It is incredibly exciting to set out on a digital nomad journey. You are going to have the opportunity to get to know both amazing places and amazing people all over the world. But what about all the amazing people that you are leaving behind back home?
If you are planning on hitting the road for the long-term, or indefinitely, it is easy to underestimate how much this might affect your relationship with family and friends. It is also easy to underestimate how much you will miss the people who made up your life when you were in one place.
If it is important to you to maintain those relationships, then you need to be proactive about it. How? Read on as we look at exactly how to maintain relationships with family and friends back home as a digital nomad.
Do you have a long-distance romantic relationship? Read our guide on making long-distance relationships work as a digital nomad here.
When you decide that it is important to you to maintain close relationships with your family and friends back home while you are on the road, then you also need to take responsibility for making that happen.
You need to accept that, more often than not, you will be the one who needs to reach out and take steps to maintain the relationship.
This can seem unfair since relationships need to work both ways. Why should it always be you who calls or otherwise reaches out? Shouldn’t they also be making an effort to keep in touch with you?
First, you are the one who has changed the parameters of the relationship by physically removing yourself from the relationship. This does put the ball firmly in your court.
Second, if your desire to maintain the relationship is genuine, you should be willing to give without necessarily getting anything in return, at least for a period while you are establishing a new, long-distance, basis for your relationship.
Finally, if you want something done the right way for you, it is best to do it yourself.
Of course, it is just as likely that you will have loved ones more than willing to go above and beyond to continue being close with you. But don’t leave things to chance.
It might sound a bit mercenary to think about prioritizing your relationships, but it may be necessary to maintain the ones that are most important to you.
We all know someone who just loves to chat and will happily jump on an hour-long video chat with you every night. That’s great, but if you only have a limited amount of time to catch up with people back home, you are going to have to say no sometimes to make time to speak to other people.
Prioritizing your relationships can help you make these decisions. Who belongs in your inner circle that you can’t live without? Who are the friends that you would like to stay in personal touch with? And who are those people that you like, but really you are happy just exchanging comments on social media and engage with in group chat?
When you are making decisions about how to spend the limited time and energy that you have available for connecting with people back home, knowing exactly where people sit within your friendship zones can help you make tough choices. It is also a good way of keeping track of important people that you might be neglecting.
Bear in mind that people don’t need to stay in one relationship circle. Close friends can become less important, and people who were just acquaintances can become some of your most import connections. So, don’t be afraid to change your mind about people. Your categories don’t say anything about the people in them, they just help you to define your priorities right now.
Still not sure about this? Research suggests that people who prioritize friendships tend to be happier, healthier, and more satisfied with their lives.
Be Both Organized & Spontaneous
If something is important, you should make a time for it. We say it about going to the gym, working on a passion project, and meditating. The same rule applies to maintaining relationships. Put a standing time in the diary to talk to the various people in your inner circle, weekly, fortnightly, or monthly, depending on what works for both of you.
If you prefer to email, send long voice messages, or write via snail mail, then schedule that too, even if it only appears in your planner.
While no one likes scheduled fun, having an appointment is one of the most important ways to ensure that something gets done. The fact that you are willing to “put it in the diary” can also show the other person who important they are to you.
But while you should definitely do this, don’t forget that it is the small things that count. Is it their birthday? Time for a surprise call. See something in the street that you know they would find incredibly amusing? Send a picture. Passing by a real post office? Why not send off a few postcards.
It is little things like this that show someone that they are on your mind that can make a big difference to how a person perceives their importance to you. And they don’t need to be frequent to make a big difference.
Since you are the one off travelling and seeing new and exciting things, when you catch up with people back home, the tendency can be to talk about you. You have lots of things to tell, and they will probably have lots of questions to ask you about it all.
But don’t fall into the trap of just talking about yourself. Even if the other person is complicit in letting you do this, by asking questions and telling you that they don’t have any exciting news. Try to balance the conversation so that you are listening just as much as you are talking.
