In a recent forum post, the question was raised: How can I deal with loneliness when I'm traveling by myself? The original poster had just embarked on her first 9-month adventure drifting solo around the globe, and although she had set out with the intent of traveling alone, after spending the first 2 weeks in South Africa, she was beginning to feel lonely.
It's true, when you are traveling, there is a difference between being alone and being lonely. But especially at the beginning of the trip, feelings like these can be trying, and all the more so for those of us who are extremely social by nature.
I do not claim to be an expert on the matter, but the question posed raised a lot of thoughts in my mind. In my small opinion, here are just 3 tips that I've found helpful when dealing with those occasional feelings of loneliness.
Tip #1, Stay in Touch with the Tribe at Home
Granted, it can be hard. After 3 days of sloshing your way through a muddy rainforest with a 45 lb. sack of useless junk on your back, the last thing you can think of doing is phoning home, but remember, even though E.T. had some great adventures out on his own, making new friends and going places on flying bicycles, he never lost sight of the importance of staying in touch.
Personally, I know it seems easier to put whatever is going on at home on pause, just disconnect, or let it all go. But often times, when you've been out on the road alone and you're starting to feel lonely, you might look around and begin to think you're surrounded by strangers who don't even see you, let alone care about you.
Of course, that's probably not how these people really feel about you, (we'll get back to that later), but even if that's true, don't forget that there is still a whole tribe of friends, family and followers back at home all rooting for you and your safe return.
In fact, they're probably wondering where you are, whether or not you made it to Ulaanbataar from St. Petersburg alive, and why on EARTH haven't they heard from you yet.
Dropping your home fans a little e-mail, (or Twitter, Skype, Facebook 'em, whatever...), and hearing from them in response, will remind you that there are people in this world who see you and really care about you.
Tip #2, Entertain Yourself & Be Creative
An idle mind can play some wicked tricks on you, so you need to keep it busy. Bring a book, preferably a really fat one, but 'interesting' is probably a more important prerequisite of its contents, something that will keep you company, talk to you on those lonely nights and fill in during those inevitable down times when you feel like you've done every possible activity within a 50 mile radius.
Often times globe drifters will leave a trail of books behind them, trading off reading material with other travelers as they cross paths trekking around the planet. Some cafes, libraries or hostels will have a little shelf for fair trade offs where you can take a book for free if you leave one behind. Of course, err on the safe side and ask before swapping.
If you really can't imagine burying your head in words when you just paid thousands of dollars to leave school behind, then get creative, put your mind to work in other ways. You could:
Tip #3, Connect, Connect, Connect
Reach out! To other travelers, to the locals, to the stray dog that won't stop following you to your beach hut on Boracay. It may be difficult, especially if you're pretty reserved by nature.
You may even look around and wonder, “Why isn't anyone talking to me?” Chances are, they may be thinking the same thing.
But personally, I think the biggest help in dispelling all feelings of loneliness is reaching out and connecting with those around you.
Don't be afraid of the locals! Even if you can't speak the language, don't hesitate to try and communicate, you'd be surprised at how much you can get across by using sign language and sound effects.
In general, the locals you meet will be curious about you and where you are from, and they will try their best to make sure you leave their area with a positive impression.
I've also found that staying in places where there is a common area for people to meet, i.e. hostels or hostel-type areas, is a great way to connect with other travelers.
And these don't have to be dirty, dark places, there's lots of clean, safe and perfectly located budget accommodations with great online reviews. Talk to the old-timers there, they're the ones sitting behind the check-in desk playing cards with the staff, ask them where they've been in the area and what they've done. Welcome the newbies, and invite some of the interesting ones out on short trips around the area with you.
And if you're part of a global social group, look if there's a chapter in the part of the world where you're in. Make connections, you can always take a break from the social stuff and find yourself a nice quiet spot whenever you want, after all you are ultimately traveling solo.
And if all else fails, you could always adopt that stray dog for the time being.
I'm JR. I come from a long line of adventurers, some were nomadic explorers of the sea and others wandering cultivators of the earth. Ultimately, this legacy of drifters has deeply affected my view of travel. Read more...