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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Digital Nomads: If You Can't Find Your Tribe, Create One!

La Finestra pizzeria, for 1.50 euro pizzas and 7 euro bottles of wine after co-working. Photo: Lesya


Arriving in a new country, especially if you turn up alone, can be tough. After going to the usual CouchSurfing and Meetup events and making a handful of friends, I inadvertently ended up creating a new community for digital nomads and remote workers, which this week surpassed 500 members. 


I'm terrified of how easy it is for the tone of personal travel blogs to veer into self-indulgence and crash over the cliff-edge of douchecraft. So I'm not attempting to tell everyone that they must do the same as me - heck, I know not everyone likes dealing with the hassle. But I know how important 'finding your tribe' is when you're living overseas, whether you're just staying a month, a few months, or longer term. They don't have to be from the same country as you; they can be from the country you're currently in, or indeed from anywhere. But your tribe is the people you gel with; the open-minded, global types who share your values. So I'm sharing my experiences in the hope it may help bring other groups together (and yes, also promoting my co-working and social group!)....


Cafe Berlin. Shameless selfie by: Voy (who has now moved on to the Canaries with his lovely girlfriend)
I was sitting with my laptop in Costa Coffee in Valencia's Avenidadel Marqués de Sotelo, in April. (Not a bad spot for uninterrupted wifi, but a little soulless). As I took a break from what I was writing, I noticed there were three or four other people also hunched over their laptops. Their pasty skin, shorts and flipflops were instant giveaways: These people weren’t from Valencia. "I wonder if they work remotely like me…", I mused to myself as I crunched on my gritty chai latte, "…and why do I always keep ordering the lumpy chai lattes here?". 

Addressing the more pertinent of the two questions, I observed they appeared to be working rather than messing around on Facebook so concluded they were probably digital nomads too. I felt like saying hello, but something about the silence in the cavernous chain café put me off. After I left, I wondered why I hadn’t risked a ‘hi’.  Would they have wanted to chat and work alongside me? (And would they have agreed to watch my laptop for me while I took a bathroom break? (Erm, 'hashtag digitalnomadproblems'...) 

The Solution

Joking apart, this isn't an uncommon dilemma for digital nomads and expats. Sometimes the endless whirlwind of trying to socialise and make new friends gets a bit overwhelming, and it's a relief when you finally find yourself part of a community or social group. I've found that everywhere I have lived overseas I've ended up wandering around for weeks feeling like the new kid at school, then somehow ending up organising events for everyone. I used to organise DJ nights via my Maldives Expat Parties group which involved taking up to 100 expats to resorts for 6 hours of dancing and drinking. (Getting that many drunk people home on boats was a challenge!). Incidentally, I made a video with a friend about the crazy expat life in the Maldives (above), the highlight was getting the seaplane pilots to dance on the plane wings! Then when I lived in France, I started a weekly social night called CouchSurfing Meeting in Nice, which became an official CS event. A rascally Parisian named Madani has now taken the helm. Madani has done wonders with the group, negotiating discounts and promotions at bars, and there are now 2,500 members. 

Some tips for creating a new social community overseas:  

  • Find a suitable platform, such as Facebook, CouchSurfing or Meetup
  • Gauge potential interest by asking online - see who responds
  • Make firm plans and stick to them. Don't be flaky or people won't trust you! 
  • Organise the event well. People will hold you responsible if anything goes wrong
  • There may be some complaints, learn how to use them constructively to improve the event/meetups

Back to Valencia: After my Costa experience I posed the question to the excellent Facebook group, Expats in Valencia. Within an hour I had over 50 comments! It seemed that yes, there were dozens of people like me (digital nomads, remote workers and expats) who would like an excuse to co-work and socialise with like-minded people. Two hours later, I’d started a Facebook group calledValencia Coffees and Co-working. The concept was simple: If you’re a digital nomad/remote worker in Valencia and want to meet up at a cafe for some informal co-working, I’ll suggest a time and round a group of us up. There's no charge for the meetup (since most digital nomads are characterised by their desire to save cash), so you just pay for whatever you consume at the cafe. It’s ideal for anyone who doesn’t want the commitment/expense of a co-working venue, and wants to socialise after work too. This is the first time I'd created an event involving work rather than purely for socialising (read: 'boozing'), and it seems there's a demand for it.  