Even if it is only on a subconscious level, we all tend to know when conversations and friendships are uneven. This is when they leave us unsatisfied. If all your conversations take on this quality, they can be damaging to your friendships.
Of course, you should talk about yourself and all the amazing things that you are doing. Your friends and family want to hear about it. But don’t forget to be curious about what is happening with them. Even the seemingly mundane can be fascinating if you approach it with the right mindset.
Utilize Social Media
While most people are trying to minimize their time on social media, it is a fantastic tool for digital nomads to stay in touch with friends and family back home. If you control the time that you spend and approach social media the right way, it can be an effective way to stay in touch with a lot of people.
Sharing a curated selection of your travel photos (no one wants to see 100 photos of a beach sunset, no matter how beautiful it is) is a great way to remind your social connections what you are up to. Just a comment like “wow, that looks amazing, where are you” can be a great way to get a chat started.
But what you really need to be doing is checking posts from your closest friends and family to keep in touch with what they are up to. Commenting or sending a message in response to a post is also a great way to stay in touch quickly and let them know that you are thinking of them.
You probably have a lot of connections on social media, so make use of options like “close friend” tags to make sure that you see the content from the people that matter most to you first.
Deal with FOMO
It is easy to assume that it is the people back home who are struggling with envy as they see you travelling to exotic new locations and working beach side. But the reality is that many digital nomads can develop FOMO (fear of missing out) as they see all the things that their friends and family are up to back home.
Are you missing out on being close to a friend or family member through a major life change such as marriage or children? Are you seeing the people you care about forming new friendships and moving on with their lives without you? Has your best friend started dating someone who you think is terrible for them?
The world back home doesn’t stop just because you aren’t there. Everyone else’s lives will continue to evolve, and people will change. The only way to deal with this is with acceptance.
Remind yourself that you chose the digital nomad lifestyle and that you are exactly where you want to be. They say you can have anything you want in life, but you can’t have everything, and that you need to choose and prioritize. That is what you have already done when you chose to become a digital nomad, so you need to remember to be happy with your choice.
If this proves extremely difficult for some reason, maybe you need to reconsider whether you have made the right choices.
Plan Your Visits Home
While you can certainly maintain very close relationships at a distance, there’s nothing like seeing the people that you love face to face. That means if you visit home, you need to consider how you are going to spend your time. This is where you prioritized list will become very important.
Again, no one likes organized fun, but you should book in times to see the people that matter most to you. And don’t leave it until you arrive. Start scheduling weeks in advance. Remember that most people have busy lives, and they can’t drop everything just because you ask them to.
If you are planning a visit home, give yourself more time than you think you need. As a digital nomad, you have probably already realized that you need more time in most places that you visit than you imagine. Human beings always underestimate how much time things will take. The same rule holds true when you visit home.
Of course, if you are visiting for a specific reason, such as to help a sick loved one, you won’t be able to catch up with everyone on your list. But just be honest. Most people will understand and support you.
Returning Home for Good?
There may come a time when you decide to return home for good. When you do, you may find that you fall back into some relationships as though no time has passed at all, but others can be more challenging. People change and grow apart, even when they are in the same location. When you are away, this is even more likely.
So, when you do return home, don’t expect every relationship to be like it was before. Instead, be flexible, open, and give yourself a chance to create new terms for your relationships. These terms should suit how both you and the other person have changed. Take the time and don’t write someone off just because things are different or difficult at first.
There is good evidence that friendships, and friendship skills, matter more than romantic relationships and romantic relationships skills when it comes to our long-term happiness and success.
We all accept that it takes effort to make romantic relationships work and keep them healthy, but often expect friendships to take care of themselves. But miscommunication and misunderstanding can plague friendships as well. It only takes a little bit of effort to keep a friendship healthy, so why not do it.
If you are a digital nomad, many of your most important friends and family are probably “back home”, so you need a different approach to keeping these relationships healthy. We all learn by doing, but hopefully our guide has provided a good place to start.