When it comes to searching online, loneliness whilst travelling isn’t too much of a hot topic. I suppose it’s because most travel bloggers and travel writers are paid to sell, sell, SELL that dream! And loneliness, (much like death) just doesn’t sell much at all unless you’re a (dead) creative genius.
Because who really wants to hear about the sad part of your vay-cay? It’s also kind of hard to feel sorry for someone who is sipping cocktails on the beach if you’re at home viewing their (seemingly perfect) holiday pictures from your work computer. Sympathy will be in short supply there, you can be sure.
I don’t want to moan. This isn’t a moany post. But it’s an honest one. Travelling solo can be the most isolating thing in the world. And if you’re not prepared to roll with the punches when it hits, loneliness can knock you out and send you home. For real.
I’ve spent five months in NYC this year and although it’s the best place I’ve ever lived, it’s also been the most alienating.”Oh everyone talks the same language as me, it will be fine,” I thought, before I arrived. But honestly, us Brits do things SO differently to our American counterparts and it can be hard to adjust to these not-so-subtle cultural nuances. It’s also a struggle to feel like you’re really, actually connecting with people, in a city that’s constantly pulsating with the energy of its 8 million, fast-moving inhabitants.
It might have a lot to do with the fact I am still grieving and that I’m doing it so far from home. But I’ve got culture shock before (Colombia, Morocco). It’s just, siting in my rented room in Brooklyn right now I’ve realised that this feels…different. Although NYC is a thriving hub of activity and people, it’s the only place where this fog of loneliness has become as a persistent, pervasive force that’s been hard to shake off. Hence why I’m taking my lonely ass to Nicaragua next week! Hurrah! *Insert rapid samba music*
But no seriously; the soul-crushing loneliness whilst travelling NYC alone this year needs a whole post by itself. And in the mean-time this English female writer has explained it better than I ever could. I do have four general tips for alleviating loneliness whilst travelling alone, though:
1. Count your blessings
It can be easy to let yourself get overwhelmed by the “woe is me” mindset. But realistically you have to remember how lucky you are to be; a) not doing the 9-5 back home. b) spending some quality time by yourself for once and c) free as a bird.
2. Relish your alone time
I actually love spending time alone and strangely enough for me, I tend not to feel lonely when I’m in transit, or trying to get locals to understand my Spanish in Central America. Loneliness has hit me more in large public spaces in NYC or whilst talking to a big group in a bar. (Again, I’m pretty sure that is a sign that I need to leave the city ASAP.)
Society doesn’t really teach us to appreciate our alone time so it can be hard to relish it. Although there’s a cultural shift towards being “mindful”, we’re still taught that safety comes in numbers: lots of friends = good. Women need travel chaperones. And we should all aspire to marriage, otherwise we’re going against the natural order, or something. Travelling alone is therefore a great opportunity to take time out to focus on what you want/need out of your own life. Plan ahead, without any distractions. Get reflective and keep a journal. Figure out your next big (or small) move. And take the time to actually get to know yourself, without a friend or partner by your side.
3. Remember that you’re never REALLY alone
Whilst backpacking in Colombia last year, I was never, ever truly by myself . The main spots were full of tourists and the locals were so friendly I had to pretend not to speak any Spanish just so I could get a minute’s peace. That trip made me realise though; you’re never actually by yourself. Even with the language barrier or the cultural differences, you will still achieve some level of social interaction by just being present and aware and walking around.
4. Let the loneliness engulf you for a bit
Some people might argue that logging on and stalking your mates makes you feel more isolated when you’re a thousand miles from home. I would argue the opposite. If I feel teary, I want to see what’s trending online back home and allllll the Sunday brunch photos because I feel more in the loop. If I’m feeling particularly sad and homesick though, I’ll order some chips or the tackiest Western food I can find. Then, I’ll locate the latest episode of whichever UK trash TV show makes my brain turn to mush the quickest (usually Ex On The Beach and no, I’m not even ashamed). And then I just… wallow in my loneliness for a bit. When I’m ready, I’ll pick myself up, turn off my computer and go explore.
It’s important to really just allow yourself to feel lonely for a little while and remember that it’s totally fine not to be ok sometimes. Being thousands of miles from home with a bunch of strangers is weird, so take some time to remind yourself why you left by sticking on some t-a-c-k-y TV. By doing this, you’ll learn that: a) self-imposed loneliness where you barricade yourself in your room, gets boring real quick. And b) you’re not missing much back home; wherever you are is almost guaranteed to be more exciting than who’s shagging who on MTV.
How have you dealt with loneliness whilst travelling?