiing, etc, you can often find local Facebook groups to message.
You can say something along the lines of, “Hey, I’ll be living in the area for a month and I am looking for hiking partners or meetups.” You may be surprised at how quickly the locals will welcome you to join them. Try searching “ex-pats in…” or “hiking in…”
Find a Meetup group
Meetup is a free website you can use to find local hiking groups, hobby groups, or special interest groups. Start by choosing the country and city and then discover the groups available in your area.
Many places will have an English conversation exchange group where you can find locals interested in meeting up to practice English. You could then swap to practice speaking in the local language. You get a new friend and a free conversation lesson!
Couchsurfing.org also offers social meetup events. You can find events happening near you by going to your city’s Place Page.
Use a friendship app
Use the Bumble BFF app to find friends when you are new to an area. Bumble is more popular in North America while Badoo is more popular in Europe. FriendMatch is another good option for finding friends online and is used worldwide.
When setting up your profile for friendship apps, be as specific as possible about your interests and what you’re looking for in a friendship. The matching algorithms tend to favor positive language in profiles so consider listing the things you like and avoid listing the things you don’t.
Use a digital nomad dating app
If you are single and looking to meet other singles while on the road, check out Nomad Soulmates, a dating app for digital nomads.
Find friends through activities
When traveling long-term, there are numerous opportunities to engage in the types of activities that scientifically improve well-being. Digital nomads and newly arrived long-term travelers have fewer social obligations, giving them more time to try out new social groups and activities. Since travelers, by nature of traveling to new places, are already wired to try new things, they have an advantage in molding their behavior in real time.
By engaging in activities and setting goals that build better habits, you can improve your health and beat loneliness at the same time. Think about the things you enjoy doing and then make a plan to find ways to do them with new people you meet in each location.
Join local group exercise classes (CrossFit, aerobics, dance, martial arts, etc)
Search online for local group exercise classes. Try to keep a regular schedule of attending classes so you encounter the same people, increasing your chances of making meaningful connections.
Classes that require direct interaction with another person like salsa or Argentine tango, boxing, or martial arts are best. Dance classes where you constantly change dance partners (Irish dance, swing, Rueda de Casino salsa, clogging, folk dances) are especially good for meeting locals.
Take an art class or cooking class
Consider taking an art class like painting, drawing, pottery, or a local craft. It is easier to strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you if you are sitting next to each other for an hour. Art classes are great for releasing stress and you can continue to develop your skills by taking classes in various locations. Search online for art schools at your destination.
You can easily find a local cooking or crafts class through Airbnb Experiences.
Take a class at a local university
Some universities will allow members of the public to audit classes or attend lecture events. If you plan to be in one place long enough, you could also enroll in a class. Attending classes at a university is another way to extend your visa in some countries.
Attend a language school
Enrolling in a language school is one of my favorite ways to travel. You make friends with teachers and fellow students, have ready-made adventure partners since most other students are also seeking companions for exploring the area, quickly improve your language skills, learn about the local culture, and often have access to low-cost accommodation with families through partnerships with the language school. Many schools also offer organized excursions, dance and culinary classes, and other activities.
Check out: Go Overseas search tool for finding language schools and language immersion programs abroad
Meet the locals
Meet your neighbors
Wherever you stay, introduce yourself to your neighbors. Make a point of remembering their names and saying hello every time you see them. You may even find they invite you over for a coffee or a meal.
Frequent the same coffee shops and talk to the staff
One way to make yourself feel at home and make connections is to frequent the same coffee shops or bakeries. Learn the names of the staff and ask their opinion on the best local place for __(fill in the blank)__. Who knows, you may even get an extra free pastry on occasion.
Attend local religious services
If attending religious services is an important part of your life then consider continuing to do so while abroad. Your local church from back home may even have connections in the church at your destination.
Join a local sports team (like soccer) or go to the gym
Participating in a sports team is a great low-stress way to meet people. You are focused on an activity outside of making small talk which can make forming social bonds easier. We try to go to local climbing gyms or CrossFit gyms in every destination.
- CrossFit Affiliates Map
- Directory of indoor rock climbing gyms around the world
Check out the local surf spots, mountain bike park, or skate park
As with other sports, these hobbies are a good way to meet people while traveling.
Find friends through co-working or work exchange
Just because you work remotely doesn’t mean you need to work alone. You can still meet plenty of new people through your work.
Spend your workday in coworking spaces
Find a coworking space around the world through coworker.com. You can buy day, monthly, or yearly passes. Coworking spaces may offer many benefits such as:
- A private desk space or workspace
- High-speed wifi
- Printers and copiers
- Meeting rooms
- Stocked kitchens for coffee and snacks
- Opportunity to network and make friends through community events, entrepreneur accelerator programs, workshops, and mentorship programs.
