The Secret to Making Friends as a Digital Nomad
The last time I saw Tanya, we were stomping through the dense, dark forests of northeast India, our flashlights catching on branches and shrubs as we searched for our patient. We crashed through the brush until we found a man splayed on the ground in agony, his legs covered in horrifying wounds.
Tanya began assessing him—my heart pounded in my throat, even though I knew it wasn’t real. Working together, we followed the protocol we had spent the last three weeks learning: all the way from sizing up the scene of injury to devising a treatment and evacuation plan. The scenario that night may have been staged, but the skills we learned were all too real.
Tanya and I met at the Wilderness First Responder Course three years ago, and finally caught up again this summer. We easily slipped into reminiscing about the course and making plans for the next time we’re together.
I had taken the WFR course to explore new job opportunities, but friendships like the one I have with Tanya are the reason I love learning new skills while living abroad. You don’t need to become a certified WFR to make friends: any sort of class can provide a natural container for fostering connections, plus they let you be vulnerable and a total beginner at something, which bonds you to people faster.
One of the best ways to make friends as a digital nomad is by learning new skills, but that doesn’t mean it’s not intimidating to try for the first time. It may even be difficult to find what interests you, but as a long-time first-timer I have some tips that can help you find your next calling.
What Are You Going to Learn?
If you’re already in-country, what is the destination known for that you’re interested in learning? If you’re in Thailand, you can scope out a Muay Thai gym or if you’re in Spain, you can sign up for a flamenco class.
If you’re not sure where you’re headed yet, try reverse-engineering it. Pick the skill, and then pick your destination based on that. You’ll get to learn something in a very good place to learn it, likely alongside flocks of other people who came to learn the same thing. Case in point: I’ve got a ticket booked to Morocco based solely on the fact that I can learn to surf there.
How and Where Are You Going to Learn It?
First, the “how.” My biggest tip is to make sure this group of yours meets more than once. Unless you’re the type who can make lifelong friends while waiting in line for coffee, it’s unlikely that you’re going to become BFFs with anyone after just a couple hours.
If you can, try to immerse yourself in the skill. I once did a 10-day silent meditation course in Nepal, and I still stay in touch with two women I met there. Even though we didn’t speak until it was over, we made an incredible bond because the experience was so intense. During the 10 days of silence, our friendship revolved around staring at mountains together and noiselessly screaming when we found jungle spiders in our beds.
As for figuring out the “where,” some of my tried-and-true avenues include Reddit threads, which can provide good leads on where people are going and what they’re doing for fun, or expat groups on Facebook. They can sometimes be crowded with memes and long-winded opinions, but the search feature cuts through extraneous stuff. Or, just make a post yourself and ask! However, the best method is to ask people in your destination. Airbnb hosts, friends who have been there already, the intimidatingly cool girl at the coworking space, hostel owners, you name it. The people know what’s up.
How to Make Friends as a Digital Nomad
Once you actually start learning that skill and trying to build connections, a great way to break the ice is to ask other attendees for help or advice when you struggle—you’ll flatter whoever you ask and improve your skill level all at once. Don’t be afraid to propose meeting up outside the regular hours. While studying Spanish in Mexico, I was part of a wonderful “chicas who chat” conversation group that evolved into a “chicas who go out for drinks and dancing.” Our Spanish acquisition may have stalled out, but the friendships are still going strong. Most importantly, don’t forget to stay in touch. Exchange phone numbers or follow each other on social media. Even if you don’t walk away with a new best friend, these people could end up being future travel buddies or nice acquaintances to have.
Keep At It
Over time, keep stretching outside of your comfort zone. No need to learn how to skydive in a foreign country right off the bat (unless that’s your vibe), but I do recommend dipping your toes into skills you’ve never considered before. It’ll open you up to new and surprising experiences, as well as connect you with people you would otherwise never cross paths with.
Katie Lemon is a nomadic sustainable travel writer. When she's not exploring or writing about eco-friendly destinations.
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