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Dear Caroline –

Three months ago, I went off to explore the world as a digital nomad. But in hindsight, I didn’t consider that it usually takes me a while to warm up to people.

During the first couple of weeks in each new place, the loneliness in my free time feels crushing.

I don’t want to fall back on constant communication with those at home.

Do you have any thoughts about what I can do?

…Despondent in Durango

Dear Despondent,

With only three months into the digital nomad game, you’re still relatively new. Here are my suggestions:

1) Establish yourself as a “regular” in one or two places. For example, repeatedly go to the same coffee shop at the same time each day. Once you have a feeling of belonging, you’ll find it easier to strike up conversations.

2) Slow your travel down, so you have time to learn about the culture and adjust to each location.

3) Join meetups, take a class or, better yet, volunteer with your eyes and ears open. Be mindful of the reality that while earning in U.S. dollars and spending in pesos, bhat, rand and at least half a dozen other forms of international currency puts digital nomads at an advantage. It also disrupts communities by way of gentrification, touristification and displacement of locals who have lived and worked in certain neighborhoods for years. I’m not saying this to send you home. I’m saying it to help you know your place as a visitor in someone else’s country and to encourage you to be the best guest you can possibly be.

4) Consider getting a short-term membership to a co-working space and/or gym.

5) Put your phone away and be present, in the moment, wherever you may be. If your immediate vicinity doesn’t inspire you, quietly put one foot in front of the other until you’re somewhere with a lot of life going on — music, children playing, people having fun — you get the idea. Be a quiet observer while absorbing some secondhand joy.

6) Remind yourself why you chose the digital nomad lifestyle. Write down a list of the positive points. Accept that periods of loneliness are a downside you signed up for.

7) Consider directing the next “leg” of your adventure toward a “softer landing” location that has either more expats or more similarities to your native culture.

8) And last but not least, remember that, thanks to social media, the digital nomad lifestyle is photographable and fashionable — but in reality, social media only shows the “highlight reels” of life.

Speaking from a position of age and experience, there are trends that suit us and trends we’re better off sitting out. If you’re still unhappy another three months in, you may want to consider closing out this chapter of your life and starting fresh from a fixed and familiar location.

We learn as much about life and about ourselves from the things that work out well as we do from the things we learn don’t suit us.

Here’s to adventure and self-discovery!


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