Dealing with Loneliness on the Road (Part 1)

Coney Island, USA

The View: Coney Island, USA. By Daver141.

You’re on the other side of the world, taking in foreign sights and sounds, when it hits you: loneliness. It’s an emotion that most travellers have experienced at some point in their journeys – especially those who travel alone.

For this series of posts, I asked travel bloggers to share their experiences with loneliness on the road. Their advice is diverse, from tips on how to avoid loneliness altogether, to suggestions on what to do when you’re feeling blue.

Prepare yourself mentally (Randall Wood)

I’ve always thought if you prepare yourself mentally for a trip loneliness doesn’t become an issue. You travel to get somewhere else and presumably to meet other people on the road, whether that be locals from the country you’re visiting or just other vagabonds and travelers who are often the best memories of a trip. As for the connection back home I like traveling with a half dozen pictures of friends and family for getting through the hard moments, and save the occasional phone call for when things get really bad. With cyber cafes everywhere offering cheap VOIP calls, it’s not even that much money any more – a far cry from when I was traveling in Indonesia in 1993 and a call home was a big deal, a lot of work, and a lot of money.

Remember: It’s part and parcel of the experience (Ben Hancock from The Daily Transit)

When those blues do start to soak in, just know that it’s part and parcel of the experience.

My approach is proactive: prior to hitting the road, don’t entertain any notions that you’re not going to get lonely. I imagine it happens to even the saltiest of nomads. And when those blues do start to soak in, just know that it’s part and parcel of the experience. Loneliness drives introspection, and can force you to look at a place from another angle. Marinate in it; listen to something melancholy and walk around the city. If it gets too much, find a nice coffee shop to hole up in for the day and write a pen and paper letter to a friend — describe where you are, how you feel about your travels. If you end up feeling tired and bitter, my fail-safe is to watch a movie and take a nap. You’ll wake up with a better perspective.

Ask yourself: “Why are you lonely?” (Dave from Point2Point)

Loneliness is a personal thing when traveling. It can stem from personal issues, to personality to various other psycho analytic talk. How you deal with it is also best answered by asking one’s self: “Why am I lonely while out here in the wide world of travel?” For me, once I have that answer I can deal with it. If there’s no one around I give myself a project – with goals, e.g. writing an article/blog, photography shoot. If people are around and we are not clicking be it because of age, interests etc then I weigh up whether or not I am so lonely to sacrifice these things for company. What I do know is that travelers road is full of rich and diverse people,  one week the traffic may be in a grid lock, but the next week the Ferrari of all friendships might come along on a wide open highway!

More on loneliness from Dave’s blog:

* Rasht, and not much further

Embrace loneliness (Chris Guillebeau from The Art of Non-Conformity)

I believe that embracing loneliness on the road is the key. Of course, I also enjoy meeting up with other travelers and hanging out with people from the country I’m visiting, but I don’t think that loneliness itself is a bad thing. It comes and goes, and to me it’s part of independent travel.

More on loneliness from Chris’ blog:

* Ever Feel Like Giving Up?

Waiting woman in Mexico

Waiting Woman, Mexico. By andrealm.

Have a sense of purpose (Lara Dunston from Cool Travel Guide)

I’m not even sure that I’ve ever really felt alone or lonely. And yet my heart aches for people I see and perceive to be lonely on my travels – a homeless guy sleeping in the street or an elderly woman sitting alone on a park bench. If you see a woman watching them with tears running down her cheeks, that will be me. But why is it that I never feel lonely? Because I spend just as much time ‘alone’, in my own head, writing, as I do socializing when we travel. Indeed, meeting people is one of the things that makes travel so alluring for me.

So what’s my secret? I’m always busy, always travelling, always working. But even before I was a travel writer, I always had a sense of purpose, some kind of motivation, I always had things I wanted to do. Years ago I went to South and Central America for a year to do my Masters research on Latin American cinema. My itinerary was organized by the film festival calendar and I discovered Latin America through its cinema. I met filmmakers, I interviewed film professors, I volunteered and taught film making to women in shanty towns, and I bummed around the continent in between ‘research’. But even then my travels were still about finding out if the real world matched the world I’d experienced through the films. So even then I had a sense of purpose. I think that’s the key.

Seek its beauty (Ant Stone from Trail of Ants)

Don’t be afraid of it – embrace it, learn from it, and benefit from it.