Co-working at Ubik cafe. Photo: Lesya
The very first meet-up was the following day at Federal Café, which isn't too pricey and is open all day. A charming Polish programmer named Voy and an American named David (who has somehow wrangled only working a mythical 3 days per month), were the only attendees. (Well, I had only given everyone 12 hours’ notice to turn up…). Six months later, we have 500 members and more than 20 nationalities! 

Working hard at Federal Cafe. Shameless selfie by: Voy
To keep it simple, we have one meeting every Wednesday afternoon and thankfully only about 15 of the 500+ members attend each time. They are a mix of regulars and newbies, given the transient nature of the demographic. We bond over travel tales and a fondness for after-work drinks. 
Some of the other members just join us for drinks in the evening. And some of the group have joined it ahead of relocating to Valencia. (If you want to live in Valencia, read my post, 8 Reasons to Live in Valencia in your 30's!). The remainder of the group who I haven't met yet are lurkers: I still haven’t figured out what they want yet!

Ubik cafe. Wine time begins when we clock off
Members also give spontaneous shout-outs on our Facebook page throughout the week if they're working from a café and want some company. We ask questions about visas and technical issues, and share upcoming events. On top of that, we organise some fun social events which have included hiking, checking out the Wine Festival, the Vermouth Festival, and a Halloween party.

Some of the group on a 9-hour hike in June (we all survived). Photo: Voy 

Chilling out after the wine festival in April. Photo: Peter
Enjoying the Vermouth Festival in September (Yes, there is a running theme...)
Some of the gang at the beach party in May
Cecile's monthly wine tasting event, which began with a Valencian Reds theme
So far we haven't needed to reserve a table in advance at the cafes, and the owners have been more than happy to host us since afternoons are quiet, although if the attendees exceed 15 I may have to start giving them a heads-up. Usually after a co-working session (around 6pm) we clear our laptops away and are ready for wine time, which costs about 7 euros per bottle in Valencia! One of the best deals is Cafe Artysana's Happy Hour from 5pm to 7pm. 

Videos by Voy: That time we went canyoning in August and forgot ropes. And wetsuits. And helmets. Which everyone else we met had with them...

Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls...

The fun part usually continues for several more hours with a bar crawl and tapas, and sometimes we head to La Finestra for a pile of authentic Italian pizzas at 1.50 euros each. Occasionally it has escalated to us hitting the clubs (which may not be the smartest thing to do on a ‘school night’, but then again, Valencia is a city which parties every night!)

  Some of best cafes in Valencia for free, uninterrupted wifi:

Ubik (Cheap, spacious, funky)
Federal (Serves food all day, spacious, but not super friendly)
Jardin Urbano (Vegan, cheap and very peaceful)
Bluebell Coffee (Small tables but good food, terrace)
Café ArtySana (Very nomad-friendly, cheap, spacious, funky, 9 euro all-day brunch deal, terrace)
American Cupcakes (Quiet, smells amazing, great cupcakes for 2.50 euros)
La Mas Bonita in Ruzafa/Patacona (Amazing cakes - Red Velvet with cheesecake filling is worth killing for, nice decor, spacious)
Costa Coffee (Only this Costa branch in VLC has unlimited wifi but you must check in via Facebook for access, very spacious, don't do the chai lattes)

Halloween 2017 house party

You can follow the exploits of Valencia Digital Nomads on *Instagram. (*We promise you won't see any cliched Insta-aspirational couples holding hands)

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