Is Loneliness Damaging Digital Nomads? (Is It Lonely Being A Digital Nomad?)

Are you thinking of embarking on a Digital Nomad journey? A non-stop world tour full of exotic locations and exciting experiences, working online and spending your free time exploring. It sounds idyllic but no lifestyle is all rainbows all the time. Digital nomads have their own set of challenges and problems! Is loneliness one of them? This article will discuss the problem of loneliness in the digital nomad community and answer the question, is it lonely being a digital nomad?

We don’t all feel lonesome but for some Digital Nomads travelling alone, life can be lonely, especially if you work for yourself, don’t go back home often or find it difficult to make friends.

But would you be lonely on your digital nomad journey? And is Loneliness really that big a problem in the digital nomad community? Read on to find out!

Table of Contents

Loneliness and The Digital Nomad

Loneliness brings with it a whole host of mental and physical problems. On the less serious side, studies have shown that loneliness leads to a less active, more sedentary lifestyle. It seems that one of the things being other people encourages, is movement and activity.

On the more serious side, there is strong evidence linking loneliness to severe depression and even suicide.

“Hawkley points to evidence linking perceived social isolation with adverse health consequences including depression, poor sleep quality, impaired executive function, accelerated cognitive decline, poor cardiovascular function and impaired immunity at every stage of life.”

Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B , Vol. 370, No. 1669, 2015 

Maintaining your health as a digital nomad or remote worker is really important. The question remains however, are digital nomads any more lonely than everyone else?

A Subreddit titled Want to be a DN but it seems lonely? with 56 comments and 83% upvote rating seems to suggest we are.

Here are the three most up-voted comments on that thread:

“I personally found it lonely and ended up settling down in my home city.”

“Many nomads are lonely.”

“You can be constantly surrounded by people, but not by those who know and love you. I’ve returned home often from long term travel because I want a hug from my sister or to have lunch with some friends.”

But why are digital nomads feeling lonely?

The Work Life Of Digital Nomads Is Demanding

Lonely Digital Nomad Working

Remote work is like a dream come true for many first timers, throwing off the shackles of the office and the 9-5 grind may be the motivation behind becoming a digital nomad. More than just a virtual office escape or short-term virtual retreat, saying sayonara to the boss is exhilarating. Regardless of your destinations, what do there for work will have a huge effect on how lonely you will feel.

If you intend to keep your current job but have agreed with the company to work remotely, the familiar work along with communicating with the same colleagues will help avoid some loneliness. Having some familiarity will go along way when you suddenly find yourself in a new world. Also maintaining frequent digital communication with people you already know well and who probably want to hear all about your travels is a great substitute for all the friends you may have left behind.

If you work for yourself or are starting something new, it may take more effort to keep the loneliness at bay. Many people dream of giving up their 9-5 and starting a travel or lifestyle blog to support them on their nomad journey. And although there are many challenges that come along with that, one of the most often overlooked challenges is the lack of colleagues.

Writing blog posts or other digital content often means being sat alone with nothing but the smell of coffee and sound of fingers on the keyboard. It might sound like your dream job at first but working alone so much can take a toll after a while. Coworking offices can help and I’ve always believed that the real reason we are drawn to working in cafes isn’t for the coffee (which we can make at home) it’s for the company.

When ever I’ve felt like I’m missing home, thinking about old friends and family, I wander down to the nearest cafe. The sound of coffee cups rattling on an espresso machine, the quiet hum of an unintelligible language and whooshing sound of a steam wand frothing milk are all reminders that no matter how far from family or friends you may be, you’re not alone.

The Cultural And Linguistic Barriers Digital Nomads Face

women, girls, talking-2586042.jpg

Once you’re over the honeymoon period, the first couple of weeks when you want to see tourist sights and try all the local specialties, you start to see how lonely you’re going to feel in that place. No matter how amazing somewhere may be or how crystal clear the water is, if no one there speaks your language or if the culture is incompatible with who you are loneliness is going to creep up quickly.

There is a huge digital nomad community based in Chiang Mai, Thailand, why? For one it has that exotic feel, it’s warm but there’s also 711, cafes and bars etc. Everything that a young person might want or expect to find. Contrast that with China when I first came, I couldn’t buy bread or milk and most people didn’t know the difference between butter and cheese.

More important than the surroundings and what you can buy is the actually being able to communicate with people. Can you speak the language? Is there a community of people there that can speak your language?

