Building communities of friends as a digital nomad

Last year was an exciting year because I lived in so many interesting places.

  • 5 months: January-May in Tucson, AZ.
  • 1 month: June (my vacation month). About a week each with friends in Seattle, San Francisco, Omaha, Boston, and Martha’s Vineyard.
  • 3 months: July-September in Budapest, Hungary.
  • 2 months: October-November: Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Thailand.
  • 1 month: December. Visiting friends in San Diego, San Francisco, Boston, and Brattleboro, Vermont.

It was fun to live in so many places, including those where I don’t speak the language (Hungary and Thailand). After such an adventurous year, I felt the need to chill out and relax a bit by staying in the U.S.

I also wanted to spend more time in places where I have friends and community (or the beginnings of a community). Since I enjoyed Tucson so much last year, I decided to repeat it again this year.

Friends & relatives I visited in June 2015. (San Francisco, Oakland, Seattle, Omaha, Martha’s Vineyard, and Boston).
Hanging out with my fellow digital nomad friends in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Here I am bathing elephants at Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai, Thailand — one of many adventures during 2015.

House-sitting in Tucson

I was lucky enough through word of mouth to find a house-sitting job right next door to the apartments I lived in last year. The owners went away to Baja Mexico from January through mid-March, and are currently on a trip to Australia and then South Africa from mid-March through the end of May. They needed someone to take care of their dog for the time they were in Australia and South Africa.

When I mentioned I was looking for a place to stay beginning in January, they offered their house to me for a very low price while they had their dog with them in Mexico, and then for free in exchange for dog care while they were out of the county.

This is working out very well! It’s a beautiful two-bedroom house with two bathrooms. The dog, Boomerang, is sweet and mellow. The owners were OK with having friends stay with me, so in January my friend Philip from Seattle came for a few weeks, and later my friend Evelyn came from Boston for a week. It was great having housemates to hang out with and go places with! It was fun showing them some of the sites I learned about last year while I was here.

House-sitting in Tucson.
Boomerang, the sweet dog I’m taking care of while house-sitting.

Making friends in Tucson

Before I came to Tucson last year, I asked my Facebook friends if they knew anyone here that I might like to meet. This resulted in me making friends with a former husband of one of my Facebook friends. He loves art and took me to open studios, galleries, and museums. That was fun!

I also used online dating as a way to meet people. It’s good not only for those looking for long-term relationships, but for short-term dating and making friends. That has worked out well, since I met someone last year for short-term dating and we stayed friends over the summer and now spend time going out this year too. This year I met another compatible friend via dating sites, so now I have a few options for people to go out with and get to know better.

I also plan to go to some Meetup groups here. There is one for women bloggers that looks fun, another for women world travelers, and a couple of vegetarian groups I’m interested in. People in Tucson are extra-friendly and that makes it easy to meet potential friends. I’m a regular at several coffee shops where I like to work with my laptop, and also the food coop staff is very friendly, which leads to fun chats when I buy my groceries. It’s nice.

So I have the beginnings of a circle of friends here. That is very nice. I often enjoy solitude and exploring places on my own, but I also realized that maybe I had too much solitary time this past year and wanted more social time this year.

During my first three years of working freelance and being a new digital nomad, I was mainly focused on work and how to make enough money to make this way of life sustainable. Now that things are fairly stable in that area, I’m focusing more on my social life.

Evelyn (my Boston friend), Jerry (Tucson friend), and me. (edited with Tangled FX app)

So many fun things to do – one reason I love Tucson

Tucson is a great place for hiking, and arts, and cultural activities. Here’s what I’ve been doing:

– Seeing lots of indie movies at The Loft (I became a member of this excellent independent theater).

– Saw an excellent play by Arizona Theatre Company: Fences by August Wilson.

– Toured the Mirror Lab in Steward Observatory at Univ. of Arizona.

– Visited the Tucson Museum of Art.

– Visited the Center for Creative Photography.

– Saw a contemporary dance performance by a troupe from LA.

– Went hiking at Sabino Canyon and several other beautiful places.

– Saw a comedy performance by Lewis Black.

