I’ll be honest. To have the freedom to be able to live and work from anywhere in the world is pretty amazing.
But that freedom doesn’t come without its drawbacks. One major downside to the digital nomad lifestyle is the disconnect that can result.
Moving to a foreign land, not knowing anyone, you might feel lonely or isolated from the community that surrounds you. Working in a totally different time zone and lacking face-to-face interaction, you might struggle to communicate with team members. Being so far away, you might find it difficult to stay in touch with friends and family members.
But don’t give up just yet. Because I’ve got some ideas on how you can stay connected—with your local community (wherever that may be); your team members; and your loved ones.
Stay Connected With Your Local Community
When you arrive in a new city (especially by yourself), it can feel a bit overwhelming. Where should you stay? How can you make friends?
If you can, do some research beforehand and find out the ideal neighborhoods to stay in. Try to find housing that is centrally located. The rent will be a bit more expensive, but probably worth it in the end. If you are staying on the outskirts of the city or suburbs, it can be easy to feel disconnected from the outside world.
I’ll give you this example: After finishing college, I moved to the south of France to teach English for what ended up being (an unforgettable) two years. I moved there not knowing a soul and with some very rusty high school French under my belt. Even though I elected to live in Toulouse (the fourth largest city in France and the second largest university city in the country), the schools that I taught in were located in a tiny town about an hour and a half from the city. While the other Chilean teaching assistant at my schools chose to live in that small town, I decided to live in Toulouse and commute by train on the days that I had to teach.
While it ended up costing me (a lot!) more money to live in a bigger city and commute, I never regretted my decision for a second. Why not? By living in Toulouse, I was able to make a whole network of friends from around the world, ones who I would have never met if I had lived in that tiny town. More socializing also meant that I was able to improve my French on a daily basis (something which, for obvious reasons, didn’t really happen while teaching English!).
So yes, location really is everything. If you are in the heart of the city, you will be much more inclined to go out and meet people, and it will be far easier to feel connected with the community around you.
Once you’ve found a place to live, it’s time to get out there and mingle! Thanks to the Internet, social interaction is always just a click away now.
When I first moved abroad for the first time, I stopped in Munich, Germany for Oktoberfest, on my way to France. I had never met anyone through the Internet before, but a fellow teaching assistant told me about this website called Couchsurfing, where I could stay (for free) in the house of a local. My first reaction was: What?? You sleep in the house of a total stranger?? Needless to say, I was quite skeptical and hesitant of the whole thing.
But I ended up taking the risk and doing it (all of the hotels and hostels were booked, and it was pretty much my only option at the time). I fortunately found a German guy who was willing to host me (most Couchsurfing hosts do not host people during Oktoberfest) and guess what? I had the time of my life (probably one of the best weekends of my life…so far anyway!).
My host, Sebastian, and I still stay in touch and have even seen each other twice since then, in other cities around the world. Not only did this adventure allow me to experience Oktoberfest with a local and see Munich through a local’s eyes, but I also made a friend out of it.
Couchsurfing has become much more than just a hospitality service; it’s also a great way to meet locals in whatever city you may be in. Try posting in one of the forums and say that you are looking to meet people—this is how I ended up meeting one of my Australian friends in Rio and an Italian friend in LA. Couchsurfing tends to be a community of open-minded travelers, so it’s a surefire way to meet other people who share your love for traveling.
Take advantage of networking events in the town or city that you’re in. Internations holds paid networking events for its community of expats. Facebook also has groups for expats in nearly every city around the world. The only problem with meeting people through Internations events and Facebook expat groups? You’re meeting other expats. Meeting locals is definitely harder, but not impossible.
Check out the get-togethers on Meetup and find a meetup that suits your interests. Traveling somewhere? Share a ride with someone via the carpooling service, BlaBlaCar, instead of taking the train or bus. I did this in France several times, and on one of my journeys, I ended up hitting it off with the driver, who became one of my good friends!
Looking to meet other productive individuals? Join a coworking space. Looking for an activity? Take a cooking or dance class. Attend a language exchange. Explore the city with a local by taking a tour through Vayable. Or eat with a local through sites like EatWith or Cookening.
The ideas are endless.
Stay Connected With Your Team
When you’re on a different time zone than the rest of your team members or clients, it can be hard to stay connected.
But hey, that’s what technology is for! At SUCCESS agency, we all communicate via the chat application, Slack. When we are logged in, we are “in the office” so to speak.
We also all try to stay on (relatively) the same schedule. Take our CEO, Avin, for example. He is currently in New Zealand (which is 18 hours ahead of East Coast time or the time that the team works on). So he stays up all night and sleeps during the day, in order to stay on the same time zone and schedule as everyone else.
Now, I’m not saying you have to stay up all night in order to stay plugged in with your team. But if you’re constantly working on completely different time zones than everyone else, communication can be difficult. Aim to find at least a few hours of overlap with everyone you are working with, even if it means sacrificing a fun party from time to time or rearranging your schedule when need be.
At SUCCESS agency, we all meet on Google Hangouts each morning, where we talk about everything from company policies and procedures to a fun thing that someone did the night before. Avin recommends that teams have “regular rhythms of connection,” whether that’s connecting once a day or once a week. Even just a few minutes of daily face-to-face interaction can go a long way towards making the whole team feel more connected.
Working remotely means that effective and proper communication is more crucial than ever. Give your team regular updates on tasks that you are assigned. And since all communication is virtual, and much of it is done via messaging, try to express yourself in writing as best as possible. If you are excited about something that happened, use explanation points! Don’t hide it. If you are not happy with someone for whatever reason, don’t be passive or beat around the bush—be direct and say how you feel.
With virtual communication, you won’t be able to convey body language or facial expressions (unless you’re on a video call), so learning how to express yourself through the written word is paramount to good communication of remote teams.
Stay Connected With Friends & Family
As a digital nomad, you are inevitably going to miss out on baby showers, weddings, and birthday parties back home. It’s just the reality. For some, distance can be a relationship-killer; some people are great about keeping in touch, while others struggle with it.
The good news is that, with technology these days, there are ways to remain connected to your loved ones back home (or around the world). It just requires a little two-way effort.
Well-seasoned travelers are probably all quite familiar with Whatsapp, a data-based messaging app that allows its users to communicate with anyone around the world, free of charge. In addition to texting, Whatsapp even allows for phone calls and video calls. Personally, Whatsapp has been a lifesaver for me in terms of communicating with my friends and family (while at home and abroad).
Want to keep your U.S. number? Google Voice to the rescue! You’ll be charged a one-time $20 fee to move your number to Google Voice, and from there, you’ll be able to use it abroad (but only over a Wifi connection). Just be sure to move your number over to Google Voice before leaving the States—it won’t work abroad.
Finally, if you don’t already have one, consider starting a blog and sending weekly updates to your closest friends and family. Just try not to make them too jealous when you’re regaling them with stories of your recent jaunt to Tanzania or Moscow…
Staying connected as a digital nomad really comes down to two things: a little effort and decent Wifi. That’s about all there is to it.
Now…what was that drawback of the digital nomad lifestyle again?