Loneliness was never on my radar. Before I embarked on this journey, I boldly scoffed at the idea that a twenty-four year old Englishman could ever suffer from such a weakness. Then they left. The first group of friends who had crossed the border from travel mates to long-term friends, and god damn them they left me – including a heart-smuggling girl. I didn’t even recognise the alien emotion that is loneliness – I seriously thought I was tumbling into depression! I was confined to my cave, while others charged the mammoths down. Or so a psychiatrist would tell me, I mused.

In my eyes, there is no carte blanche way to deal with The L Word. I know now that I’ve felt lonely even when surrounded by crowds of interactive characters, as well as when I’ve been off the beaten track ergo loneliness isn’t a by-product of a lack of people, it’s a mental state. These days, whenever I feel lonely I take some time to see its beauty. As a writer, I use loneliness as a trigger to experiment. I’ve evaded The L Word by taking a step back, admitting its presence and phoning a good mate, someone who knows me well and has an arsenal of hilarities to pick me up. I never admit I’m feeling lonely (ha, I’m now a twenty-six year old Englishman), I just feed off their positive energy and when I’m finished the conversation I’m empowered enough to conquer anything, even that inner slug. So in a nutshell, don’t be afraid of it – embrace it, learn from it, and benefit from it.

This is part 1 in a series of posts about dealing with loneliness. Subscribe to TravelBlogs to stay posted when the next part of the series is posted.

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Discussion »

  • #1lara dunston

    Such thought-provoking stuff here. I love the juxtaposition of responses and ways of thinking about loneliness and being lonely and travelling.

    What a wonderful idea, Eric! Thank you! Thank you for the coverage and thank you taking it to a new level. I did a little post and linked back to you also.

  • #2Peter Daams

    Great tips! My personal view is that the best way to avoid loneliness is by getting out there and doing something interesting – finding places to meet strangers and strike up a conversation is a good way to quickly kill any insular moments.

  • #3Travel Muse

    I get lonely when I travel for business. To cope I usually choose a restaurant I’d like to try and go out for a nice meal. I find that I can always talk with my waiter and then I don’t feel so alone anymore.

    Great post.

  • #4Lil' Boozie

    I agree with Lara – there are some extremely thought-provoking notions here. In my opinion, the only way to compensate for lonely feelings is to be active, embrace your alone time, and really try to get to know yourself on a different level.

    When I was abroad a few years ago, I had a week left in Paris all by myself as my program was a bit different than the others in my group. At first, I was terrified, but it really gave me a chance to demonstrate my confidence in my ability to really handle my own in a foreign country and apply everything I’d learned over the past 5 months.

  • #5maryam in marrakech

    This is an interesting series but I do hope that you will be featuring more thoughts from women. With the exception of Lara who travels almost always with her husband, I see only guys chiming in. As a woman who travels extensively on assignment (I am off to Rwanda next week – country 71), I do get lonely. Women face very different constraints that men do – principally harassment. I do not feel comfortable going out to restaurants by myself at night outside the hotel b/c the harassment is non-stop, esp in cultures where women traveling on their own is a complete oddity:-( I have had men waiting outside my hotel room, men following me and calling my room in the middle of the night (including hotel staff), etc. By day, I am fine but by night, it’s a whole different world out there…..It would be great if you did a series on bloggers talking about security when they travel.

  • #6Eric

    Maryam, good point, although the other posts had a few more women sharing their perspective, particularly part 2. I like the idea of a series about security, perhaps even specifically for women. I’m sure that would generate some interesting discussion!

  • #7Family Smudge

    I can complete relate to Maryam. As a woman who has travelled extensively alone (and contributes a little in Part 2), there have been definite moments where I have felt unease. In Thailand, Tunisia, Japan and even Arizona, I have found myself in situations where I wonder “should I be in this part of town alone?” However, so far I have found that my ‘get out there anyway, walk in a focused manner and try to keep an eye on what’s happening around me’ attitude has, thus far, kept me out of any truly worrying situations. That said, it is an issue and I believe more so for women, especially in certain destinations, so I agree that I series about security would certainly make an interesting addition to this site.

  • #8Jon - The DC Traveler

    No need to be lonely on the road, just reach out to other people, especially other travelers, and start a conversation.

  • #9Joe Pirrelly

    sometimes all you need to do is read a blog like this and be on the same page as people who feel like you. Thanks.

  • #10anon

    Loneliness is being safe, remember not to meet with strangers if you come to me country which is Turkey, read what happens to foreign travelers who interact with strangers.

  • Add Your Comment

  • The Guy: I think Dave and Jodi raise some very valid points and they are consistent with my perceptions based on over...
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