– Heard Al Perry perform at local restaurant.

– Heard blues band Rick Estrin & The Nightcaps at a local venue:

– Attended author readings at the Tucson Festival of Books.

– Browsed the Spring Artisan’s Market at Tucson Museum of Art.

– Enjoyed films at Exploded View Microcinema: an Ornette Coleman documentary and a Paul Bowles event with readings and a film.

– Saw the movie Citizenfour at the Loft with journalist Glenn Greenwald speaking in person afterwards (excellent).

– Went to a huge, sold-out event at the university called “A Conversation on Privacy” with Noam Chomsky, Glenn Greenwald in person, and Edward Snowden joining via video feed.

– Enjoyed a parade, drumming and dance performances at the spring carnival called Mocktoberfest.

– And coming up soon: Falstaff at the Tucson Opera and the Arizona International Film Festival, beginning April 15.

This gives you some sense of the different kinds cultural activities available here. Having so many fun things to do is something I look for whenever I choose where to live.

Hiking with my Seattle friend Philip in Sabino Canyon.
Philadelphia Story on the big screen at The Loft.
Glenn Greenwald spoke after Citizenfour at The Loft.
My friend Evelyn (from Boston), enjoying the view from Sentinel Peak.
Murals outside the Tucson Museum of Art.
Tucson friend Chaz brings me to some of the best hiking spots near Tucson.
Tucson friend Jerry (right) performing with Sol Axé at Mocktoberfest Spring Carnival.

Vermont for the summer

View from the apartment of my friends in Brattleboro, Vermont (Dec. 2015).

I was considering Quebec City for the summer, since I wanted a place that feels European and also might not be too hot in the summer. But that idea is on hold until a future year, because I’ve decided to go to Brattleboro, Vermont instead.

Why Brattleboro? Because a group of of my best and oldest friends live there and I can share an apartment with them very cheaply. I realized I wanted to spend more time with my closest longest-lasting friends in addition to the new friends I’m making in Tucson.

It’s been my goal for a while to have communities of friends in different locations that I can float between. And since I like to follow good weather, Tucson in the winter plus Vermont in the summer is a great combination.

So for June, July, and August I’ll be in beautiful Brattleboro. I usually prefer larger cities, but Brattleboro has fun things to do, great hiking nearby, and it’s possible (with a borrowed car) to go to events in central and western Massachusetts, which is full of fun things to do.

My friend’s apartment has three bedrooms and I’ll be subletting one of them. I stayed there for a week at Christmas time and it’s a beautiful, huge apartment in downtown Brattleboro, overlooking the river and mountains of New Hampshire. I can walk to coffee shops for my online work and the food coop is nearby, along with an indie movie theater right across the street.

It’s close enough to Boston that I could go there from time to time to visit my Boston friends (where I lived my whole adult life).

Sunrise from the apartment of my Brattleboro friends (Dec. 2015).

September and October plans

As for September and October, I’m still deciding where to go. Those months usually have very nice weather just about anywhere in North America. I have plenty of time to make a decision about that.

Arizona for next winter (and maybe many winters)

The best weather months for Tucson are November through April. So I’d like to return for exactly those months in 2016-2017. At some point I will begin to search for an apartment with a short-term lease (if possible), or maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll get another house-sitting job.

It will be my third time in Tucson and I plan to continue and extend my circle of friends here.

Sabino Canyon in January.

Ideas for the future

Of course, there are still many places in the world I’d like to explore (Spain is at the top of the list). So I’m thinking that beginning in May of 2017 I will live outside of the U.S. again for a while.

Maybe with a part-time winter home base in Tucson, I can go to different places for the other half of each year for the next few years — we’ll see.

Balancing adventure and comfort

I like the idea of balancing adventure and comfort. I can do this by alternating a year of international travel with a year of staying in familiar places in North America. I feel very lucky to have work that I can bring with me anywhere. It’s a great way to live — I have very few possessions, but am rich in experiences and connections with my friends.

For more thoughts on having a good social life while being a nomad, see my post from December 2014, “How to make friends and enjoy your social life as a digital nomad.”