You expected a lot from your first solo trip. A suntan. Obviously. Getting to know the world a little better. Making new friends. An epic Instagram account. Even a few of those ‘did I just bungee jump naked’ moments that you’ve pledged never to talk about. Ever.
But loneliness? You probably never expected that.
Yet, it’s an experience many solo travellers have. It’s also one we’re least likely to talk about because, let’s face it, what kind of an ungrateful loser would you be if you felt lonely when you’re supposed to be having the time of your life? Or so your thinking goes…
So, you bury the loneliness under a veneer of carefree happiness hoping it will disappear. And sometimes it does, which is great. Other times it starts to fester until you find yourself spending more and more time indoors. You wallow in self-loathing for failing so badly at travelling when everyone else around you seems to be smashing it. Before long, you find yourself on Google browsing the different options for going home. At any cost.
If you’re experiencing a bout of loneliness on the road, shut down the flight search engine and read on. As well as being a perfectly natural emotion, loneliness is also more common than you think. And the best news is, there are plenty of things you can do to stop loneliness ruining your trip. The truth is, you don’t need to be afraid to travel alone. You just need to know how to deal with loneliness when it hits.
Here are 7 simple solutions you can work on right now.
1. Rest, Refuel, Regroup
You should go and love yourself 📷@mirkalaqj08
Hunger, thirst and fatigue have a lot to answer for. Ever felt hangry? How much more chilled did you feel after you fed yourself? Sometimes we confuse our physical needs with our emotional ones. Eat, drink and sleep. Feel better? Great! Go out and enjoy the rest of your trip. But make a mental note for future that feeling exhausted and lonely are not the same thing.
2. Wallow Without The Guilt
Eat ALL the ice cream 📷@teejayhughes
Wait? What? Isn’t wallowing in loneliness partly what got you here? Yep, it sure is but this is a different kind of wallowing. This is dedicated, guilt-free wallowing. And you’re giving yourself a deadline.
Sometimes you just need to take the pressure off. So what if you don’t climb to the top of Table Mountain, or go swimming with whale sharks every day? Especially on a long trip, you’re not supposed to tick off adventures at 1,000 new experiences an hour. Have a Netflix binge in your pyjamas, read a good book, eat as much ice cream as you can find. Do whatever you need to do to make yourself happy. For 24 hours (48 at a push), do whatever you want. It may just cure you.
3. Remember: You’re Actually Freaking Awesome!
Note to self: YOU ARE AWESOME! 📷@simplysteph_
Sure, you’ve just spent the past few hours/days/weeks telling yourself that you’re a lonely loser, but take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Remember how many new people you’ve already met on this trip. Remember all those times you were leading the charge. Usually to the nearest Happy Hour bar. You’re cooler than you feel right now.
If you’ve really lost all perspective, look over your photos. See all those cool things you’ve already done and the people you were with? It’s been a whirlwind, hasn’t it? This bout of loneliness is just a dip in an otherwise remarkable journey.
And even if none of the above is true – perhaps you’re at the beginning of your trip or you’ve felt lonely from the get-go – you’re still amazing! Why? Because you’ve taken yourself away from home, out of your comfort zone and you’ve done this all on your own. There is no way on this earth that you’re a loser. Do you have any idea how many people wouldn’t even consider doing what you’re doing, let alone have the guts to go through with it? The answer: many, many people. That alone makes you amazing and you shouldn’t be afraid to tell yourself that. Sixty times per hour if necessary.
4. Embrace The Alone Time. Especially If It Terrifies You
Being alone is not the same as being lonely 📷@borderjunkie
How many times – at college, at work, in your overcrowded house-share – have you longed for some alone time? Well, now you have it. Embrace it, even if it feels scary. When else will you have a chance to think about those bigger questions in life – what do you really dream of? What kind of person do you hope to become? Do you think you’ll end up with 2 or 12 puppies?
