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.
I haven’t lived at home for over 15 years now, sometimes I wonder if my old life is still there waiting for me. My friends aren’t . Some of them have moved away from my home town, others have settled down and have families. In this post I want to share some strategies that have worked for me to stay in touch with friends as a digital nomad.
Just keeping track with all the changes can be difficult and, as a digital nomad, staying in touch with my friends has been a struggle at times. Over the years I’ve developed lots of techniques to keep in touch. Here’s what you’ll find in this post.
Table of Contents
- Why it’s so hard to maintain friendships as a digital nomad
- Plan Trips Around Your Friends
- Spend Time Staying Back Home
- Take the Lead
- Make Time For A Relationship that really counts
- Build A Digital Hangout For Your Meetup Place
- Final Thoughts
Why it’s so hard to maintain friendships as a digital nomad
It would be so much easier to maintain friendships if all my buddies were the same! Boring, but easier. We all have different groups of friends, these are some of mine
- School Mates
- College Friends & Roommates
- Work Friends
- Good Friends I’ve made in different countries
- Friends I met briefly while traveling
You might have even more categories.
If you’re anything like me, most of your classmates from school live in or around your hometown and you still get to see them when you go back to visit. But the other groups of friends are scattered across the country (or world.)
It’s difficult enough that they are all in different locations, but they use different apps too! You have the Facebook friends, they always have some new picture on Facebook and you always feel a little guilty because they posted it a week ago and you haven’t commented on it yet. Then there’s the Twitter crowd, the Instagrammers and that one guy who doesn’t use social media at all.
It would be nice to have all your relationships in one place online but it rarely happens that way.
As a digital nomad, you collect friendships along the way, it just happens. But after a few years maintaining relationships with all them becomes overwhelming, there’s just too many. Even with all those ‘friends’ loneliness often starts to creep up on you. In fact Mark Manson, author of the critically acclaimed The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F**k says as much in his post The dark side of the digital nomad.
Ignoring the loneliness and that everyone uses different apps and that you have too many friends to count, the main problem maintaining good relationships with your friends is simply that you don’t get to see them enough.
Here are some solutions.
Plan Trips Around Your Friends
Staying in touch with a good friend doesn’t have to be solely online. The greatest advantage of being a digital nomad is the ability to pack up your things and move on. Use that to your advantage and choose your next location where there are people you know.
One of the biggest challenges (also one of the best things) about the digital nomad lifestyle is being in a new place, not knowing anyone and having to learn everything by yourself. Choosing a location where you have a group of friends waiting for you will make it so much easier and so much more fun.
After making the effort to keep in touch and maintaining the relationship by visiting them or staying in their town for a while, they’re sure to return the favor and go visit you in the future.
If you know some digital nomads really well, or have a friend that loves to travel, your paths may criss-cross multiple times over the years as you take the time to seek out and meet up with one another. Relationships based on shared experiences often create the strongest connections, they are the ones that last.
Spend Time Staying Back Home
As much as I love being on the road and exploring different countries, cultures and food! I love going back home and seeing friends back home that I haven’t met for years, rebuilding those connections. Christmas is my favorite time to go back, everything looks beautiful and presents!
Everyone loves an excuse to meet up with the old gang. Planning something special for you all to do is the best way to strengthen those relationships.
- Go back to a place from your past, (school, an old house etc) this will trigger old memories and help you to reconnect.
- Book a spa day
- An extreme activity like climbing, bungee jumping or parachuting
- Get matching tattoos
- Have a VR experience
Even though that new digital nomad visa might be really enticing if you still have a group of friends that live in your hometown, plan a trip back home and have a reunion instead. That Tropical Island experience isn’t going anywhere!
Take the Lead
Don’t wait for your friend to make the first move, you don’t loose anything by getting in contact first. And if you find that you are always the one that makes the effort to keep in touch, try to just accept it. They might be going through a hard time so give them a break. If it really bothers you, tell them and see if they start to make more of an effort.
People often don’t realize how their actions come across.
After taking the lead you might find that they have been missing you just as much as you have been missing them. Maybe they didn’t want to bring you down or they just thought that you looked busy enjoying all these new places.
Sometimes maintaining social media can seem like just another thing we need to do. Digital nomad jobs can be demanding but if you don’t give your favorite people the opportunity to keep up to date with what you’ve been doing there’s less chance they will contact you.
Whether you’re remote working or running your own business abroad, you still have a few minutes to update the people who mean most to you about your life. Seeing a quick Tweet or Facebook post that you’re heading somewhere new might be all they need to send you a message.