You can find English speakers in most places with a large population now without even searching but not everywhere. Seeking out expats and other nomads will guarantee you someone to talk with. In fact, finding someone who has similar life experiences is the best way to make friends and avoid feeling the loneliness. Being a foreigner in the same country is a great shared experience that brings people together. I’ve made countless friends simply because they understood what it was like being away from home.

Personality Affects The Life Of Digital Nomads More

Why is it that some digital nomads feel unbearably lonely after just a few months and others barely get homesick even after years? Personality is a big factor.

Introverts have a hard time approaching new people, they have a hard time making new friends. Rather than going out to meet people at the beach or at an expat bar, they find themselves staying in, spending more time online which can fuel the feeling of loneliness.

Extroverts on the other hand need that social interaction, it gives them energy and they’ll do anything to seek it out. They strike up conversations on trains with people even if they don’t speak their language, they offer a seat at their table when the cafe is busy and get to ask everything about them over coffee. An extrovert will make friends where ever they go, they are people magnets

Travel With Someone You Like For A Less Lonely Trip

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There is nothing in the digital nomad handbook that says you have to travel solo. Obviously you’re less likely to feel lonely if you are travelling with someone.

I’ve met plenty of couple that nomad together. Having that special someone to share the digital nomad lifestyle with can be the best experience you can imagine but you it doesn’t have to be a partner that you travel with.

After having lived in Asia for many years, I managed to convince my best friends from back home to pack his bags and start a digital nomad journey. We started off living and working in China, but slowly made our way to other countries like Thailand, Taiwan and India.

Even though we never actually lived together in the same building, having him there to visit The Shaolin Temple, the beach or just to grab a bite to eat was great to have. He continued travelling, going to South America, The United States and Europe while I stayed here in Asia mostly but we still make time to meet up when we can.

Whether you are travelling with a friend, partner or a family member, it’s going to make a huge difference to how lonely your digital nomad journey will be. But it doesn’t mean that if you head out alone, you’re bound for a lonely lifestyle. You might convince someone to join you or even meet someone while nomadding.

Digital Nomads Don’t Have To Be Solo Forever: Will I have to forfeit having a family?

As I mentioned in the last section, travelling with someone is a great way to stave off loneliness but if you don’t have anyone willing to explore the world with you, don’t let it stop you! You can start out travelling solo but you don’t have to be solo forever.

As I am writing this my son just wondered up to me to ask about his homeschool work for the day, my wife tapping away at her own keyboard at the table where we eat our meals. I didn’t’ start out my nomad journey with a family, I picked them up along the way.

I left home as a naive 20 year old, excited to see the world. Fast forward 16 years, I’m a little less naive but still excited to see the world and to share it with my wife and son.

Is it lonely being a digital nomad? Sometimes. I don’t see my parents or my sisters as much as I’d like, I haven’t seen most of my friends from back home in over a decade. But would it be much different if I lived back home? My parents and 2 sisters live on three different continents, (and none of them are Asia, where I am) so even if I went back home I wouldn’t see them any more than I do now. My friends are scattered all around the world too and the ones that haven’t moved away are married with kids.

Perhaps loneliness is just a problem of modern life and not only a challenge that digital nomads face.

Other Tips To Overcome Loneliness

  • Go back Home Frequently
  • Make an effort to Make Friends Everywhere you go
  • Find a Travel Buddy
  • Don’t let being on the road stop you from having a family
  • Work With People

Final Thoughts

We only get one life and one of the things that make this life so beautiful is getting to share it with the friends we really like and the family we love. Using these methods for staying in touch with your family and friends will really make a difference. Traveling the world, fantastic destinations and locations are all just the icing on the top of the cake.

When work is getting too much to bear, when you think about giving it all up and going back to that job you hated, when you feel that your health is declining because you haven’t had the social interaction that you need. Pick up the phone and talk to someone and plan a trip to go see them.

It’s not the digital nomad lifestyle that is causing the problem, it’s just the way some of us are living it.

Gregory Gaynor Avatar

Meet Gregory, a writer and the brains behind Face Dragons. He's the go-to guy for getting things done.

Gregory's been living the digital nomad life in Asia for as long as anyone can remember, helping clients smash their goals. He writes on topics like software, personal knowledge management (PKM), and personal development. When he's not writing, you'll catch him at the local MMA gym, nose buried in a book, or just chilling with the family.