By Morgan Michaels
For the past five years I’d dreamed of becoming a digital nomad to see the world and explore new opportunities, but my job and a fear of leaving the community I’d built in Los Angeles kept me in place. That all changed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit; I lost my job, broke up with my boyfriend, and was craving a new start. So after getting vaccinated, I booked a one-way ticket from Los Angeles to Athens, Greece with a ‘no plan’ plan. I knew I was going to visit Athens, Santorini, and Croatia and travel for at least a month, but not much else.
Even though I didn’t know anyone where I was going, I decided not to use any dating apps. I didn’t think that I needed them and hadn’t used them for months. I’ve been described as an extrovert, fearless with making new friends and meeting up with potential dates. And that worked for a while. For the first few months, I floated along, finding connections through various meet-cutes, from asking a Spanish guy in Athens to snap a photo of me and then hitting it off, to making friends with a fellow Californian at a yoga retreat in Paros, Greece.
As I continued along my one-way ticket, I hit an unexpected bout of loneliness. Experiences like seeing the Parthenon in Athens, renting a boat in Montenegro, and exploring the scenery in Budapest, Hungary all lit up my senses, but still, I felt like something was missing. Finally, three months into my trip, I made it to Zadar, Croatia, a picturesque coastal city with charming, Roman-era buildings and a small town feel. And even though it was a city crowded with expats and fellow digital nomads, I felt overwhelmingly isolated. It was then that I finally decided to download Bumble.
I sat in my rental apartment and made a profile. I wanted to attract people with similar interests: a combination of other freelancers and locals that could expose me to hidden gems. I decided to select “Don’t know yet” for what I was looking for, and my bio included “Newbie digital nomad, looking for adventure buddies.” I tailored my profile to the locations where I was based or the activities I wanted to try, like “Planning to taste test as much chimney cake as possible while I’m in Hungary, who’s in?,” or something cheeky like, “Looking for an #instahubbie to be my photographer for the day.”
I started to swipe with little expectation and lots of curiosity about who was out there. Swiping at home, I was accustomed to seeing people in my 30 mile radius, but this time, an entire world was waiting for me. I found intriguing locals who were excited to share their culture and fellow travelers who were open to visiting tourist attractions with me. I felt like I could swipe right on almost every profile.
The first Bumble match I met up with was Aleksy*, a fellow traveler from Eastern Europe. His profile said that he was a new digital nomad looking to go on an adventure, and I had a feeling that we’d get along. I had come to Zadar to go to Plitvice Lakes, located in a national park and known for their gorgeous clear blue waters, and I thought it might be fun to go on a date. In order to make sure that Aleksy and I would get along well enough to go on an adventure together (and for safety), I suggested a quick video call first. We clicked, and over the course of the car ride and walk around the lake we hit it off so well that our hike turned into two days of exploring different trails surrounding the lakes, renting a wooden boat, and finding a romantic log cabin to stay in for the second night. After we returned to Zadar, he continued his trip to Split, Croatia, and I took a bus to Serbia.
By that point it was October and I was in Belgrade, Serbia, ready to explore the hip, exuberant city with a fascinating history. I opened Bumble and swiped to find another adventure buddy. I was immediately drawn to Lars* from Sweden, who had a rugged blonde beard and a bio that read, “Sun chaser.” We began chatting, and Lars shared that he was finding Belgrade difficult to navigate as a foreigner. I suggested an unusual date: we had a quirky day that included a visit to an optical illusion exhibit and an American pop music cafe. We didn’t explicitly say that there were no sparks, but we gave each other a hug and said we would keep in touch (and we have!).
When November hit, I was craving more community and knew Gran Canaria, one of Spain’s Canary Islands, was a hub for digital nomads. So I arrived in Las Canteras, a beach city described by locals as the Hawaii of Europe. I joined a social media group for remote workers in the city, and was overwhelmed by how active it was. Within the first 24 hours, I was invited to concerts, Tuesday bar nights, hiking groups, and sunset yoga classes. With only a month on the island, I took the first week to show up to everything and anything I could. I found connections to be fleeting, and even though I had access to this community, I was still feeling extremely lonely.
So once more I went on Bumble, but this time I was curious about Bumble’s BFF mode. I matched with a woman named Freya* from Germany. I invited her to a yoga group, and after our first meeting we made a routine of sunrise yoga and coffee, using the time to fill each other in on our island discoveries, bond over dating disasters, and practice our Spanish together. She entered at a much-needed time when Thanksgiving was on the horizon and my friendship circle was slim. Before I left Las Canteras, I knew I had made a lifelong friend, and Freya* invited me to visit her in Germany next year.
Over the past five months, I’ve realized that the best part about traveling, especially for so long, wasn’t the awe-inspiring landscapes, adventurous excursions, or the local cuisines. It was the people. And for me, Bumble was a key to the community and connections I was looking for while traveling the world. I still have a month to go, with Portugal and the Netherlands on the horizon, and I can’t wait for the matches I’ll meet and connections I’ll make along the way.
*Names have been changed
Main photo taken in Athens, Greece