How to make friends in a new city as a digital nomad!
Recently a friend wrote to me saying: “Conor, I’m terrified. I just switched jobs to join your digital nomadic tribe which I’m thrilled about but how do you go about making friends in every new city? I’m scared that I will just be a target for sleazy guys.” (My friend being an attractive blonde girl in her mid-20s)
I’ve moved to new cities roughly 20 times in my life so I certainly have had plenty of experience of searching for like-minded people in unfamiliar surroundings. Most recently I moved to Lviv, Ukraine to learn Ukraine for a few weeks.
This is in fact a question that I am often asked so best to turn it into a blog post where I can examine the issue in more detail before advising my friend. 🙂
If you’re new to being a digital nomad then it can be difficult make the necessary shift mentality. Gone is a fixed routine in one physical location (your office) with same people (your colleagues) to return in the evening to the same place (your home).
These fixed certainties no longer exist as a digital nomad. They are replaced by an ever changing array of cafes, restaurants, work spaces, terraces and bedrooms (the new ‘office’), with a globally disparate group of collaborators (the new ‘colleagues’) and returning to a diverse litany of apartments across several continents (the new ‘home’).
In essence, the difficulties in meeting new people as a digital nomad mirror those faced by all people who move to a new city, just with the added spice of an alternative work/life routine.
The loss of this social infrastructure requires a mental recalibration. There are an infinite number of opportunities to make new meaningful connections with people but you have to be open to seizing them and this requires a degree of openness that may have previously made you feel uncomfortable.
Search for people with a similar passion to you – here I am with some other YouTube language vloggers (Félix, Jan of LanguageBoost and Stefano) in Brussels, Belgium
Be open to starting conversations where it’s culturally acceptable
So you’re probably going to have to step outside your comfort zone and start speaking to people in situations where this hasn’t previously been the norm for you.
Now this isn’t a carte blanche to start to talking to everyone everywhere about everything. That would make you appear quite literally – mental! 😀
My approach is push to the limits of what is culturally acceptable but not break them.
So for example, I will start a conversation in a cafe with people in close proximity but I’m not going to invent some ruse to talk to random people on the street.
What’s socially normal in one country differs in another. For example, in Brazil it’s perfectly fine to smile at strangers, in Russia, it’s not – you will seem weird! That would make Russians uncomfortable so you cannot greet strangers with a smile. 😐
Stepping outside of your comfort zone – me being interviewed at a Russian beauty pageant! 😊
Location, Location, Location!
Understanding where to hang out and what kind of people will frequent the location is essential for making new friends.
You need to establish a routine that will bring you into regular contact with people that you can relate easily with.
For example, if you are into pilates then join some regular pilates classes. After a few sessions, people will recognize you and it will be natural to chat with other participants.
For me, language meetups are great and as I speak many languages and finding a relevant one in a new city is normally not so difficult once I take a look online. I definitely recommend pursuing your hobbies in new city. That way you’ll be meeting people who likely share a passion with you.
I usually start with looking on Facebook for groups in that city with that interest of mine. Another resource is meetup.com where meetups are organized by theme.
On a daily basis, I like to go to the same cafes and restaurants that I like the coffee/food and clientele at. That way, I’m in a comfortable environment. I choose a place to work with my laptop that will allow other customers the option of sitting nearby, therefore, increasing the probability of some interaction.
During my recent move to Lviv, Ukraine, I struggled at first to find cafes that were a good fit for me and so after to 2 weeks I switched location in the city away from the more touristic main square to a quarter 10 minutes by foot away near to the university.
There, the mixture of young professionals and students, many with experience of having traveled and lived abroad, was an environment that made it easier to make friends in.
If you want to increase you’re options then there’s always dating apps like Tinder or Happn (read my reviews of Tinder here and here again). There you can of course form more intimate relationships. 😍
Where you choose to plant your laptop for the afternoon affects who you might meet
Don’t become discouraged if it’s not happening for you … in the beginning!
Mental stamina is crucial if you are finding it difficult to make friends in a new city.
If it’s not working out for you then you need to essential your approach and try to tweak it so you can meet like-minded people more easily.
It can be difficult even if you are not a digital nomad and have the normal work lifestyle once you are in an unfamiliar city, country or culture.
A personal example of mine is when I moved to Munich, Germany for a new job as a lawyer. As I already spoke reasonably good German and had had a girlfriend from Munich, I expected it to be pretty easy for me to make friends there.
Alas it turned out that I had little in common with my work colleagues, struggled to sound comfortable in local regional version of German and struggled to meet anyone socially.
It was a hard grind. It took about 9 to 12 months for me to finally figure it out and belatedly I start to make genuine friendships.
I figured out what the relevant areas of the city were for me, what cafes were a good match and which bars/clubs had my kind of music and people.
I made friends at the gym … and I went 6 times a week (consistency is important). Plus my German improved and I realized that it had been too stiff and scholarly to sound natural to Bavarians that I had been meeting.
Success! Like-minded people! 😀
(Photo courtesy of Momo Rabieifar)
Ultimately the personal responsibility is on you and you alone to make the necessary steps and changes in mentality if you want to make friends in a new city, country and culture. There are no valid excuses. If it’s not working out then change your approach until it does. 😀
Have you ever struggled with making friends in a new place? How did you cope with it? Did you have to step out of your comfort zone to make it happen? Write me your experiences in the comments section below this article! 😀
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