Try a work exchange program to make immediate friends and get a free place to stay
Work exchange programs are a great way to travel on a budget (you get free accommodation), meet fellow travelers and locals, contribute to local community projects, and work on your language skills. Programs vary in length and work requirements. You can things like teach English, work on a farm, or help a small business set up a website, among other options in exchange for accommodation. These arrangements sometimes include meals too.
Check out coworking meetups
Coworking meetups are events that bring digital nomads and freelancers together to work in a social environment. While the focus is mainly on getting your work done in the presence of someone else who is working, doing so in a group allows for networking and getting to know other digital nomads.
Go on a coworking safari or coworking adventure
Meet other digital nomads through a safari or travel adventure that combines co-living, co-working, and co-traveling. These programs plan social activities and adventures around your working hours, helping you to stay productive while taking the work out of socializing and exploring.
Noma Collective offers a collection of popup co-working and co-living adventures that rotate to different locations around the world.
Choose the right destinations
Travel to popular digital nomad destinations
While digital nomads have the freedom to live and work from anywhere, there are several destinations where you are likely to find a higher concentration of like-minded remote workers. With countries introducing new digital nomad visa programs, the list of digital nomad hubs will grow. You can also check out some of the digital nomad villages around the world where remote workers gather to live and enjoy a particular kind of slow travel experience.
Check out my article on Digital Nomad Visas.
In general, places that tend to attract digital nomads have plenty of co-working and co-living options, affordable accommodation, good food, high-speed internet, and are easy to navigate without a car. Here are some popular cities for digital nomads:
- Chiang Mai, Thailand
- Bangkok, Thailand
- Lisbon, Portugal
- Medellin, Columbia
- Sofia, Bulgaria
- Split, Croatia
- Ubud in Bali, Indonesia
Stay in ex-pat communities
Certain countries and communities tend to attract ex-pats and are good places to meet other people who speak your language. There are often more opportunities for meetups and social groups in ex-pat communities. These areas are great for digital nomad families since they also tend to have school programs designed for foreign school-age students. Mexico, Costa Rica, Portugal, Ecuador, Vietnam, Australia, and Spain are examples of countries popular with ex-pats.
While ex-pat communities may feel safer for various reasons, remember there is a lot to be gained by immersing yourself in a new culture and getting to know the locals.
Start with places where you speak a common language
The exhaustion of trying to speak in an unfamiliar language all of the time is one of the many things I wish I had known about before beginning long-term travel.
If you are just starting the digital nomad or long-term travel lifestyle, you may find it easier to begin with a country where you speak the language. You could start with an English Speaking country like Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, Bahamas, Bermuda, Belize, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, or the UK.
Larger cities, university towns, and popular tourist destinations are also more likely to have a large number of English-speaking people.
Although there is comfort in staying in places where you can communicate in English, consider attending a language school as a way to enter a new country. You can attend classes for a couple of hours a day or just a couple of times a week. Language schools often have organized activities and provide housing with host families.
Find friends through experiences
Take a tour with a local guide
If you are newly arrived in the city, a great way to get your bearings and insider info on your new home city is to take a tour with a local guide.
Get Your Guide is an online site that connects travelers to local tour guides. This is also great if you are nervous about checking out the local tourist spots alone. You can find many affordable tourist activities with small groups in locations all around the world.
Try an Airbnb experience
You can also find local tour guides and tourist adventures through Airbnb Experiences. Airbnb offers a wide range of activities such as traditional local tourist tours to cooking, art classes, adventures like bush survival, hiking and camping trips, and safaris.
Check out my guide on How to Earn Miles on Airbnb to see how you can travel hack and earn miles on Airbnb Experiences.
Go to digital nomad conferences or retreats
Meet other digital nomads through digital nomad conferences like Digital Nomads World. Check out my article on the most inspiring digital nomad conferences scheduled in 2023. Or go on a trip with other digital nomads work and travel programs designed to make meeting and traveling with other digital nomads easier:
Cultivate well-being by designing your lifestyle with intention
Happiness must start with taking care of yourself. Design your lifestyle so that you eat a healthy diet, get plenty of sleep, and spend time in the sun. Learn to meditate and practice yoga to help manage your stress. Find a sense of well-being through participating in community gardens, hiking trail maintenance, or reforestation projects. People who regularly have contact with nature and green spaces have better well-being.
Spend your money on experiences rather than material goods. Luckily most digital nomads and long-term travelers already live a minimalist lifestyle. With only a couple of backpacks or suitcases, you have to be selective about what you collect on the road. By spending money purposefully on experiences instead of collecting material goods you will collect invaluable memories and friends along the way.
It does take some work to make social connections and improve well-being on the road but by turning these actions into regular habits, it will become easier. Choose your accommodations and living situation with purpose. The moment you arrive in a new city, seek out your new gym and classes, locate your new regular coffee shop, introduce yourselves to your neighbors, find meetups, join a local co-working space, and you will be well on your way to cultivating wellness and beating loneliness on the road.