Traveling alone sounds like the ultimate level of freedom. Is it?
I suppose I’m not the only one who thinks how brave are those who practice solo traveling. Those who prepare the backpack with the most basic items and challenge themselves around the world. Day by day, week by week, month by month. Those who visit unknown cities, probably not famous at all, where no one is waiting for them, those explore alone, take a train, a plane, a bus and ships alone and still find the way to take fantastic photographs with self timer mode. (:D) I admire them all. Many of them may have thousands of followers on instagram or on their blogs and the eyes of their fans follow them everywhere, but there are others who are not exposed at all on social media. Who follows them? Do they ever feel alone?
If I have to speak from personal experience, my solo traveling experience is related to the period when I was working abroad for about three years and changed the areas 5 times, being always in a new environment and never with the same people. I never explored a country alone, starting from home, for the sake of traveling, never took a backpack and climbed the mountain or walked through cities alone at night. Never did that. So the maximum time I could have been exploring a new destination alone, has been a few hours. I was never ready to find the courage and embark on a new adventure alone. Maybe out of a sense of insecurity, worry of boredom and maybe out of fear of loneliness.
Loneliness is a phenomenon that does not only affect you when you work from home. Loneliness does not just happen in times of global pandemics. Loneliness does not belong only to the elderly. Loneliness find everyone.
It is time to talk about travelers loneliness as well.
During the last years I have met some solo travelers who have been away from home for months. The first one was a young Brazilian I met in Qafe Thane, in Pogradec, when he had just entered Albania from the North Macedonian border and from there he decided to reach Elbasan walking. Mindblowing to me at the time. After some time I met a girl from South Korea, in a hostel in Skopje, Macedonia, who was exploring the Balkans alone. I asked her if she had ever felt scared. She said, “No, I avoid traveling at night and move with temporary companions.” It reminded me of the narrator of the movie “Fight Club” when he called these “single-serving friends”. How many such I have known in my life? Hundreds.
But do these “single-serving friends” fade the feeling of loneliness in travelers? This is a question I can not answer. I know some of you may say: “if they feel lonely, they shouldn’t travel alone.” But the equation is not that simple.
Why do people travel alone?
- They want to visit a place but none of the friends have time to join
- They want to develop their independence and practicality
- They want to change themselves
- They want to enjoy time with themselves
- They want to overcome a difficult time of depression
- They want to meet new people
- They want to write a book
- They want to take pictures for a certain topic
Surely there are many more reasons why someone decides to take a trip alone. Maybe many of them embark on a journey to fight their demons and sometimes succeed and sometimes not.
Many of the travelers who travel olone say that this was not their first choice, but it came as a solution out of necessity, because no one in their social circle had the same desires, many of them got married, had children and have monthly mortgage to pay.
To be fair, most of those who are judged about traveling alone are the women, who often face questions like “why don’t you get married?” or comments like “you should’ve had a child by this age”. I do not think these comments stop a traveler but the truth is that they are addressed most of the time to girls and women.
But why is the right time to talk about the loneliness of traveling solo?
I have been talking to travelers who have had similar issues, I have read instagram posts about it, I find little information online about it and last but not least I have been there myself. While scrolling through TikTok travel, I watched a video of a girl in her 20s crying because she felt lonely and had no one to talk to during a trip to a foreign country. Of course, this is not the only situation when you can feel alone. With the increasing influence of technology in our lives, we are also encountering an increase in the number of people who feel alone because they are introverts, but because they find socialization difficult to manage, feel inferior, live in big cities, work in big companies, etc. But there is always a way out.
Tips on how to avoid travel loneliness:
Keep a diary
Writing down what you feel frees you from negative thoughts and sometimes it is more effective than talking to a psychologist. I have written a lot During my 3-years job on cruise ships, most of them poems, which I have published in Atlantida e Letrave, but also many other meditative and liberating writings that I have kept for myself.
Practice a hobby or a passion
If you do not have a passion so far, start exploring everything that comes to your mind: run, ride a bike, paint, cook, try a new sport, read, watch encouraging movies, swim, learn an instrument. Even my efforts in finding new passions have been endless, I have painted many landscapes in acrylic especially when I was in the Norwegian fjords and in the Caribbean islands, I rented bicycles many times and tried to learn the harmonica, which it did not go so well, but it was fun.
Do not be afraid of people
The prejudices you may have in your head about people of different cultures are best left at home. No one is better or worse, you will even realize that although from different parts of the planet, we are so very similar and with the same desires and challenges. From these “single-serving friends” you can probably find lifetime friends (or spouse).
Keep in touch with family or friends at home
They think you are too busy having fun and probably text you rarely. Call and text them as many times as you can. Have long conversations, tell them what happened to you and what are your plans for tomorrow. No one more than a close person will find the time to listen to you to the end.
Do not try too hard
If you’ve never been a survival type of guy, do not try to do it now. If you are not comfortable in a destination or with the people you find there, move on and go somewhere else. Don’t starve and don’t go beyond your limits. You’re out there to enjoy and not to sacrifice.
Choose the right accommodation
Many people think that hostels are for low budget travelers. This is not entirely true. Choosing a hostel gives you the opportunity to meet new people from all over the world in a safe environment. Even if you travel with others, hostels are highly recommended.
Join various group tours
Even if you can reach a destination alone, do not miss the possibility of a group tour, where you can share the new experience, ask questions, get help, and even help someone who is traveling for the first time or does not understand the language. The first time I visited the Northern Cape in Norway, it was on a bus with a group of people in their 60-s. I will never forget the laughter because of their autoironic jokes.
Remember, solo travel is not for everyone. If you are in your hometown and you are lonely, it’s best to tackle this challenge before starting a far away adventure. If you are already on a journey and you are feeling lonely, try to practice my tips above and contact me if they have worked for you.