When searching for the perfect remote work destination, the existence of a digital nomad community is key. It’s why the most popular digital nomad destinations places are all locales that are filled with digital nomads. Naturally, people thrive in communities, so it’s no surprise that we instinctively seek out places filled with people with lives we can relate to—but what if I told you that it was possible to find community as a digital nomad, even if there aren’t very many (or any) other digital nomads around?
I found this out firsthand when I set out to nomad solo in Pakistan, which is far from a digital nomad hotspot. Yet it was in Hunza Valley, a remote region in the country’s mountainous north, where I built myself a fulfilling base that now fully feels like home.
If you’re wondering how this can be in a place with only a handful of foreigners never mind foreign nomads, think of this. Wherever you go, there are always interesting people to meet. As much as we all love to gravitate towards digital nomad hotspots, the reality is that as wonderful as places like Bali, Thailand, and Portugal are, you don’t need to stick to popular destinations to be socially fulfilled as a remote worker. By embracing the local community around you, you’ll soon realize that you can thrive as a nomad anywhere that has an internet connection.
This is exactly what I did in Hunza. I moved slowly, putting myself out there and practicing my language skills, and within a few months made solid connections with people who shared my interests and values. Combined with a fiber internet connection, this has made for the most perfect home base I could imagine as a nomad—even with hardly another foreigner in sight.
So whether you’re spending a few months in a new city or moving to a remote mountain destination about which limited online info exists, there are undoubtedly friends and colleagues to be made. Here’s how to make friends on the road, no matter where in the world you end up.
When you first start living the digital nomad lifestyle, it can be easy to get caught up in visiting as many new countries or cities as possible, which means shorter stays. It’s good fun at first, but eventually, a fast travel pace won’t help you find community. Instead, try staying still for a bit.
Staying in one place gives you more time to discover your destination and it might even allow you to meet someone you never would have if you had rushed through a region in a day or two. This is exactly how I both fell in love with and built my community in Hunza: I stuck around.
Aside from being better for your overall work-life balance, going slow is the foundation on which real community is built. While everyone’s definition of slow travel is different, if you’re seeking meaningful relationships, one month is a great duration to plan for, though three to six months is ideal to really understand what it’s like to “live” wherever you are.
Learn the Language
Learning the local language will unlock another level of living abroad that you otherwise wouldn’t even know exists. While English speakers often have the privilege of some level of communication practically anywhere, there’s nothing quite like speaking to people in their native language. After my first visit to Pakistan in 2019, when I was just dipping my toes into nomad life, I became determined to learn Urdu, the national language. This was truly one of the best decisions of my life. Not only did it give me the courage to travel back to the country solo in the first place, but it’s allowed me to connect with so many more people, especially those in remote areas where English is less common. These days, technology makes language learning easier than ever. But if you’re already based in the destination, hiring a local teacher is even better.
Talk to People
While it might seem obvious, the easiest way to meet and befriend locals is to just talk to them! Whether you’re at a bar, park, market, or anywhere in between, opportunities to chat with people will always present themselves. For me, this location happened to be an under-construction cafe where a bunch of locals were hanging out at. While some destinations tend to be “friendlier” than others, you can meet people anywhere if you simply put yourself out there. The more people you talk to, the more your local language skills will improve, too.
Go Where Locals Go
If you find yourself in a city without any of the classic digital nomad infrastructure—like laptop-friendly cafes and coworking spaces—don’t stress. In most places, you could still make your first friend within a day by finding the local hotspots. Whether it be a park popular on weekends or that hole-in-the-wall shop said to serve an incredible breakfast, it’s the non-touristy favorites are the best places to meet new people. In Hunza, this takes the form of sporting events, soup shops and cafes, and in the summers, a high-altitude salt lake. By doing this, you’ll also be supporting local businesses, which is especially important in developing cities and countries.
Use Social Media
For digital nomads, social media can be an invaluable tool, especially if you’re finding it hard to meet people in person. Facebook in particular is filled with hyper-specific location-based groups that can and do lead to genuine connections every day. In the past few months alone, I’ve connected with numerous travelers that were passing through Hunza, and all were people I had initially met through a Backpacking Pakistan Facebook group.
With so many categories, which means you should definitely be able to find some like-minded folks to meet up with. Join as many that fit, and be on the lookout for any events or meet-ups in your area. You can also use social media to find, follow and connect with organizations or clubs in your area.
Respect Cultural Norms
Depending on where you’re nomading, you might be faced with a culture that’s very different than your own. Remote work allows us to experience the world in ways those with office jobs simply cannot. But in order to truly embrace your new home, it’s imperative to make attempts to understand and emulate the culture around you.
For me in Pakistan, this mostly means dressing modestly. As a foreigner, you might not be expected to conform exactly to local standards, but simple things like the clothes you choose to wear and how you behave in public will go far. Showing respect towards societal norms is a simple but powerful way of integrating into a community. You don’t want to be one of those remote workers that treat their hometown like a theme park.
Always Be Open Minded
If you want to immerse yourself in a new culture, you have to be up for whatever and eager to try new things. People, preferences, traditions: some may surprise you, but only because they’re new. If you open yourself to cultural immersion, what might seem foreign at first will soon become second nature. In my adopted home, the mother tongue is a rare language known as Burushaski. At first, I just wanted to focus on Urdu as it seemed like Burushaski was simply too hard and lacked written resources. Yet after I decided to really listen to conversations even when I couldn’t understand, I’ve found that in just a few months my listening skills have improved tenfold. That’s not to say you shouldn’t leave if you’re not vibing with a place or it’s norms. But if your new city is one you want to get more out of, getting out of your comfort zone is always the way to go.
Samantha Shea is a freelance travel writer and blogger who was born and raised in the US and is now based in Hunza Valley in Northern Pakistan.
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