How to Maintain Your Social Life on the Road
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How to Maintain Your Social Life on the Road

23. march 2023 · 6 minute

Guest post by Andy Sto 

Ask any digital nomad or person who moves around a lot for work what their biggest challenge is. The majority will tell you that it is dealing with loneliness and isolation. While you may be seeing and experiencing incredible things that you would never have believed possible, many remote workers who choose to travel feel like they lose human connections.

Research shows that social interaction is critical for our mental and physical health. When our social engagement is limited to superficial interactions, we can start to feel like we are coming apart, even if we don’t know why.

But what can you do to maintain your social life when you are on the road?

The first step is to recognize that it is a priority, and then take responsibility for putting in the time and effort needed to maintain your important connections. You also shouldn’t forget about forming new friendships with people where you are.

How exactly do you do that? Below are my top tips as a digital nomad for maintaining relationships with friends and family back home, and for making new friends where you are.

If you have a long-distance romantic relationship, you can read my thoughts on making long-distance relationships work as a digital nomad here.

Take Responsibility

Take responsibility for the fact that you are the one who is going to have to put in the effort to maintain connections with people back home. Don’t be surprised or get upset if close friends aren’t proactive about reaching out. This is normal and doesn’t mean that they don’t care.

Remember that you are the one who has changed the parameters of the relationship, and you are the one who is feeling isolated. When you are the person who hasn’t made the change, it is easy to stay preoccupied with the relationships where you are and not think to put in the same effort to keep in touch with distant friends.

So even if you feel like it is always you who has to call or get in touch, keep doing it, as it is not necessarily a reflection of your importance in the eyes of the other person. Plus, if you are genuine in your desire to maintain the relationship, you should be willing to give without necessarily getting anything in return.

Prioritize People

It might sound ruthless, but you probably don’t have enough time to keep in touch with everyone back home. You will probably need to choose which relationships are most important to you and focus on those.

We all have a friend who is happy to hop on a video chat for a couple of hours each night, but that doesn’t mean that you should always say yes to their call. If you only have limited time available for staying in touch with people back home, you need to focus on who is most important to you and not who is most available.

It can be useful to create a diagram of concentric circles and place the names of the people who are most important to you in the center, and least important at the edges. It is the people in the center that you want to spend time with one-on-one, while you might just use social media to stay in touch with the people on the periphery.

You might not feel good about the idea of prioritizing people. But remember, it doesn’t say anything about them as people, just where they sit in relation to you right now. Of course, their position may change over time for a variety of reasons.

Be Organized but Also Spontaneous

If something is important, you make time for it. You have probably heard this about hitting the gym, dedicating time to passion projects, and finding the space to meditate. The same goes for maintaining long-distance friendships. If it’s important, it can’t be an afterthought that you squeeze in whenever you have a spare moment!

Everyone has a preferred way that they like to communicate, and yours might be different for different people. Maybe you exchange long emails with your dad, lengthy voice calls with your mother, lively group chats with your best mates, and snail mail letters with your grandma. Carve out time to do things! Put it in your diary like an appointment you can’t miss.

But while you are actively scheduling keeping in contact as a priority, remember that it is the small things that show someone you are thinking of them that can count. Make a surprise call on their birthday. See something on the street that will make them laugh? Take a picture and send it. If someone is on your mind, do something spontaneous to let them know, even if it is just a quick text.

Ask Questions

If you are the one traveling, then you are probably doing lots of exciting things and you have lots to tell your friends and family back home. They are probably really interested too and have lots of questions for you. It is easy for an hour to fly by and for your conversation to have been innocently one-sided.

Even if your friend seems happy to focus on you, over time they will probably start to subconsciously feel that the relationship has become one-sided and pull away.

Avoid this by being conscious of this natural and understandable tendency. Actively ask questions about what is happening in their lives.

Use Social Media

We all know that social media is a useful but dangerous tool. It is a great way to keep in touch with a lot of people, but if we are too focused on it, we can become overly focused on superficial connections with distant connections and forget about the people who really matter to us. This is why it is important to do social media properly.

First, curate and selectively share your travel photos. No one wants to see 100 pictures of a sunset, no matter how gorgeous, or a thousand pictures of what you are eating, no matter how delicious. But posting selectively can be a great way to remind people what you are up to and encourage them to drop you a message saying, “that looks amazing, what are you up to?”

Keeping up with the social media of your closest friends and taking the time to comment on images and posts that show what matters to them is also a great way of showing people that you are invested in them, even when you are far away.

Make New Friends Where You Are

While the people whom you grew up with and you have spent years building connections with may always be among your most important relationships, it is important to develop relationships with people physically close to you. Face-to-face interactions, even relatively superficial ones, provide a type of social interaction that humans need for their well-being.

But it is not always easy to make new friends when you are traveling. Adults tend to have established social circles that are harder to break into than the social circles that exist among young people. Plus, the amount of time you plan to spend in a place and language can also be a barrier.

If you feel like you are the type of person who struggles to make new friendships, especially while traveling, consider some of the following strategies to make it a bit easier.

1. Choose Social Accommodation

While a private Airbnb might be better for your productivity, if you struggle to meet new people, consider spending at least some time in shared accommodation when you arrive at a new destination. This puts you in direct contact with other people who may also be looking to make new friends.

2. Use Coworking Spaces

Choosing to spend at least some of your work week in coworking spaces has similar benefits to shared accommodation, as it puts you in contact with people who are in a similar position to you. Swapping thoughts on what you are working on can be a great way to build a connection.

3. Join a Fitness Class or Interest Group

The key to new friendships is often seeing people with similar interests to you on a regular basis. People that meet regularly for a specific purpose, whether it’s to do yoga, dance tango, or organize charity events, are more likely to find new friends.

4. Speak Up

Most humans are creatures of habit, and we go to the same coffee shops, markets, and lunch spots regularly, and you are likely to see the same people when you go. Rather than minimizing your interaction with staff and other customers, make the effort to speak up. A question or a compliment is always a good place to start.

There are lots of other things that you can do, but just like with maintaining your relationships back home, the secret is mostly taking responsibility, making it a priority, and putting in the effort.

Often friendships just happen. You click with someone, and that’s it. But you have to put yourself in situations where that can happen, rather than isolating yourself.

It also means putting yourself out there. Ask someone for their number so you can hang out as friends, call someone and see if they want to do something with you, and invite people to be part of your life. This can be scary, and almost feel like dating! But just remember that you have nothing to lose.

Andy Sto is a digital nomad from Belgium. He helps companies thrive in their digital marketing strategies and build sustainable remote work strategies.


The views expressed in guest posts are solely the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of Flatio.

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