Being alone with your own thoughts can be one of the most terrifying experiences you can have but, as one author once said, ‘pray that your loneliness may spur you into finding something to live for, great enough to die for.’ And if nothing that profound happens during your extended period of navel gazing, you might at least get so sick of your own company that you’ll try anything to make new friends, thus solving the loneliness problem by default.
5. Stop Being So Damn Anti-Social
Put your phone away 📷@nuriaoliva_
Okay, that might not fit so neatly into the supportive category, but be honest, you could try a little harder, couldn’t you? For a start, stop hiding in your room / on your bunk / behind your phone.
Of course, it’s not easy to put yourself out there when you’re already feeling lonely, but it’s one of those things that you’re just going to have to do. You’ll thank yourself for it later. If making the first move is still too daunting, as a first step you can try just making yourself more approachable to others: hang out in the hostel bar or common room, switch your phone for a book.
6. Look At What’s Already Worked And Do More Of That
Understand what works for YOU 📷@alexjacksonvisuals
Deep down, most of us know what helps us when we’re feeling down. Do you crave the energy of cities or the tranquillity of the beach? Is your happy place balanced on one foot in a yoga pose on the precipice of a cliff? All too often in travel, we set out with an idea of the kind of trip we think we’re going to have (or should have). We plot a rough route and we try to stick to it. But if that plan is no longer working for you, it’s time to rip it up and start again.
Look at what has worked in the past – on this trip or others – and do that. It may be as simple as moving to a different location or just moving to a different hostel within the same town. Or how about backtracking to meet up with that cool group you spent time with two countries ago?
By placing yourself in your favourite environment, it’s often easier to overcome problems. And once you’re back on track and feeling like your old fantastic self, you can pick up your original plan if you still want to. That’s if you’ve not already come up with something better thanks to your new travel friends.
7. Don’t Leave Friendships To Chance
Travel friends are the best friends! 📷@kendraauckland
In an ideal world, solo travellers would bounce easily from one set of new friends to another without a single lonely day in between. And often it really is as effortless as that. But sometimes it’s not, and that’s when it’s important to have some back-up tactics for meeting new people in a strange city. Luckily there are loads of ways to meet people while travelling solo, but these are my five favourites:
- Visit a hostel bar – Of all the places in all of the world, the spot you’re most likely to meet a kindred solo travel spirit is a hostel bar and as fellow solo travellers, they’re not going to be in the least bit freaked out when you strike up a conversation out of nowhere. Time it just right and you might end up on the weekly pub-crawl that’s just about to start.
- Take a tour – Spend a day with other visitors and you might make some friends for life, or at least for dinner. Just be aware of the kind of tour you’re booking. Hotels and online sites like Viator tend to cater to couples and families. Hostel-run tours are likely to have a more diverse group of travellers.
- Join social media groups – Facebook and travel forums like The Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree feature an endless stream of people who are looking to connect with other solo travellers.
- Go on a date – Apps like Tinder make it so easy to meet locals while you’re away. Not keen on the idea of dating (or, rather, your boyfriend of girlfriend back home won’t be too pleased)? Pop a note in your profile that you’re just looking to make new friends.
- Reach out to everybody you know – Ever watched Six Degrees of Separation / played Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? Then you’ll know that there’s every chance you’ll know someone who knows someone who knows someone in the town where you are right now. Ask around, you’ll be surprised at the connections you uncover.
Feeling lonely while you’re travelling on your own doesn’t need to be fatal to your trip. Like most adventures in life, the low points are usually temporary and if you can push through it or past it or somehow dodge round it using the tips above, you’ll go on to fulfil all those other, more positive expectations that you had for your trip.
If all else fails, and you find yourself stood next to a similarly lonely looking traveller in a hostel bar, maybe it’s time to break that pledge to yourself, maybe it’s time to say to the other traveller, “did I ever tell you about that time I bungee jumped naked?”
About the Author
Jo Fitzsimons writes the popular travel blog Indiana Jo. In seven years of almost full-time solo travel, she’s experienced loneliness more than once. No, she’s not a loser. You can follow her travels on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.