If you don’t like the idea of maintaining social media, why not start a blog? You can post picture and posts about what you’ve been doing and maybe even make some money on the side with it! You only need post the link to social media for your friends to see your latest blog post.
Offer up your couch
The main thing stopping most people from taking a vacation is the expense so why not offer a friend to come stay with you. They get an unforgettable vacation without breaking the bank and you both get a shared memory exploring some exotic corner of the world.
That’s something you can talk about for months after they go back home.
Make Time For A Relationship that really counts
If you’ve been on the road for more than a few weeks, you’ve more than likely already expanded your number of friendships way beyond a manageable level. How on earth do digital nomads stay in touch with so many people? The truth is that they don’t.
Humans developed in small groups or tribes and our brains developed the ability to maintain relationships with a limited number of people. As travel became more and more convenient in the previous century the brain’s ability to maintain a larger friendship circle started to became strained. But now with social media, it’s easy to have friendships with 1000 or more people all over the world online.
But it’s still not possible to keep in touch with them all.
This is why you need to differentiate between your closest relationship/s and acquaintances that are not going to play an important role in your life. You just can’t maintain them all.
Stay Up to date with your closest friends
It’s so easy to loose contact even with people back home who you were once closest with when you’ve been away awhile. A year or two quickly slips by before you realize you don’t know what’s going on in that persons life anymore. You contact them but the conversation doesn’t flow like it used to. You lack the shared experiences and so don’t know what to talk about.
The conversation goes something like this.
“Hey, how have been?”
“Good! How about you?”
“Yeah not bad, family are good?”
“Yeah! What have you been up to?”
“Yeah me too…..really busy….”
It’s not that you don’t want to talk, you just don’t have anything to talk about because you’re not up to date with what’s going on in the person’s life. And vice versa.
Make an effort to regularly check out their social media,
Even if you don’t speak to them as often as you’d like, by keeping an eye on their socials, you’re still up-to-date with what’s been going on in their life. And although you can’t control whether they will follow what you’ve been up to, you have to give them the opportunity. This means letting people know where you are, what you’ve been doing and how things are going. It doesn’t have to be a picture perfect Instagram post. It might just be a short tweet “Singapore tomorrow, can’t wait!”
Then the conversation will flow like it used to.
“I saw you posted about your brother getting his flying license, that’s crazy! He’s still just a kid in my mind.”
“Yeah I know, it makes me feel old just thinking about it!”
“Do you remember that time we caught him dancing with his teddy bears?”
“Haha yeah I haven’t thought about that in years! How is Singapore?”
Build A Digital Hangout For Your Meetup Place
While you can’t always control what your friends do or what platforms they want to use, you can give them a reason to join you on the social media you use.
- Create a Facebook Group
- Whatsapp group
- Discord server
- Twitter Hashtag
- Mastodon/Pleroma Server
- Or pick a new app just for you and your friends
The easiest way to maintain relationships is by trying to get as many of them as possible into the same online space.
Even if they don’t use it, most people have a Facebook account. Creating a Facebook group only takes a few seconds and you can invite all your friends to it instantly. You’ll be surprised who gets in touch with you in the group. Don’t let it become something you need to work to maintain, that’s not the point!
You don’t need perfectly crafted pictures or funny headlines. Just let people know whats going on with you but you still need to stay healthy and sane!
Create a Twitter Hashtag that you and your besties can use to keep in touch, use something original that hasn’t been used before and you’ll have your own little corner of twitter just for you and your friends.
Another way to go is to pick a completlely new app, something you and your closest circle of friends can all install to stay in touch. My best friend and I both installed signal for this reason. Neither of us use it for anything else. But when I want to talk to him I just need to open that app. By using a new app, there are no notifications waiting for me or distractions like there are on Facebook and Twitter. I can set Signal to send me a notification whenever I get a message because I know it’s only going to be my bestie.
If you’re more technically minded, you can set up your own Mastodon or Pleroma instance. The hardest thing about doing this is explaining to them what Mastodon is.
Mastodon (and it’s offshoot Pleroma) are Twitter replacements. You can set up your own private server (imagine Twitter but only you and your people have accounts) or you can join to the Fediverse of all the other servers that are out there. Share tweets (called toots) and pictures with the people on your server.
I use a private Pleroma server for staying in touch with my family.
I hope these tips will help you and your friends to stay in contact. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’ve lost the people who meant most to you.
They’re all worth more to me than my digital nomad lifestyle.